Ketogenic Diet

Two weeks ago my post was Are Carbs the Problem? Not Fats?  The post was about the McMaster University study which found that a higher-fat diet was actually associated with a lower risk of early death. The bottom line that I took away from the study was that fat is okay in moderation; 30% of your calories. Low fat diets are harmful. Complex carbs are okay in moderation; 50-55% of your calories. Simple carbs are not okay. Eat a plant based diet.

In the news this week is that the Keto diet, which is similar to the diet the McMaster Univerity study covered, can help you to live longer. This diet is very popular among people who want to lose weight & athletes. Lets look at the new research & the history of the Ketogenic diet as well as the pro’s & con’s of being on the diet. It is not for everyone.

I am sure we will be hearing more about research into the benefits of this diet for some cancers, especially cancer of the brain. 

The Ketogenic diet was introduced in 1924 by Dr.Russel Wilder at the Mayo Clinic for children with epilepsy. It fell out of favor in the 1940’s when anti-seizure medications were discovered. The diet was successful with a large percentage of epileptic children but had to be adhered to 100% for it to work. Taking an anti-seizure drug was, understandably, much more appealing. The main complaint from parents was that the diet was difficult to maintain. It took too much time to calculate & prepare plus you couldn’t eat anywhere but home.

New interest in the diet for epilepsy started in 1994 with a news report on NBC’s Dateline. It was the story of Charlie Abrahams, the 11 month old son of Jim Abrahams, an American movie producer & writer. Charlie had epilepsy that was difficult to control. When the conventional & alternative treatments that they tried didn’t help his sons seizures, Mr. Abraham took him to the pediatric unit of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. They were using the ketogenic diet for the treatment of epilepsy. Here are a few excerpts from the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies

“In 1993, 11 month old Charlie Abrahams developed difficult to control epilepsy. As a last resort, while Charlie was experiencing multiple daily seizures and multiple daily medications, his parents turned to a Ketogenic Diet for help. The diet worked. Charlie became seizure and drug free within a month. He was on the diet for five years and now eats whatever he wants. He has never had another seizure.”

“The Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies was founded in 1994 to provide information about diet therapies for people with epilepsy, other neurological disorders and select cancers.”

“New applications of the ketogenic diet for cancer, autism, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, type-2 diabetes, and traumatic brain injury have emerged.  Scientific data regarding these new uses of diet therapy is accumulating rapidly. Variations of the ketogenic diet for these other disorders are being developed. Today, it is the Charlie Foundation’s expanded mission not only to champion ketogenic diet therapy for epilepsy, but provide up-to-date information regarding its expanded use and variations. To this end we have re-named ourselves “The Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies”.”

This is an amazing website with all the current news & research on the ketogenic diet. If you have an interest in the diet I would recommend starting with the foundations website. ***When you go to the website, watch the video about the Keto diet & brain cancer. 

The latest research on the Keto diet is reported in  Healthline:  Keto Diet Can Help You Live Longer, Researchers Say  Written by Gigen Mammoser on September 13, 2017 “Two recent studies concluded that the low-carbohydrate diet can increase life span. However, there is still plenty of controversy surrounding the Keto diet.” This research has only been done with mice so far. If the results can be applied to humans, it would be an extremely important outcome. I imagine that human clinical trials will start soon. 

What is the Ketogenic diet? The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, adequate-protein, high-fat diet.  

Lets go back to the Charlie Foundation website: Frequently asked questions about the Classic and Modified Ketogenic Diets, Classic Keto and Modified Ketogenic Diets  This page answers a lot of your questions even though it is focused on childhood epilepsy.

1. “The ketogenic diet is a special high-fat diet that is used for difficult to treat seizures. Heavy cream, butter, plus, nut and seed oils, provide the necessary fat. The diet also completely eliminates sweets such as candy, cookies, and desserts. Other carbohydrate rich foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, cereals, and pasta are not allowed on the strictest form of the diet, but are allowed on more liberal forms of the diet. All foods must be carefully prepared and weighed on a gram scale. Each meal must be eaten in its entirety for the diet to be most effective. The Classic diet consists of a ratio in grams of fat to non-fat (protein and carbohydrates) of 4:1 and 3:1. The modified ketogenic diet consists of ratios of 2:1 and 1:1.”

What is the Ketogenic Diet?  This page is an introduction to the diet. It has a comparison chart for the Ketogenic Diet, MCT Oil, Low Glycemic Index Treatment & the Modified Atkins Diet. It answers FAQ’s such as; should these diets be medically supervised; percentage of carbs allowed; is a pre-evaluation needed; are tools needed; side effects & more. I found this the most comprehensive, scientifically balanced information regarding the ketogenic diet.

What are the side effects? As I have stated before, this diet is not for everyone. You should be monitored by your health care team if you are going to try it for any reason. Cancer changes your immune response & leaves you vulnerable with any nutrition or lifestyle changes. Whats good for an athlete does not apply to you. 

Check out this article from ASCO, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Post: The Ketogenic Diet in Cancer Control 

These are the reasons you need to be monitored by your health care team before & during the use of this diet. 

These side effects may occur when beginning the diet. Probably due to hypoglycemia. I read that they resolve in a few weeks.

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue/lack of energy
  • Muscle weakness or pains
  • Poor sleep
  • Constipation, nausea or upset stomach
  • Excessive thirst & frequent urination
  • Hunger
  • Confusion, anxiety and/or irritability
  • Tachycardia: heart rate speeds up
  • Lightheaded & shaky
  • Sweating and chills

These are some of the long term effects found with some adults.

  • Kidney stones: 5% of the patients
  • weight loss
  • constipation
  • increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
  • increased risk of bone fractures
  • Women may experience problems with their menstrual cycle.

Work with your healthcare team before you try any new diet, but this one in particular. There are people who should not be on this diet, for example anyone with kidney, pancreatic or liver disease. 

This is a very good you tube video about not only the keto diet but about the gut-brain connection & the diet.  David Perlmutter – Ketogenic Diet, Carbs & Gut Bacteria “Dr. Perlmutter discusses new science regarding low-carb, high-fat diets (ketogenic), gut bacterial diversity and exercise for optimal brain health.”

I have been an advocate of a healthy, balanced, plant based diet for most of my life. I have attended conferences about nutrition & how important it is to keep us healthy. I am at a loss to understand why diet is not the first line of defense recommended by physicians to their patients. The only reasons that I can come up with is the lack of training during medical school & the laziness of the typical American. Popping a pill is much easier. The ketogenic diet is a good example of what can be accomplished with diet alone. 

If you are interested in the use of medical marijuana derivatives for children with epilepsy, read this blog post: The Charlie Foundation’s Position on Marijuana Derivatives for Epilepsy Treatment  I am in total agreement with what he says. Sometimes anecdotal evidence & the risk/benefit ratio needs to be considered without the interference of government agencies.

Next week will be the Nutrition Nuggets I have collected over the past month. Until then…Mary 🙂

Additional Resources:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine: High-Fat Ketogenic Diet Misunderstood, Underused November 18, 2010
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, Neurology & Neurosurgery: Adult Epilepsy Diet Center  “Recent studies have shown that the modified Atkins diet lowers seizure rates in nearly half of adults that try it, usually within a few months. Unlike the ketogenic diet (used mostly in children), there is no hospital stay involved, no fasting to get started, no food weighing, and no counting of calories or fluids. The diet is “modified” from the traditional Atkins diet because fats are encouraged. Adults can also lose weight on the diet if desired.”