The Origin of The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate protein, and a low-carbohydrate diet. In the medical field, it is primarily used to treat epilepsy in children. The ketogenic diet helps as a nutrition therapy that increases the success rate and removes the limitations of the non-mainstream use of fasting to treat epilepsy. Read on to know about the origin of the ketogenic diet and much more!
History of the Ketogenic Diet
Fasting and other dietary interventions have been a part of epileptic treatment since at least 500 BC. In the past, there were several dietary “cures” for epilepsy which included the excess or limitation of almost every substance.
Although, fasting as a treatment for seizures was not acceptable at that time. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates reported on a man who had seizures due to epileptic convulsions after having anointed himself before the fire in a bath in winter. Complete withholding from drink and food was found to be an effective cure in this case.
Documentation reveals Fasting as a therapy for seizures in biblical times as well. In a quotation from the NIV Version of the Bible, Mark relates the story of Jesus curing an epileptic boy. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him privately why they had not been able to cure the boy, Jesus said: “this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ, one of the most famous paintings of a person with epilepsy is based on this passage from Mark. The painting is in two parts. The upper part depicts the transfiguration of Jesus Christ and the lower part portrays the healing of the boy with epilepsy.
The 1920s – 1970s
In the 1920s, modern physicians led the origin of ketogenic diet to mimic the metabolism of fasting as a treatment for epilepsy. For a couple of decades, this diet therapy was widely in use. However, with the onset of the modern era of anti-epileptic drug treatment, its use declined substantially. By the end of the 20th century, keto diet therapy was available in only a small number of children’s hospitals.
It was in 1921 that endocrinologist Rollin Woodyatt noted that the liver produces three water-soluble compounds namely acetone, β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate (together called ketones) as a result of starvation or if one followed a diet rich in fat and low in carbohydrates. Russel Wilder from the Mayo Clinic called it the “ketogenic diet” and used it as a treatment for epilepsy.
Further research in the 1960s showcased that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) produce more ketones per unit of energy because they transport quickly to the liver via the hepatic portal vein, as opposed to the lymphatic system. In 1971, Peter Huttenlocher designed a ketogenic diet in which MCT oil provides 60% of the calories. This led to the inclusion of more carbohydrates and proteins compared to the original ketogenic diet. In other words, parents could now prepare simpler and enjoyable meals for their epileptic children. Multiple hospitals adopted the MCT diet instead of the original ketogenic diet, although some used a combination of both.
The Modern Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy
The modern ketogenic diet which began in the 1920s was a nutritional plan made of low carbohydrates, high fat, and high protein. This compels the body to use fat in place of carbohydrates for energy. Forced ketosis forms two acids in the blood, ketones and decanoic acid that our bodies and brains use for fuel.
With the supervision of an epilepsy specialist and an expert nutritionist or dietitian, the two acids help reduce the prevalence of seizures for some people. According to Great Ormond Street Hospital, the ketogenic diet helps with:
- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
- Myoclonic-astatic epilepsy (Doose syndrome)
- Dravet syndrome (severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy)
- Infancy onset epileptic encephalopathies (including Infantile spasms/West syndrome)
- Symptomatic epilepsies. e.g. tuberous sclerosis, bilateral cortical malformations or diffuse bilateral brain injuries
- GLUT 1 deficiency
- PDH deficiency
The Advancement of the Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss
In the past 15 years, there has been an immense boom in learning the science behind the ketogenic diet. Several studies support the fact that a ketogenic diet helps kids with epilepsy. The positive results have kept children suffering from epilepsy out of surgery. It also aids them to reduce their medication over the years. However, the body’s switch of the preferred energy source from carbohydrates to fats had an added bonus – weight loss. The weight loss industry has very lovingly adopted this benefit.
In fact, fasting, the precursor to the ketogenic diet has been used to treat a spectrum of human health issues for centuries. Ketogenic diets emerged about 100 years ago as a viable alternative. It allows the biochemical effects of fasting to persist while providing fuel for the body.
Thus, quick and long-term weight loss has been a strong motivator for practitioners of the ketogenic diet through history. As a path to weight loss, the diet remains effective for epilepsy treatment. Since the origin of ketogenic diet, it has been effective for increasing energy levels, bringing down the weight, and increasing quality of life. But like any other diet and exercise routine, one has to stick to the change for a long-term to keep it going. Hence, one should always follow it under the guidelines of a medical practitioner to prevent its side effects.