The keto diet has shown promise for a range of neurological disorders, including autism. So, what is autism? What is the research on the ketogenic diet for autism? Read on to find the details about keto diet and autism.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition associated with brain development. The spectrum refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity. Autism ranges from high functioning to severe.
Autism usually begins in early childhood and affects socialization with and perceptions of others, often leading to problems with communication and interaction. It is characterized by verbal and nonverbal communication, abnormal social interactions, and limited interest in the surrounding environment.
Diagnosis and Causes of Autism
As with other developmental disorders, autism is diagnosed and classified based on impairment, symptoms, and behavior patterns. Diagnosis is not based on mechanisms or causes.
The causes of autism are complex. Scientists believe that autism is caused by a combination of multiple genes, environmental factors and epigenetic factors that can be passed from mother to child.
Genetics appears to play a role in autism, although researchers have had difficulty figuring out which genes play a role in the development of autism.
During pregnancy, the mother’s nutrition and inflammation levels can affect the fetus’ neurodevelopment. Inflammatory diets, air pollution and other environmental factors during pregnancy or early childhood appear to increase the risk of autism.
Mitochondrial dysfunction in mothers and children may also play a role in the development of autism.
Your mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells – they provide the energy your body needs to function properly. Stress and environmental factors can damage mitochondria, which can affect the way your child’s brain develops and may lead to autism.
What are the Symptoms of Autism?
Symptoms of autism include:
- Reduced eye contact
- Difficulty communicating and adjusting to social situations
- Lack of facial expression
- Loss of speech, lack of speech, or delayed speech
- Repetitive movements, such as rocking, hand-flapping, or spinning
- Adheres to particular routines
- Disturbed by slight changes in routine
- Coordination difficulties and odd movement patterns, such as walking on toes
- Learning difficulties
- Light and sound sensitivity
- Fascination with details of an object, such as spinning the wheels on a toy car
How Keto Diet Affect Autism?
1. Promotes Healthy Brain Function
Recent studies have shown that the keto diet can enhance brain health and cognitive performance.
A keto diet also improves symptoms of autism, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and migraines.
A keto diet is very low in carbohydrates compared to diets high in sugar and other carbohydrates, which makes your brain and body rely on fat burning and ketone body production for fuel.
In a keto diet, high ketone body levels reduce brain inflammation and alter gene expression, which promotes healthy brain function and improved cognition.
2. Boosts Mood
Autism alters the excitability and inhibition of the brain, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Ketosis may help in several ways:
Aggression and Stable Mood
A keto diet stabilizes overexcited brain areas in a similar way to mood-stabilizing medications such as lithium, which are sometimes used to treat aggression and mood swings in people with autism.
Ketones also improve brain energy metabolism by shifting your body’s energy source from glucose to ketone bodies (also known as ketones). In these ways, a keto diet may help stabilize and improve mood in people with autism.
Children with epilepsy who were switched to a keto diet experienced a significant decrease in anxiety, a decrease in mood disturbances, and an increase in productivity.
Keto was significantly better than a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet in improving positive mood (and reducing hunger) in people without autism.
3. Improves Gut Health
Your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is filled with trillions of bacteria, and they love to dabble in mind control.
The bacteria in your gut have a direct connection to your brain, and the neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals they produce can alter your mood and brain function, as well as your body’s immune and inflammatory responses.
Your gut bacteria affect serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that influence mood and motivation. People with autism tend to have disrupted 5-hydroxytryptamine and dopamine production, and 74% of children with autism have gastrointestinal discomfort.
Altered gut flora can lead to depression, stress and autism severity.
Eating a keto diet can starve the gut of bad bacteria and support healthy gut bacteria, which can restore the balance of the gut microbiota and also increase the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids and the neurotransmitters 5-hydroxytryptamine and GABA.
4. Reduces Inflammation and Autoimmunity
Researchers believe that inflammation, oxidative stress and immune activation play a key role in the development and persistent symptoms of autism.
Children with autism are more likely to be overweight or obese than children without autism, and the heavier they are, the more severe their autism symptoms.
Obesity can also lead to inflammation and autoimmune dysfunction, which can worsen autism symptoms.
Children who ate keto for six months lost significantly more weight than children who ate a low-calorie, low-fat diet. The authors concluded that ketosis is both safe and beneficial for overweight children, and that being in ketosis caused no significant side effects.
Eating keto also promotes healthy brain function, increases neuroplasticity, reduces oxidative stress, and decreases inflammation in the central nervous system. All of this can help alleviate autism symptoms from inflammation and oxidative stress.
Autism spectrum disorders often present challenges in the form of emotional problems, social impairment and physical symptoms.
A low-carb, high-fat diet, such as the keto diet, is a promising option for improving the health, wellness and quality of life of individuals with autism.
In addition to promoting healthy brain function, enhancing gut health and reducing inflammation, a keto diet makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.