What are the Medical Uses of the Ketogenic Diet
Fasting for better health goes back at least to the ancient Greeks. Physicians back then noticed that fasting reduced or eliminated epileptic seizures.
We now realize fasting increases ketogenesis. After your body burns the glucose in your blood and muscle tissue, it must burn fat to provide you with energy.
In the 1920s, a doctor figured out that when somebody fasted or ate a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat, their livers produced ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are water-soluble molecules of fat that cells burn for energy.
Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic used this information to devise a diet that people with epilepsy could remain on indefinitely. A weakness of fasting is that it must be temporary. The Greek epileptics had to eat, and then they suffered seizures again.
Wilder’s diet had epileptics eating 1 gram a day of protein per pound of body weight, almost no carbohydrates and lots of fat.
Wilder’s diet had great success in reducing or eliminating seizures, but it was forgotten when science devised anti-seizure medications in the 1940s.
Jim Abrahams is an actor whose son, Charlie, suffered from seizures that did not stop with medication. Five neurologists tried and failed to arrest Charlie’s seizures.
Desperate and looking for anything to cure his child, Abrahams discovered the ketogenic diet, and tried it.
Unlike the anticonvulsant medications, staying in ketosis stopped Charlie’s seizures.
In the 1970s Dr. Robert Atkins came out with his book advising people to eat protein and fat, and drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake.
In reaction to criticism he and his company backpedaled, but his original advice was to eat ZERO carbohydrates.
No vegetables. No fruits. No grains. No sugar. Zero carbohydrates.
You could eat as much protein and fat as desired.
Bacon. Hamburgers (without the bun). Rich cheeses.
He did not push healthy oils at all. He didn’t ban olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil. But he didn’t push them either. The majority of his readers ate a large amount of saturated fat and vegetable oils used to fry foods.
Few people knew about healthy fats. Most people unknowingly bought inflammatory oils like vegetable oils.
People who went on the Atkins diet did go into ketosis and lost weight, but they couldn’t stay on it for very long.
Obviously, it didn’t contain many vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals or fiber.
Excess carbohydrates are not your only health enemy. Excess protein encourages your mTOR (growth) metabolic pathway and contains glutamate. A later chapter is devoted to explaining those problems more in depth.
Something had to be done. It was a good idea, but too much protein and not enough good carbohydrates ruined the chances of the Atkins Diet being able to fix cancer and seizures for a long period of time.
- Low amounts of healthy carbohydrates (no refined sugar) — which is what puts your body into ketosis.
- Low amounts of healthy sources of protein. You want enough protein to maintain your body, but not enough to encourage the mTOR pathway.
Since there are only three macro-nutrients, keeping two of them low automatically means the third one must make up the difference.
And that’s healthy forms of fat and oils.
The ketogenic diet is now incredibly popular with people who want to lose weight.
Remember that it was developed first as a way to control seizures in children, and then later applied to cancer patients.
The only “natural” way to get into ketogenesis is through fasting.
Our ancestors no doubt had to survive periods of time with no food.
However, there’s no reason to think people in the past ever ate 90% of their calories from fat.
And it would have been very difficult.
Their main sources of fat would have been animals. The fat comes mixed with the protein in meat, milk, and eggs.