The ketogenic diet — a low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet — has been used since the 1920s (potentially even back to the biblical ages) to successfully treat epilepsy, especially in those for whom conventional pharmaceutical treatments have been unsuccessful.
Can the diet be used to treat other neurological disorders? Researchers suggest it may, as the diet is thought to alter the pathological mechanisms thought to play a role in a number of neurological diseases.
Emerging evidence from animal studies and clinical trials suggest the ketogenic diet may be used therapeutically with no apparent side effects in many neurological disorders, including headache, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and brain cancer.
In one randomized double-blind study, Alzheimer’s patients on a ketogenic diet showed significant cognitive improvement compared to patients on a conventional American Diet. In cell cultures, ketone bodies have been shown to be effective against the toxic effects of beta-amyloid, a key pathological feature that indicates damage happening in the brain from the disease.
In my last article, I discussed the ketogenic diet and its impact on improving the powerhouses of the cells — the mitochondria. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also thought to play a contributory role in Parkinson’s disease. In one small clinical trial of five patients with Parkinson’s disease, patients on the diet reduced their scores on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale by 43.4 percent.
The ketogenic diet then may also show promise in other neurological disease such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also likely to play role in this devastating disease of the motor neurons. Though human studies have not yet been performed, mouse models of ALS have yielded promising results.
Researchers speculate that the diet may also prove helpful in even in recovery from stroke and brain injury. Another possible mechanism of protection that may be conferred by a ketogenic diet is protecting the neurons in the brain. Excited neurons transmit signals and process information. OVER-excited neurons tend to die.
Yes more studies are needed; however, with the mounting evidence that a ketogenic diet can assist in all causal areas for neurological disorders, it begs the question why are ketogenic diets not the first line of defense for treatment of these diseases.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss. You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.
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