Food for thought: Dietary changes in essential fatty acid ratios and the increase in autism spectrum disorders

Kim van Elst*, Hilgo Bruining, Barbara Birtoli, Christian Terreaux, Jan K. Buitelaar, Martien J. Kas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


The last decades have shown a spectacular and partially unexplained rise in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This rise in ASD seems to parallel changes in the dietary composition of fatty acids. This change is marked by the replacement of cholesterol by omega-6 (n-6) fatty acids in many of our food products, resulting in a drastically increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 (n-6/n-3). In this context, we review the available knowledge on the putative role of fatty acids in neurodevelopment and describe how disturbances in n-6/n-3 ratios may contribute to the emergence of ASDs. Both clinical and experimental research is discussed. We argue that a change in the ratio of n-6/n-3, especially during early life, may induce developmental changes in brain connectivity, synaptogenesis, cognition and behavior that are directly related to ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-378
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes

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