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.
When in the hospital, glucose levels are checked several times daily and the patient is monitored for signs of symptomatic ketosis (which can be treated with a small quantity of orange juice). Lack of energy and lethargy are common, but disappear within two weeks. The parents attend classes over the first three full days, which cover nutrition, managing the diet, preparing meals, avoiding sugar, and handling illness. The level of parental education and commitment required is higher than with medication.
Unfortunately, it has been ingrained into society that consuming dietary fat is detrimental to our health. Due to early “research” by individuals such as Ancel Keys, these concepts have plagued our perceptions of dietary fat for several decades. Dietary fat, when consumed alone, isn’t the culprit for bad health, but rather it is the pairing of high amounts of fat and high amounts of carbohydrates in meals (i.e., fast food) driving the issues. This high fat and carb combination has led to the many serious health problems we face today, giving rise to the quote, “Don’t blame the butter for what the bread did.”
A study with an intent-to-treat prospective design was published in 1998 by a team from the Johns Hopkins Hospital and followed-up by a report published in 2001. As with most studies of the ketogenic diet, no control group (patients who did not receive the treatment) was used. The study enrolled 150 children. After three months, 83% of them were still on the diet, 26% had experienced a good reduction in seizures, 31% had had an excellent reduction, and 3% were seizure-free.[Note 7] At 12 months, 55% were still on the diet, 23% had a good response, 20% had an excellent response, and 7% were seizure-free. Those who had discontinued the diet by this stage did so because it was ineffective, too restrictive, or due to illness, and most of those who remained were benefiting from it. The percentage of those still on the diet at two, three, and four years was 39%, 20%, and 12%, respectively. During this period, the most common reason for discontinuing the diet was because the children had become seizure-free or significantly better. At four years, 16% of the original 150 children had a good reduction in seizure frequency, 14% had an excellent reduction, and 13% were seizure-free, though these figures include many who were no longer on the diet. Those remaining on the diet after this duration were typically not seizure-free, but had had an excellent response.
You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
When you eat foods high in carbohydrates and fat, your body naturally produces glucose. Carbohydrates are the easiest thing for the body to process, and therefore it will use them first – resulting in the excess fats to be stored immediately. In turn, this causes weight gain and health problems that are associated with high fat, high carbohydrate diets (NOT keto).
This article was reviewed by Jes Harvey, RD, on November 7, 2019. Harvey is a registered dietitian specializing in the ketogenic diet for children and adults. She is a certified specialist in Pediatric Nutrition and educates children with epilepsy on the ketogenic diet as an anti-seizure medication. Harvey also manages a private nutrition practice consulting adults on the ketogenic way of eating.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the primary energy source. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits.1There are scientifically-backed studies that show the advantage of a low-carb, ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet. One meta-analysis of low-carbohydrate diets showed a large advantage in weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine study resulted in almost double the weight loss in a long-term study on ketone inducing diets.
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. 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 and includes changing the number of calories, altering the ketogenic ratio, or adding some MCT or coconut oils to a classic diet. 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. 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).
Y. Wady Aude, MD; Arthur S. Agatston, MD; Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD, MSc; Eric H. Lieberman, MD; Marie Almon, MS, RD; Melinda Hansen, ARNP; Gerardo Rojas, MD; Gervasio A. Lamas, MD; Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH, “The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat,” Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(19):2141-2146. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=217514.
First, a little background: Eric Westman, MD, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medical Clinic, explained to Health in a previous interview that in order to successfully follow the keto diet, you need to eat moderate amounts of protein, reduce your carb intake, and increase fats. When you reduce your carb consumption, your body turns to stored fat as its new fuel source—a process called ketosis. To stay in ketosis, followers of the keto diet must limit their carbs to 50 grams a day, Dr. Westman says.
Because the ketogenic diet alters the body's metabolism, it is a first-line therapy in children with certain congenital metabolic diseases such as pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1) deficiency and glucose transporter 1 deficiency syndrome, which prevent the body from using carbohydrates as fuel, leading to a dependency on ketone bodies. The ketogenic diet is beneficial in treating the seizures and some other symptoms in these diseases and is an absolute indication. However, it is absolutely contraindicated in the treatment of other diseases such as pyruvate carboxylase deficiency, porphyria, and other rare genetic disorders of fat metabolism. Persons with a disorder of fatty acid oxidation are unable to metabolise fatty acids, which replace carbohydrates as the major energy source on the diet. On the ketogenic diet, their bodies would consume their own protein stores for fuel, leading to ketoacidosis, and eventually coma and death.
There are numerous benefits that come with being on keto: from weight loss and increased energy levels to therapeutic medical applications. Most anyone can safely benefit from eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. Below, you’ll find a short list of the benefits you can receive from a ketogenic diet. For a more comprehensive list, you can also read our in-depth article here >
Breath Ketone Analysis: This method analyzes an individual’s breath to determine whether or not they are producing ketones, specifically, acetone. While this method has also been found to be an effective indicator, more research needs to be done to examine how this compares to blood testing. Studies investigating breath analyzers have found that these devices serve as a reliable indicator of ketosis.
As for branched-chain amino acids, you'll find smart people who swear that they're keto-friendly, and others who don't. One of the BCAAs, valine, can be glucogenic, meaning that it can lead to glucose production and potentially contribute to leaving ketosis behind. But does that mean it will happen? Not necessarily, particularly if you're just an occasional supplement user.