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The Ketogenic Diet

by Nicole Dimacale on July 20, 2015
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The typical diet caters to the masses, striving to appeal and be applicable to as many people as possible. There are few diets out there that focus on a very specific group or niche market. Enter the Ketogenic diet, a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that is primarily used for medicinal purposes to treat difficult-to-control epilepsy. While children with epilepsy were the original target market for this diet, it can be used for adults with epilepsy or even those not suffering from epilepsy at all. However, the effectiveness and science behind the Ketogenic diet can be confusing and debatable. So let’s delve into this diet a little more to determine whether or not it provides a truly healthy and effective lifestyle change, which is how all diets should be approached.

The Ketogenic diet has long-standing history that is deeply rooted in scientific research. It was developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. While it proved to be highly effective in treating epilepsy, it became essentially useless in the 1940s when new anti-seizure medications emerged. The diet saw a resurgence in 1994, when a man named Charlie Abraham and his family started The Charlie Foundation. The Charlie Foundation was established after Charlie made a complete recovery from daily seizures, despite testing out all of the available anti-seizure medications and undergoing a futile brain surgery. His recovery was largely if not fully credited to being on the Ketogenic diet as a toddler and remaining on it for five years straight; because of this, today he is a seizure-free college student. Due to the life-changing results he experienced on this diet, The Charlie Foundation commissioned a special panel of neurologists and dietitians in 2006. Collectively, the panel had a particular expertise in using the Ketogenic diet to create a unanimous statement in support of the clinical management of the diet, as well as when it was appropriate for the diet to be considered. What they found was that children are especially good candidates for the diet, due to their reliance on adults for nourishment and to the nature of their young developing brains.

While anyone can try the Ketogenic diet for themselves, the core focus and target market of the diet are individuals suffering from various types of epilepsy. Food plans are therefore a very meticulously regulated component, so as to prevent seizures in children and adults. The Ketogenic diet can take on many variations. However the most standard version provides 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrate, in a 4:1:1 ratio. People on the Ketogenic diet have to eat mostly fatty foods, such as butter, cheese, nuts, cream, peanut butter, etc. Conversely, foods such as bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables have to be severely limited. Total calories are also restricted; at every meal, the food is carefully measured so that the correct amounts of each food are given in that 4:1:1 ratio. Even a slight departure from the diet can completely cancel its potentially beneficial effect. Obviously, the Ketogenic diet is quite strict and can be hard for some people and families to follow. Needless to say, this is certainly not a diet for those with low willpower.

The large majority of this article is focused on the science behind the Ketogenic diet, in an attempt to explain and outline how exactly it works in the human body. Because yes, it really is that complicated! The short and simple explanation is that the diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. The detailed explanation is slightly more complex. Typically, the carbohydrates contained in foods are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body. Glucose, as you may already know, is one of the body’s primary energy sources. This whole process is extremely important for fueling proper brain function. However, if there are very little carbohydrates in one’s diet, the liver ends up converting any and all fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies then go into the brain and replace glucose as the body’s energy source. The objective is to achieve an elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, which is a state known as ketosis. Ketosis leads to a significant reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures. Another effect of the Ketogenic diet is that it lowers glucose levels and improves insulin resistance. In addition to high fats and low carbohydrates, the standard therapeutic diet for pediatric epilepsy calls for just enough protein to aid body growth and repair. When the diet works as intended, people usually start having fewer seizures in as little as two to three weeks.

The Ketogenic diet is impressive in its ability to reduce and even eliminate epileptic seizures. The research behind it is well established and scientifically sound. For those who possess strong willpower to stick to a diet and the dedication necessary to do some in-depth research, the Ketogenic diet may be the most beneficial lifestyle change you or someone you know can make.

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