Ketogenic diet is often confused with fasting because they are metabolically similar. Generally speaking, both shift the body’s primary means of deriving energy from carbs to fat cells.
Although Ketogenic diet has been used since centuries by sages in many cultures to remain healthy and improve brain functions, it found little coverage in the dieting mainstream. People often ask: Does Ketogenic Diet work? Let’s find out.
Why People Question Ketogenic Diet
Most of the criticisms of ketogenic diets for fat loss revolve around the purported negative health effects (i.e. kidney damage) or misconceptions about ketogenic metabolism (i.e. ketones are made out of protein). This belief primarily originated due to the rapid loss of muscle protein in the body due to reduced calorie intake caused by starvation.
In the last century, many scientists worked to prove the benefits of the diet scientifically. Complete starvation was studied frequently including the seminal research of Hill, who fasted a subject for 60 days to examine the effects, which was summarized by Cahill. The effects of starvation made it initially attractive to treat morbid obesity as rapid weight/fat loss would occur.
Other characteristics attributed to ketosis, such as appetite suppression and a sense of well being, made fasting even more attractive for weight loss. Extremely obese subjects have been fasted for periods up to one year given nothing more than water, vitamins and minerals.
Challenge with Ketogenic Diet
The major problem with complete starvation is a large loss of body protein, primarily from muscle tissue. Although protein losses decrease rapidly as starvation continues, up to one half of the total weight lost during a complete fast is muscle and water, a ratio which is unacceptable.
In 1970s, a modified version of the diet was launched under the name Protein Sparing Modified Fast or PSMF that solved this concern by adding high amounts of protein in the diet preventing the muscle loss caused due to starvation fasting.
However, the diet only grabbed eyeballs when Dr. Atkins launched a similar version of the diet in his book, “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution”, in the early 1970s. The book sold a million copies and came to be known as Atkins diet. It brought back attention to the ketosis process.
Dr. Atkins not only promoted the diet as a means to lose weight but as a lifestyle choice. However, due to lack of convincing scientific research and unpopularity with American Medical Association, the diet again fell into obscurity.
The Ketogenic diet, in its current form, has found popularity again in the last decade driven by new scientific data and proven research. Many people now swear by the effectiveness of the diet and have shared their transformation stories.
So What Stands for Ketogenic Diet?
The biggest support in favor of Ketogenic diet has been its successful treatment of epileptic children for more than a hundred years with no or little side effects.
(Note that these side effects were caused due to existing medical concerns with the patients and no direct link with the diet has yet been established).
Due to the problems with extended fasting, early nutrition researchers looked for a way to mimic starvation ketosis, while allowing food consumption. Research determined that a diet high in fat, low in carbohydrate and providing the minimal protein needed to sustain growth could maintain starvation ketosis for long periods of time.
This led to development of the original ketogenic diet for epilepsy in 1921 by Dr. Wilder. Dr. Wilder’s ketogenic diet controlled pediatric epilepsy in many cases where drugs and other treatments had failed. The ketogenic diet as developed by Dr. Wilder is essentially identical to the diet being used in 1998 to treat childhood epilepsy.
The ketogenic diet fell into obscurity during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as new epilepsy drugs were discovered. The difficulty in administering the diet, especially in the face of easily prescribed drugs, caused it to all but disappear during this time.
A few modified ketogenic diets, such as the Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) diet, which provided greater food variability were tried but they too fell into obscurity.
In what was the resurgence of the diet, in 1994, a 2 year old child, Charlie, with seizures, who doctors had failed to treat with medicines or other surgery, was successfully treated by keeping him on a Ketogenic diet for an elongated period of time.
In fact, driven by his speedy recovery, Charlie’s father started the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies to invest in the study and treatment of epilepsy using Keto diet.
The amazing success of the ketogenic diet where other treatments had failed led Charlie’s father to create the Charlie Foundation, which has produced several videos, published the book “The Epilepsy Diet Treatment: An introduction to the ketogenic diet”, and has sponsored conferences to train physicians and dietitians to implement the diet.
Although the exact mechanisms of how the ketogenic diet works to control epilepsy are still unknown , the diet continues to gain acceptance as an alternative to drug therapy.
Driven by extensive research and numerous success stories, the Ketogenic diet is again making roads in the popular folklore of dieting and weight loss.
Somewhat difficult to understand is why ketogenic diets have been readily accepted as medical treatment for certain conditions but are so equally decried when mentioned for fat loss. a diet presumed so dangerous for fat loss is being used clinically without problem. Pediatric epilepsy patients are routinely kept in deep ketosis for periods up to 3 years, and occasionally longer, with few ill effects.
This begs the question of why Yet the mention of a brief stint on a ketogenic diet for fat loss and many people will comment about kidney and liver damage, ketoacidosis, muscle loss, etc. If these side effects occurred due to a ketogenic diet, we would expect to see them in epileptic children.