Ketogenic diets (KD) consist of foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. They have become extremely popular in recent decades for weight loss and blood sugar regulation. Despite the fact that they are highly debated within medical communities, the KD has been shown to help reduce seizures in epilepsy. By metabolizing ketones rather than blood glucose, the overall result is increased ketones, decreased blood sugar, and enhanced mitochondrial activity and functioning. These processes work together to decrease seizures in both adults and children. However, how the KD can affect other neurological and psychological conditions is less clear.
Autism spectrum (ASD) issues are on the increase and cause difficulties with social interactions and communication. Another hallmark symptom of ASD is that of repetitive behaviors. Many children with ASD also have seizures, and these children are especially vulnerable to negative outcomes and treatment resistance.
Therefore, David N. Ruskin of the Neuroscience Program at Trinity College in Connecticut wanted to see if a KD could reduce seizure activity and ASD symptoms. In a recent study, Ruskin tested his theory on BTBR mice, which have been shown to have high social deficits and ASD type behaviors. Ruskin fed the mice a KD or standard diet for three weeks and evaluated their levels of sociability, repetitive behaviors, and communicative interaction with the other mice. He also conducted testing to determine if the mice had seizure activity and if the KD decreased that activity.
Ruskin found that although seizures were rare in the mice, the other ASD behaviors were high. The mice that received the KD exhibited significant decreases in repetitive behaviors and had marked increases in sociability and communication. The lack of seizure activity suggests that the KD can help improve ASD type behaviors regardless of whether or not it impacts seizures. This is especially relevant as not all children or adults with ASD have seizure activity. Ruskin added, “Therefore, ketogenic diets or analogous metabolic strategies may offer novel opportunities to improve core behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.”
Ruskin, D.N., Svedova, J., Cote, J.L., Sandau, U., Rho, J.M., et al. (2013). Ketogenic diet improves core symptoms of autism in BTBR mice. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65021. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065021
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