Diet and Nutrition

What Should I Know About the Ketogenic Diet?

What Should I Know About the Ketogenic Diet?

Key Takeaways

  • The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb, adequate-protein diet that was designed by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1924. It became popular for its effectiveness not only in treating epilepsy but in weight loss.
  • Consuming less carbohydrates and more fats helps the body make use of its stored fat for energy, burning it through physical activity.
  • A study on the ketogenic diet has found that the diet not only helps in improving brain function, making it more active and sharp, but also in activating memory and learning ability. The brain uses 20% of the body energy when working under normal conditions, but with the help of ketones, the brain starts working 25% more efficiently.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb, adequate-protein diet that was designed by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1924. It became popular then for its effectiveness not only in treating epilepsy but in weight loss. But after a few years, the popularity of the ketogenic diet began to wane as new anticonvulsant drugs were invented.

Subsequent versions of the ketogenic diet, most notably the Atkins diet, revived its popularity as an effective weight loss diet in later decades such as the 70s and 90s. In 1994, famous Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams created The Charlie Foundation to promote the ketogenic diet because it had helped his son, Charlie, completely recover from severe daily epileptic seizures after all available anti-seizure medications and even a brain surgery had failed. Charlie stayed on the ketogenic diet for 5 years as a young child, and after decades, remains seizure-free to this day. 

The ketogenic diet is a mainstream therapy that does not make use of pharmaceutical drugs, and it was mainly developed to replace fasting therapy, which was then used as a treatment for epilepsy. Despite the ketogenic diet having fallen out of fashion for a time due to the appearance of new anticonvulsants, it was brought back as a popular therapy as it was found that more than 20-30% percent of children as well as adults who took anticonvulsants failed to overcome their epileptic seizures, and so turned to the ketogenic diet to manage their illness.

Ketogenic diet studies

A study with an intent-to-treat prospective design was published in 1998 by a team from a prestigious hospital. The study was conducted on 150 children experiencing seizures. The result of entire test was amazing. After three months of the children being on the ketogenic diet, it was found that more than 80% of the children were still on the diet and improving, and 25% of them had experienced a good reduction in seizures. 32% of the children had excellent results, and 3% were almost cured of seizures. After the 12th month, it was found that of the 52% of the original number who were still on the ketogenic diet, 20% were responding positively and about 10% were free of the disease. Some of the children had to quit the study because of ill health or too many restrictions.

But the combined results of several studies show that out of 100 people who undergo the ketogenic diet, 50 of them feel partly relieved of the disease and about 25 people feel completely relieved of the disease. This is not an ordinary achievement and it shows how powerful the ketogenic diet is. 

In a study conducted in 2012, four randomized control trials of the ketogenic diet were conducted, and most of the trials were conducted on a number of children and young people suffering from seizures. When the group of children and young people placed on the ketogenic diet were compared with the group of children who were not on any diet, it was found that 40% of the participants on the diet had their seizures under control. Only 8% of them were still on the diet after 3 years, and the rest of the children and young men and women had been completely cured of seizures. Hunger and energy loss were common in the trial and about 20% suffered from constipation.

The ketogenic diet helps children who have focal seizures, seizures resulting from a focal lesion – a single point of brain abnormality causing the epilepsy. These children are the most common and suitable candidates for the ketogenic diet, which definitely helps reduce the effect of the disease and slowly helps treat the disease completely.

The need to promote awareness of the ketogenic diet and its efficacy

There is a strong need to train dietitians regarding ketogenic diets. It has been observed that most dietitians are unaware of the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet and its usefulness for young children with epilepsy. According to a survey conducted in the U.S. on 100 pediatric neurologists, it was found that about 40% of them prescribe the diet regularly to young patients for whom anticonvulsant drugs had failed. About 35% prescribe the diet in rare cases, while about 25% do not prescribe the diet to the patients at all nor even discuss it. The gap between actual experience of effectiveness and clinical practice is widening, and it is necessary to bring them closer to each other by spreading more awareness about the ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic diet works wonderfully on epileptic seizures, but it also affects the metabolism. It is the most effective therapy for controlling congenital metabolic weaknesses such as pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1) deficiency and glucose transporter 1 deficiency syndrome, and it doesn’t allow the body to use carbohydrates as fuel.

Controlling biochemical processes 

The major source of energy is fatty acid oxidation of the energy-producing parts of cells. Amino acids convert proteins into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis, but it cannot work on fatty acids. Amino acids are most essential for the body to grow and get stronger. But fatty acids do not pass the blood through the veins and it could create a problem for the brain. The liver makes use of fatty acids to synthesize the three ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone and the ketone bodies enter the brain, substituting the glucose. The chain of fatty acids in the form of octonoic and heptanoic acid controls the brain.

Ketone bodies are possibly anticonvulsant and can protect the body against epilepsy. The ketogenic diet helps in bringing about changes in the body that help the brain, and it increases the metabolism. Ketone bodies work efficiently and offer fuel in place of glucose and help in increasing mitochondria. Ketone bodies keeps neurons under control and increase energy to confer a neuroprotective effect over the brain.

Anticonvulsants control epileptic seizures only partially, and neither cure the disease nor prevent it. Also, the drugs do not prevent the development of seizure vulnerability. The development of epilepsy, or the epileptogenesis, can be considered an active process that needs complete understanding. Some of the anticonvulsants (valproate, levetiracetam and benzodiazepines) have shown the property of being antiepileptogenic based on animal models. But unfortunately, not a single anticonvulsant process has undergone any clinical trial involving humans. 

The term "ketosis" and the ketogenic diet are mainly used in relation to its therapeutic purposes, mainly epileptic seizures, as well as for other purposes such as health, weight loss, and sports performance. The ketodiet is growing in popularity especially in health and weight loss circles.

Benefits of the ketogenic diet

For offering a number of benefits, the ketogenic has become highly useful and widely popular today:

Weight loss

Many doctors make use of a low-carb, high-fat diet plan when working with obese patients. The ketogenic diet is based on the theory of reducing fat and weight through a diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates. Many people today go on the ketogenic diet to successfully reduce weight and fat. Consuming less carbohydrates and more fats helps the body make use of its stored fat for energy, burning it through physical activity. Once the body burns the consumed carbohydrates for fuel, the carbs go out of stock, and the body turns to stored fat as its source of energy. The ketogenic theory is mainly based on fat loss that happens when carbohydrates go out of stock through dietary restriction.

Anti-aging benefits

Lowering stress increases the life span of the body. The ketogenic diet decreases the insulin level and allows the formation of ketones, which are used as the fuel for the body, thereby burning fat. It thus lowers the pressure exerted by fat on the body and makes the body look younger.

Lower blood sugar

The ketogenic diet lowers the insulin level due to the usage of ketones, which influences metabolism. When fat is burned and the ketones work as fuel, the level of sugar in the blood is lowered. This means you will not have to worry about diabetes or your blood sugar level.

Brain function improvement

The ketogenic diet not only helps in burning fat and reducing body weight, but also helps in improving the brain function, a highly important factor in being and feeling healthy. A study on the ketogenic diet has found that the diet not only helps in improving brain function, making it more active and sharp, but also in activating memory and learning ability. The brain uses 20% of the body energy when working under normal conditions, but with the help of ketones, the brain starts working 25% more efficiently.

Endurance in athletic performance

If you are an endurance athlete, then ketones can help in enhancing your performance. The ketogenic diet can help you perform more efficiently. It gives you an advantage over your opponents. The ketogenic diet helps you control oxidative stress, lower the lactose load in your muscles, and convert fat into fuel, which is an advantage. Ketones help in improving blood circulation, which allows the body to perform with more intensity.

Ketones help in reducing oxygen consumption because it can generate more cellular energy for every unit of oxygen burned than other energy sources including glucose.

Pain reduction and energy

The ketogenic diet has anti-inflammatory properties that help a person handling pain or any pressure. It influences pain by reducing the effect of glucose and controlling the mechanism of the action. It also helps in keeping the energy levels constant throughout the day. The body remains active the whole day--you will never feel sleepy or tired even when working for longer hours. The fat is available as a source of fuel and one can work longer and stay focused without needing food as much.