Ketogenic Diet for Autism

Posted February 19, 2018 | kids, Nutrition & Health Tips

By Brooke Erickson, MS, CN

The Ketogenic Diet (KD) has gained a lot of attention lately and for good reason. Its therapeutic use, especially relating to metabolic and neurological conditions, has a lot of potential benefits and is currently a hot topic in scientific research. The KD was originally developed by the Mayo Clinic in the 1920’s for the treatment of epilepsy to control seizures. In addition to treating epilepsy, research has shown that the KD also improves mitochondrial function and while the exact root cause of autism is not known, recent studies are finding that mitochondrial dysfunction is an important factor that contributes to symptoms. There are limited clinical studies on the effects of the KD on autism as this is a new area of research, but so far the results looks promising, especially for improved cognition and behavior, as well as those who experience seizures.

A recent study compared the effect of the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD), a gluten-free/casein-free diet (GFCF), and a control diet and found that both the intervention diets showed significant improvement in autism-related test markers in comparison to the control diet.1 However, the MAD scored better results in cognition and sociability when compared to the GFCF diet. While this is only one small study, these results open the door for more research on the potential benefits of KD’s on autism, as well as the combination of both a KD and GFCF diet.

There are currently several different variations of the KD being used clinically. The classic KD is high in fat, adequate in protein, and low in carbohydrates with a ratio of 4:1 (fat: protein + carbohydrates) or 90% fat, 6% protein, 4% carbohydrate. This is the most structured version of diet and requires foods to be weighed using a food scale. Other modified versions of the diet have been adapted with macronutrient ratios ranging from 4:1 to 1:1. The MAD, used in the mentioned study, was developed by John Hopkins Hospital as a less restrictive alternative that doesn’t have limits on calories or protein with a ratio of approximately 0.8-1:1. This makes the MAD easier to manage, especially when eating out.

The nutritional approach of the KD is to mimic fasting and force the body into using fat as the primary fuel source instead of glucose. In this metabolic state, fats are converted to fatty acids and the liver produces ketone bodies, which can be used for energy. Ketone bodies are especially beneficial as an energy source for the brain because they can cross the blood-brain barrier. When there are a certain number of ketones in the blood you reach what is called ketosis. The goal of the diet is to maintain ketosis by restricting carbohydrates and sustaining the appropriate ratio of macronutrients.

The exact mechanisms that make the KD beneficial for autism is not fully understood, but we do know that it improves mitochondrial function while reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. One mechanism that is thought to factor into the benefits of the KD for autism is the calming effect that ketones have on nerve cells and their neuroprotective properties, which may help reduce autism-like behaviors and symptoms.

It’s important to note that the KD is not appropriate for everyone and you should consult with your doctor before starting the diet. There are several health conditions that are contraindicated and should be considered before starting a KD. If you are interested in learning more about the KD and whether it could be beneficial for you or your child please make an appointment with your doctor.


1. El-Rashidy, O et al. “KD versus gluten free casein free diet in autistic children: a case-control study” Metab Brain Dis. 2017 Dec;32(6):1935-1941

2. Cekici H, Sanlier N. “Current nutritional approaches in managing autism spectrum disorder: A review.” Nutr Neurosci. 2017 Aug 1:1-11

3. Cheng, N, Rho, JM, Masino, S. “Metabolic Dysfunction Underlying Autism Spectrum Disorder and Potential Treatment Approaches” Front Mol Neurosci. 2017; 10: 34.

Screen time, sleep and behaviors

Posted November 29, 2016 | From Us, kids

By Lisa Yang, ND

We all know that sleep is an important aspect of our health. Without getting an adequate amount of sleep we can become easily agitated, irritable, tired, and it can lead to a cyclical pattern of poor sleep. This blog post will present recent research showing the relationship between screen time, behavior, sleep quality as well as talk about steps you can take to make screen time guidelines and tips for a good night’s rest.

The research:

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed sleeping near a small screen, with a television in the room and more screen time were all associated with shorter sleep durations. Specifically, children who slept near a small screen reported on average 20 fewer minutes of sleep per day than those who never slept near a small screen. (1)

There have also been brain imaging studies that have shown less efficient information processing ability, reduced impulse inhibition, and poor task performance in individuals with excess screen time.  Other studies have found physiological change in the brain’s white matter and atrophy of grey matter in adolescents with internet/gaming addiction. One of the main areas affected by this form of addiction is the frontal lobe which governs executive function. (2)

New screen time guidelines:

With all of these new studies and findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics have also recently revised their screen time recommendations:

  • Children less than 18 months- avoid screen time all together
  • Children between 18-24 months – for parents who want to introduce media, should choose high quality programming and to watch with their children
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years old- limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high quality programs
  • Children ages 6 and older- place limits on media and the types of media

Steps to take:

To avoid the possible negative repercussions of screen time, it is important to set up guidelines to limit access. The AAP recommends the Family Media Use Plan tool, launched by (3) It is a easy tool to help families set up rules with screen time. Guidelines for screen free zones and times, device curfews, how to balance online and off-line time, charging devices outside of the bedroom, and also discussing privacy settings are all recommended. For the Family Media Plan to be successful, it is important for everyone honor it.

Another recommendation would be to make screen time something that can be earned through good behavior, following directions, finishing chores and homework. A maximum amount of minutes that can be earned should also be established. This model allows good behavior to be rewarded, which is great positive feedback for many children and adolescents.

When it comes to bedtime, starting a routine is important.

  • boy-and-screenPutting a curfew for media devices at least 1 hour before bed reduces any stimulating effects of shows and games. This allows the brain and your child to unwind and get ready for sleep.
  • Charging devices outside of the bedroom is also recommended to reduce light that is emitted from devices that may promote wakefulness. Keeping the bedroom pitch dark will promote melatonin release to help your child fall asleep
  • Use an alarm clock rather than a smartphone or tablet as wakeup device

Making changes or sticking with a Family Media Plan may be a difficult step for many families, but knowing that these steps can improve sleep quality and reduce any negative consequences of excess screen time makes it worthwhile.





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