If you’ve heard the buzzwords “keto,” “ketones” or “ketosis,” you may already be familiar with the Ketogenic diet. While it is more popular than ever today for those interested in losing weight and feeling satisfied, the diet was initially developed in response to epilepsy patients struggling to be free of ongoing and debilitating seizures.
Doctors and researchers discovered the power of fasting to reduce seizures long ago. Hippocrates, the legendary Greek physician who lived around 460 to 370 BC, was one of the first to report that fasting could ease epileptic seizures. Other doctors across the globe observed that it required two to three days of fasting to stop seizures, determining that a change in the body’s fuel triggered the shift.
As more studies helped show that a specific diet – the ketogenic diet – could create the same effects without the challenge of fasting, a movement was formed. In the 1920s, a Mayo Clinic physician standardized the Ketogenic diet as follows:
- 1 gram of protein per kilogram of weight
- 10 to 15 grams of carbohydrates
- Remaining calories from fat sources
Researchers have discovered that the diet can reduce seizures by more than 50 percent in about half all patients while reducing them by more than 90 percent in another one-third of patients, according to the Journal of Child Neurology.
In 1994, Charlie Abrahams, the son of a Hollywood producer named Jim Abrahams who suffered uncontrollable epileptic attacks, put the Ketogenic diet on the map for good, thanks to global exposure through an interview on “Dateline.” The family was interviewed about the various interventions they had tried as well as the progress the boy made through the diet. They were so heartened by the boy’s response that they created the Charlie Foundation, a nonprofit designed to promote the Ketogenic diet and further research into its benefits. This even led to a movie starring Meryl Streep, “…First Do No Harm,” which showcased the diet’s success.
A decade later, more than 75 centers in 45 countries made the diet and research available while other low-carb diets continued to grow in popularity, according to “Pediatrics” magazine.
Breaking down the ketogenic diet
This low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet causes the body to produce ketones, an alternate fuel for the body produced from fat in the liver. When the body is producing ketones, it is then said to be in ketosis. The body literally runs on fat, rather than the sugar produced by the breakdown of carbohydrates in the body. Proponents swear by the diet’s weight-loss benefits as well as reduction in hunger, increased and steady energy, and reduction in the symptoms of many chronic illnesses.
When you consume high-carbohydrate foods, the body produces glucose (the easiest molecule for your body to use as energy) as well as insulin, which processes the glucose. In this case, you don’t use fat as a primary energy source, so it is stored in the body. When you dramatically reduce intake of carbs, however, the body goes into the state of ketosis, turning to fat for fuel.
In addition to reducing or even eliminating seizures, proponents of the Ketogenic diet also report that it can help with Type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, heartburn, polycystic ovarian syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, sleep issues and more. Many doctors and functional medicine practitioners are now advocating for a Ketogenic diet to support better wellness among patients. The best part is it isn’t tough to get started. In fact, today it’s easier than ever to begin a ketogenic diet with all of the resources available (from keto specific snacks to keto meal kits).
The diet can be eaten indefinitely and does not require the fasting that many epilepsy patients have struggled with. However, the diet is not always recommended for those on medication for diabetes or high blood pressure or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As with starting any new diet or program, it is advisable to check with your doctor first.
Dan Scalco is a columnist at Inc, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost. In his free time he reads and writes about how to live a healthier personal and professional life. To get in touch with Dan, follow him on Twitter at @DanScalco.