Despite its explosive popularity, there’s a lot of confusion about what the ketogenic (keto) diet really is. “Many people think they’re following a keto diet when they’re really just consuming a low-carbohydrate diet,” says Patti Urbanski, MEd, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. “So one person’s ‘keto diet’ may look very different than another’s.”

After initiation, the child regularly visits the hospital outpatient clinic where they are seen by the dietitian and neurologist, and various tests and examinations are performed. These are held every three months for the first year and then every six months thereafter. Infants under one year old are seen more frequently, with the initial visit held after just two to four weeks.[9] A period of minor adjustments is necessary to ensure consistent ketosis is maintained and to better adapt the meal plans to the patient. This fine-tuning is typically done over the telephone with the hospital dietitian[19] and includes changing the number of calories, altering the ketogenic ratio, or adding some MCT or coconut oils to a classic diet.[18] Urinary ketone levels are checked daily to detect whether ketosis has been achieved and to confirm that the patient is following the diet, though the level of ketones does not correlate with an anticonvulsant effect.[19] This is performed using ketone test strips containing nitroprusside, which change colour from buff-pink to maroon in the presence of acetoacetate (one of the three ketone bodies).[45]
These affect your brain and spine, as well as the nerves that link them together. Epilepsy is one, but others may be helped by a ketogenic diet as well, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep disorders. Scientists aren’t sure why, but it may be that the ketones your body makes when it breaks down fat for energy help protect your brain cells from damage.
Note the emphasis on ketosis as a temporary adaptive state. Our ancestors could not be in fasting-induced ketosis permanently because they would eventually exhaust their fat reserves (which were presumably far more limited than ours, owing to the simple fact that they ate less and moved more than we do). They would then progress from fasting to starving, and subsequently die.
There are many ways in which epilepsy occurs. Examples of pathological physiology include: unusual excitatory connections within the neuronal network of the brain; abnormal neuron structure leading to altered current flow; decreased inhibitory neurotransmitter synthesis; ineffective receptors for inhibitory neurotransmitters; insufficient breakdown of excitatory neurotransmitters leading to excess; immature synapse development; and impaired function of ionic channels.[7]
Note the emphasis on ketosis as a temporary adaptive state. Our ancestors could not be in fasting-induced ketosis permanently because they would eventually exhaust their fat reserves (which were presumably far more limited than ours, owing to the simple fact that they ate less and moved more than we do). They would then progress from fasting to starving, and subsequently die.
The ketone bodies are possibly anticonvulsant; in animal models, acetoacetate and acetone protect against seizures. The ketogenic diet results in adaptive changes to brain energy metabolism that increase the energy reserves; ketone bodies are a more efficient fuel than glucose, and the number of mitochondria is increased. This may help the neurons to remain stable in the face of increased energy demand during a seizure, and may confer a neuroprotective effect.[56]
The ketogenic diet may seem like the latest weight-loss craze, but it’s actually been around for nearly a century. Developed in the 1920s, this ultra-low-carb, high-fat eating plan was originally used to treat seizures in people with epilepsy. Today, it’s getting some serious attention for an entirely different reason. “There’s growing research showing that the ketogenic diet is effective for managing blood sugar in people with diabetes,” says William Yancy, MD, program director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. “However, because we don’t have studies [lasting] longer than two or three years, we don’t know what can happen with regard to complications over longer periods of time.”
The modified Atkins diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in 43% of patients who try it and by more than 90% in 27% of patients.[18] Few adverse effects have been reported, though cholesterol is increased and the diet has not been studied long term.[48] Although based on a smaller data set (126 adults and children from 11 studies over five centres), these results from 2009 compare favourably with the traditional ketogenic diet.[18]
Moreover, the ketogenic diet also reliably raise the “good” HDL-cholesterol, while also improving most other cardiovascular markers, including blood pressure, as this study shows.24 Thus, the overall effect on cholesterol and other markers for heart disease is positive. In some lean hyper-responders, a keto diet will increase LDL particle number, and this effect needs further investigation.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital protocol for initiating the ketogenic diet has been widely adopted.[43] It involves a consultation with the patient and their caregivers and, later, a short hospital admission.[19] Because of the risk of complications during ketogenic diet initiation, most centres begin the diet under close medical supervision in the hospital.[9]
The first modern study of fasting as a treatment for epilepsy was in France in 1911.[12] 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.[13]
Type 2 diabetes. One study found that being on the keto diet for one year reversed diabetes for up to 60 percent of participants. With an average weight loss of 30 pounds, they dramatically reduced or eliminated their need for insulin and no longer needed oral hypoglycemic drugs. The keto diet is also easier to sustain than the calorie-restricted diet or the protein-sparing modified fast.

First, that study, which was reported upon widely, was on mice. Mice are not like humans in the way they fatten or contract metabolic diseases. Journalists/media should stop reporting on mice stories as if they were applicable to humans, especially when there is such a large body of clinical trial data on humans. Let’s be clear: rigorous clinical trial data on humans trumps any data on mice. Every time. And what does the rigorous data on humans say?
Despite its explosive popularity, there’s a lot of confusion about what the ketogenic (keto) diet really is. “Many people think they’re following a keto diet when they’re really just consuming a low-carbohydrate diet,” says Patti Urbanski, MEd, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. “So one person’s ‘keto diet’ may look very different than another’s.”
When you’re eating the foods that get you there (more on that in a minute), your body can enter a state of ketosis in one to three days, she adds. During the diet, the majority of calories you consume come from fat, with a little protein and very little carbohydrates. Ketosis also happens if you eat a very low-calorie diet — think doctor-supervised, only when medically recommended diets of 600 to 800 total calories.
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