Metabolic Framework for the Improvement of Autism Spectrum Disorders by a Modified Ketogenic Diet: A Pilot Study

J Proteome Res. 2020 Jan 3;19(1):382-390. doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.9b00581. Epub 2019 Nov 22.


The ketogenic diet (KD) can improve the core features of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in some children, but the effects on the overall metabolism remain unclear. This pilot study investigated the behavioral parameters in relation to blood metabolites and trace elements in a cohort of 10 typically developed controls (TC) and 17 children with ASD at baseline and following 3 months of treatment with a modified KD regimen. A nontargeted, multiplatform metabolomic approach was employed, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. The associations among plasma metabolites, trace elements, and behavior scores were investigated. Employing a combination of metabolomic platforms, 118 named metabolites and 73 trace elements were assessed. Relative to TC, a combination of glutamate, galactonate, and glycerol discriminated ASD with 88% accuracy. ASD had higher concentrations of galactose intermediates, gut microbe-derived trimethylamine N-oxide and N-acetylserotonin, and lower concentrations of 3-hydroxybutyrate and selenium at baseline. Following 3 months of KD intervention, the levels of circulating ketones and acetylcarnitine were increased. KD restored lower selenium levels in ASD to that of controls, and correlation analysis identified a novel negative correlation between the changes in selenium and behavior scores. Based on the different behavior responses to KD, we found that high responders had greater concentrations of 3-hydroxybutyrate and ornithine, with lower galactose. These findings enhance our current understanding of the metabolic derangements present in ASD and may be of utility in predicting favorable responses to KD intervention.

Keywords: autism; ketogenic diet; metabolic shift; metabolomics; trace elements.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / metabolism*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet, Ketogenic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isotopes / blood
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Metabolome / drug effects
  • Metabolome / physiology
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Selenium / blood
  • Trace Elements / blood
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Isotopes
  • Selenium-77
  • Selenium-78
  • Trace Elements
  • Selenium