Nutrition is an essential part of every process and operation that the human body is a part of. While dieting is an increasingly popular practice among those who would like to get fit, changes in nutrition can be a crucial factor in a system of treatment for patients suffering from severe health conditions. The latest trend includes the Ketogenic (Keto) diet, which is low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and extremely high in fats. The Keto diet serves as a viable treatment option because it can reduce the symptoms of epilepsy, regulate insulin spikes associated with diabetes, and reverse some of the brain damages that are a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Science Behind It
The goal of the Ketogenic diet is to get most of the calories from healthful fats rather than carbohydrates. The body gets depleted of its sugar reserves and starts burning fat for energy. Switching the energy fuel from glucose to fat sends the body into a state of ketosis, which impacts insulin regulation, inflammation, and overall energy levels. A number of studies suggest that the Keto diet can be an effective nutrition alternative for patients struggling with obesity, dementia, and mental health issues (Bolla et al., 2019; Liu et al., 2018; Ulamek-Koziol et al., 2019).
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
Helping with Seizures
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that results in abnormal brain function. It causes seizures, loss of awareness, and unexpected sensations. Unprovoked seizures can be treated with medications and surgery, but sometimes lifelong medical assistance is needed. Doctors first introduced the Ketogenic diet as a supplementary treatment for children with epilepsy in the 1920s. The diet can help reduce the total number of seizures, their intensity, and regularity (Ulamek-Koziol et al., 2019).
Problems start to arise when patients are resistant to anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Apart from surgery and non-traditional medicinal practices, the Keto diet is the only way for them to reduce the severity of seizures and improve their overall condition. Studies have shown that the diet is the best option for drug-resistant epilepsy patients. Chinese researchers examined the efficacy and safety of the Ketogenic diet and concluded that it is, in fact, “a promising treatment for intractable epilepsy in adults” (Liu et al., 2018).
Dietary treatments must always be followed with the support of a professional epilepsy specialist and nutritionist. They do regular follow-ups and usually ask the patient to keep a diary of their seizures, changes in mood, alertness, and actions. To check if the diet is going smoothly and working properly, doctors estimate the patient’s ketone levels. Ketones are chemicals formed when the body uses fat for energy instead of glucose. Patients usually need to add vitamins and minerals to balance out their meals. Switching to sugar-free drugs is required to maximize the effects of the Ketogenic diet.
It is crucial for the total calorie intake of the patient to stay the same. If their metabolic rate is 1600 calories, their daily intake should not go below that number. The Ketogenic diet is not effective while starving or restricting. It is a process of adjusting the menu so that most of the calories (60%) come from fat, 30% from protein, and a limited amount (10%) is allocated to carbohydrates. However, the diet often needs to adapt to specific genetic conditions such as lactose- or gluten intolerance.
Patients with epilepsy often have two main options when it comes to the Ketogenic diet. They can choose between the classic keto diet and the medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) diet. The name is somewhat complicated, but the concept is simple. MCTs are fatty acids that can produce ketones much more easily. The diet allows more variety as less total fat is needed because patients add a supplement of MCT oil to their daily meals. Instead of the strict ratio of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats of the classic Keto diet, the MCT plan is based on the percentage of energy that fats provide during the day. Epilepsy patients may find this particular diet more sustainable and manageable, which can affect their results following a low-carbohydrate nutrition plan.
Even though more flexible diets similar to Keto (Modified Atkins diet, low glycaemic index treatment) gain popularity among celebrities and influencers, it is important to examine the facts. Based on all the recent research and scientific findings, only a combination of the Keto diet and AEDs regulated by a medical professional can have a significant effect on managing the symptoms of epilepsy for both children and adult patients.
Insulin Levels and Weight Loss
It might seem strange that a special diet for type 2 diabetes is based mainly on fat consumption. The exact ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates has the potential to gradually decrease blood sugar levels. Managing carbohydrate intake is not a new concept for professionals specializing in diabetes because carbohydrates are the main source of glucose, which can cause blood sugar spikes. By switching their focus to fat, patients who have diabetes can reduce their blood sugar levels and stabilize their overall condition.
The Ketogenic diet is an effective and safe treatment option for obese patients and those struggling with type 2 diabetes. The research suggests that following the diet can reduce the risk of having diabetes (preventative measures), improve patients’ glycaemic control, and help them lose excess weight and gain muscle (Bolla et al., 2019). Patients also can reduce their need for certain insulin-regulating medications. Type 2 diabetes is studied a lot more, but observational research suggests that patients with type 1 diabetes can greatly benefit from a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet as well.
Lower consumption of carbohydrates regulates and slowly decreases the production of insulin, but it requires close and careful monitoring from a medical professional. Even though the Keto diet is quite straightforward, glucose and ketone levels have to be measured and controlled by a doctor. Once the body finally adjusts and fully gets into ketosis (which can take up from a couple of weeks to about two months), medical tests and adjustments are still required. Like any other form of prescribed treatment, the Ketogenic diet demands a systematic approach and frequent check-ups with a physician.
Despite the diet’s medicinal administration, its popularity among overweight people continues to grow. The Keto diet modifies the body’s usual energy supply system to get the majority of its energy from fat instead of carbohydrates (ketosis). Excess weight influences all the body functions and often leads to serious health conditions. Heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis are among the conditions associated with obesity. Therefore, introducing the Keto diet might be a preventative measure for some. It can help people experience noticeable weight loss and regulate their energy distribution throughout the day.
Patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia often considered a disease of aging. Older people at the age of sixty-five and higher are usually victims of such a condition, but the disease tends to develop much earlier. The symptoms include severe memory loss and a decline in thinking that affect day-to-day tasks. Alzheimer’s is caused by neurons that fail to provide networks for inter-cell communication. As a result, cells cannot communicate properly, which leads to cell death and impaired cognitive abilities. The earliest symptom of the disease is usually memory loss as the cells from the region responsible for learning and memory (hippocampus) are often the first to get damaged. No cure to stop or slow down the progression of the disease has been developed yet. However, there are some drugs and therapies that improve the symptoms. Research continues to examine possible treatment options, but for now, the most effective way to manage Alzheimer’s is through physical fitness and diet.
The Ketogenic diet has a direct impact on neurons and overall brain health. The reversal in Alzheimer’s is likely as ketones have the ability to stimulate the survival of neurons and their extensions, thereby protecting the vital communication network between brain cells (Charlie Foundation, 2019). A lot of neurological conditions are interconnected. For example, people with Alzheimer’s are more prone to seizures. Clinical evidence suggests that a Ketogenic diet is a viable option for patients struggling with epilepsy because a high-fat diet can reduce the number and regularity of seizures (Ulamek-Koziol et al., 2019). Diabetes and Alzheimer’s are both affected by the excess of insulin relative to glucose levels in the blood. Compelling evidence mentioned earlier demonstrates that diabetes can be managed and regulated through a systematic dietary intervention like Keto as well.
Alterations in a diet play a significant role in neurological conditions. The Ketogenic diet can be considered a reasonable nutrition practice for patients dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It protects brain functions by stimulating the growth and survival of neurons. Based on the recent studies, the diet serves as an effective preventative measure and a recommended treatment option that should be considered by the patients and medical professionals treating them.
Possible Risks of the Keto Diet
The diet’s opposers argue that its efficacy and health benefits are primarily overshadowed by all the potential side effects. They include high blood pressure, nausea, fatigue, and excessive sweating (Francis et al., 2019). Dietary alterations such as the Ketogenic diet are not just ways to lose weight. They are systematic treatments that should be monitored and regulated by a professional. Like any other form of therapy, the Keto diet requires a careful approach that comprises frequent tests and adjustments. The diet is supposed to be a supplementary nutrition practice that has to be carefully implemented after discussions with a physician.
The Ketogenic diet is an effective and safe treatment option for patients struggling with serious health conditions. It is used for patients with epilepsy as it helps them regulate their unexpected seizures. Diabetes and obesity associated with it are often treated by altering the diet and lowering carbohydrate consumption. Neurological issues and diseases like Alzheimer’s can be potentially reversed by switching to a high-fat diet that stabilizes insulin levels and protects brain cells. Despite the growing trend of dieting using Keto, losing weight is not the primary goal of this nutrition practice. The diet should be discussed with and closely monitored by a physician.
Bolla, A. M., Caretto, A., Laurenzi, A., Scavini, M., & Piemonti, L. (2019). Low-carb and Ketogenic diets in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Nutrients, 11(5), 962. Web.
Charlie Foundation. (2019). Author. Web.
Francis, B. A., Fillenworth, J., Gorelick, P., Karanec, K., & Tanner, A. (2019). The feasibility, safety and effectiveness of a Ketogenic diet for refractory status epilepticus in adults in the intensive care unit. Neurocritical Care, 30, 652-657. Web.
Liu, H., Yang, Y., Wang, Y., Tang, H., Zhang, f., Zhang, Y., & Zhao, Y. (2018). Ketogenic diet for treatment of intractable epilepsy in adults: A meta‐analysis of observational studies. Epilepsia Open 3, 9-17. Web.
Ulamek-Koziol, M., Czuczwar, S., Januszewski, S., & Pluta, R. (2019). Ketogenic diet and epilepsy. Nutrients, 11(10), 2510. Web.