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.
There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.
Your glycogen stores can still be refilled while on a ketogenic diet. A keto diet is an excellent way to build muscle, but protein intake is crucial here. It’s suggested that if you are looking to gain mass, you should be taking in about 1.0 – 1.2g protein per lean pound of body mass. Putting muscle on may be slower on a ketogenic diet, but that’s because your total body fat is not increasing as much.5Note that in the beginning of a ketogenic diet, both endurance athletes and obese individuals see a physical performance for the first week of transition.
Before starting, ask yourself what is really realistic for you, Mattinson suggests. Then get your doctor’s okay. You may also work with a local registered dietitian nutritionist to limit potential nutrient deficiencies and talk about vitamin supplementation, as you won’t be eating whole grains, dairy, or fruit, and will eliminate many veggies. “A diet that eliminates entire food groups is a red flag to me. This isn’t something to take lightly or dive into headfirst with no medical supervision,” she says.
While there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, diets with varying macronutrient compositions can help in supporting different health goals. The ketogenic diet, with its high fat, low carbohydrate, and moderate protein intake, has been solidly researched for a number of health applications since the 1920s and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Additional science and the potential for the ketogenic diet in various applications is emerging.
A slew of articles in recent months have referred to the ketogenic diet as a “fad” or “trend.” It’s “dangerous,” claimed one article, and an anonymous post by the Harvard Public School of Public Health said the diet “comes with serious risks.”1 Yet strangely, these critics seldom cite scientists or doctors who work with the diet, and many—including the Harvard article—cite no medical literature to substantiate their allegations. Without substantiation, many simply rehash long-contradicted, outdated claims.
One downside to a ketogenic diet for weight loss is the difficulty maintaining it. “Studies show that weight loss results from being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months tend to be the same as being on a normal, healthy diet,” says Mattinson. While you may be eating more satiating fats (like peanut butter, regular butter, or avocado), you’re also way more limited in what’s allowed on the diet, which can make everyday situations, like eating dinner with family or going out with friends, far more difficult. Because people often find it tough to sustain, it’s easy to rely on it as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle.
Even hibernating bears do not go into ketosis. And predatory animals who undergo extended periods of food deprivation, such as elephant seals, are metabolically resistant to ketosis; instead, they have upregulated gluconeogenesis pathways through which they can steadily produce glucose. This makes perfect sense, since predators’ survival depends on their ability to catch their prey, which usually requires intense bursts of activity. And sprinting capacity is dependent on glucose, as humans who adopt a ketogenic diet quickly discover.
You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy. This may help keep you alert and focused.