Dietary Approaches to the Management of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Adv Neurobiol. 2020:24:547-571. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-30402-7_19.


This chapter reviews the literature surrounding autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their relation to gastrointestinal (GI), behavioral, neurological, and immunological functioning. Individuals with ASD often have poor GI health, including bowel motility issues, autoimmune and/or other adverse responses to certain foods, and lack of necessary nutrient absorption. These issues may be caused or exacerbated by restrictive behavioral patterns (e.g., preference for sweet and salty foods and/or refusal of healthy foods). Those individuals with GI issues tend to demonstrate more behavioral deficits (e.g., irritability, agitation, hyperactivity) and also tend to have an imbalance in overall gut microbiome composition, thus corroborating several studies that have implicated brain-gut pathways as potential mediators of behavioral dysfunction.We examine the literature regarding dietary approaches to managing ASDs, including elimination diets for gluten, casein, or complex carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet, and a low oxalate diet. We also explore the research examining dietary supplements such as fatty acids, pro- and prebiotics, vitamins, minerals, glutathione, phytochemicals, and hormones. The research on dietary approaches to managing ASDs is limited and the results are mixed. However, a few approaches, such as the gluten-free/casein-free diet, fatty acid supplementation, and pre/probiotics have generally demonstrated improved GI and associated behavioral symptoms. Given that GI issues seem to be overrepresented in ASD populations, and that GI issues have been associated with a number behavioral and neurological deficits, dietary manipulation may offer a cheap and easily implemented approach to improve the lives of those with ASD.

Keywords: ASD; Autism; Diet; Eating behaviors; Gastrointestinal dysfunction; Gut–brain axis; Neurodevelopment; Neurological disorders; Nutraceuticals; Nutrition intervention; Supplements.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / microbiology
  • Diet, Gluten-Free
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Probiotics