Although many hypotheses have been put forward to explain how the ketogenic diet works, it remains a mystery. Disproven hypotheses include systemic acidosis (high levels of acid in the blood), electrolyte changes and hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose). Although many biochemical changes are known to occur in the brain of a patient on the ketogenic diet, it is not known which of these has an anticonvulsant effect. The lack of understanding in this area is similar to the situation with many anticonvulsant drugs.
The ketogenic diet has been studied in at least 14 rodent animal models of seizures. It is protective in many of these models and has a different protection profile than any known anticonvulsant. Conversely, fenofibrate, not used clinically as an antiepileptic, exhibits experimental anticonvulsant properties in adult rats comparable to the ketogenic diet. This, together with studies showing its efficacy in patients who have failed to achieve seizure control on half a dozen drugs, suggests a unique mechanism of action.
The backbone of a keto plan is its extraordinarily high fat content, making up 65 to 80 percent of calories daily. Protein—which can raise blood glucose, though not as much as carbohydrate does—makes up 15 to 25 percent of calories on the keto diet. And carbs are even more heavily restricted to just 5 to 15 percent of calories. That’s only about 20 to 50 grams a day (compared with the average 245 grams daily), or the amount in a small apple or a cup of cooked brown rice, respectively.
This may require a lifestyle change for many families, so we advise families who are interested in the diet to learn more by reading some of our excellent printed resources and to talk to each person who regularly cares for the child to make sure there is agreement to try the diet. We usually encourage an appointment with one of our epileptologists to confirm that the diet is right for your child, and then an appointment with our ketogenic diet team to go over more of the details.
The first modern study of fasting as a treatment for epilepsy was in France in 1911. Twenty epilepsy patients of all ages were "detoxified" by consuming a low-calorie vegetarian diet, combined with periods of fasting and purging. Two benefited enormously, but most failed to maintain compliance with the imposed restrictions. The diet improved the patients' mental capabilities, in contrast to their medication, potassium bromide, which dulled the mind.
Cost. At the grocery store, your shopping cart can take on a whole new look (and price tag) thanks to high-ticket items such as beef, fish, poultry, pork, and cheese, which are replacing budget-friendly pasta, potatoes, rice, and bread. And chronic constipation may require fiber supplements or stool softeners. Before beginning a keto diet, determine whether it’ll fit within your budget.
Early studies reported high success rates; in one study in 1925, 60% of patients became seizure-free, and another 35% of patients had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency. These studies generally examined a cohort of patients recently treated by the physician (a retrospective study) and selected patients who had successfully maintained the dietary restrictions. However, these studies are difficult to compare to modern trials. One reason is that these older trials suffered from selection bias, as they excluded patients who were unable to start or maintain the diet and thereby selected from patients who would generate better results. In an attempt to control for this bias, modern study design prefers a prospective cohort (the patients in the study are chosen before therapy begins) in which the results are presented for all patients regardless of whether they started or completed the treatment (known as intent-to-treat analysis).
“I really believe that the more informed you are about the benefits of a healthy bite versus the chain reaction that you’re going to put into effect in your body when you take that bite — you just suddenly don’t want to make that choice for yourself anymore. It’s beyond willpower at that point; it’s become a desire to do something good for yourself.” — Christie Brinkley
Dr. Campos, it is unfortunate that you retain the medical community’s negative stance on the ketogenic diet, probably picked up in medical school when you studied ketoacidosis, in the midst of an obesity and type II diabetes epidemic that is growing every year, especially among populations who will never see the Harvard Health Letter. The medical community has failed in reversing this trend, especially among children, and the public is picking up the tab, in the form of higher health insurance premiums to treat chronic metabolic diseases which doctors cannot cure. The ketogenic diet does not bid its adherents to eat unhealthy processed meats, and the green leafy vegetables that it emphasizes are important in a number of nutritional deficiencies. People lose weight on the ketogenic diet, they lose their craving for sugar, they feel more satiety, they may become less depressed, their insulin receptors sensitivity is improved, and these are all the good outcomes you fail to mention. There is a growing body of research which demonstrates the neuroprotective effects of the ketogenic diet to slow cancer progression, as well as diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for which there are no effective medical treatments. Please respect your patients by providing them with evidence-based medical outcomes, not opinions.
No animal on earth lives permanently in ketosis. Omnivorous animals such as bears and dogs, and obligate carnivores such as cats – the ultimate low-carbers – use gluconeogenesis to transform amino acids from protein into glucose. This allows them to maintain optimal blood glucose levels to fulfill their bodies’ needs for this vital nutrient. Only in prolonged starvation or a diabetic state will these animals enter ketosis.
Con: Results can vary depending on how much fluid you drink. By drinking more water, you dilute the concentration of ketones in the urine and thus a lower level of ketones will be detected on the strips. The strips don’t show a precise ketone level. Finally, and most importantly, as you become increasingly keto-adapted and your body reabsorbs ketones from the urine, urine strips may become unreliable, even if you’re in ketosis.