Are therapeutic diets an emerging additional choice in autism spectrum disorder management?

World J Pediatr. 2018 Jun;14(3):215-223. doi: 10.1007/s12519-018-0164-4. Epub 2018 May 30.


Background: A nutritional background has been recognized in the pathophysiology of autism and a series of nutritional interventions have been considered as complementary therapeutic options. As available treatments and interventions are not effective in all individuals, new therapies could broaden management options for these patients. Our aim is to provide current literature data about the effect of therapeutic diets on autism spectrum disorder.

Data source: A systematic review was conducted by two reviewers independently. Prospective clinical and preclinical studies were considered.

Result: Therapeutic diets that have been used in children with autism include ketogenic and gluten/casein-free diet. We were able to identify 8 studies conducted in animal models of autism demonstrating a beneficial effect on neurophysiological and clinical parameters. Only 1 clinical study was found showing improvement in childhood autism rating scale after implementation of ketogenic diet. With regard to gluten/casein-free diet, 4 clinical studies were totally found with 2 of them showing a favorable outcome in children with autism. Furthermore, a combination of gluten-free and modified ketogenic diet in a study had a positive effect on social affect scores. No serious adverse events have been reported.

Conclusion: Despite encouraging laboratory data, there is controversy about the real clinical effect of therapeutic diets in patients with autism. More research is needed to provide sounder scientific evidence.

Keywords: Autism; Children; Gluten/casein-free diet; Ketogenic diet; Therapeutic diet.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Caseins / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet, Gluten-Free / methods*
  • Diet, Ketogenic / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Caseins