Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment

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The Ketogenic Diet may have benefits for a number of medical conditions, many of them serious or life threatening. The research for the use of the Ketogenic Diet in epilepsy is well established, but for other illnesses it is still emerging.

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  • Epilepsy. The use of the Ketogenic Diets for Epilepsy is well established.
  • Cancer. The Ketogenic Diet may help with the treatment of cancer. The current evidence suggests to me that the Ketogenic Diet is unlikely to be an alternative to conventional treatments, but rather a supplement. The evidence so far is limited, but animal studies as well as the case of two children with inoperable brain tumors that regressed under the ketogenic diet are promising (Nebeling, seyfried, zuccoli).
    • Most cancers, including brain tumors depend on glucose and they cannot metabolize ketones.
    • Cancers promote the growth of new blood vessels, something the ketogenic diet inhibits, as Ketones are anti-angiogenic.
    • Cancer cells often don't undergo natural cell death, something the ketogenic diet also enhances.
  • Hypoxia. There are a number of medical conditions that reduce the supply of oxygen (hypoxia), and the Ketogenic Diet may reduce the damage that occurs as a result.
    • Head trauma. Head trauma often results in a rapid increase in cerebral glucose metabolism, followed but a prolonged decrease. Administering glucose to patients tends to result in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that worsens the outcome. In animal studies, fasting or a ketogenic diet improves tissue preservation, but further research is needed.
    • Stroke. Because a stroke involves the reduction of blood flow to areas of the brain, the Ketogenic diet may help reduce the resulting damage. (
    • Altitude Sickness. It is possible that the ketogenic diet may help with altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness), but more research is needed. (Personally, I've found I can tolerate my lower oxygen levels during Altitude Training while on the ketogenic diet.)
  • Heart disease. The effect of the ketogenic diet on heart disease risk is unclear. There are some concerns that the ketogenic diet raises blood lipids, and this in turn may increase the risk for heart disease. However, some studies have shown that the ketogenic diet improves markers associated with the risk of heart disease (
  • Alzheimer's disease (AD). AD is a degenerative neurological condition characterized by memory loss and there is currently no treatment. There is some evidence that a ketogenic diet may not only improve the symptoms of AD, but may modify the disease activity itself. The benefits of the ketogenic diet may also have benefits for other neurological conditions involving neuron death. A drug called Axona was introduced in 2009 as an FDA approved "medical food" and it consists of a MCT oil (caprylic acid).
  • Parkinson's disease. Animal studies and anecdotal reports suggest that the ketogenic diet may reverse the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but there are no published human studies.
  • Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Like Parkinson's disease, there is currently only animal and anecdotal reports of success, but human studies are under way.
  • Type 1 diabetes. At one time, type 1 diabetes (previously called childhood diabetes) was expected to be fatal within a year. The first approach was a starvation diet of 450 calories per day, which lead Fredrick M Allen to use a 70% fat, 8% carbohydrate diet that was the standard treatment before the discovery of insulin.
  • Autism. There are early reports from a Greek study in Crete indicating that the ketogenic diet may produce some improvement in some children. There are also anecdotal reports of epileptic children treated with the ketogenic diet also having improvements in their autism.
  • Inflammatory disease.
  • Migraine. While a 1930's textbook talks of the possibility of the ketogenic diet helping with migraines, a study of 8 teenagers with severe migraines at John Hopkins showed the ketogenic diet was ineffective.
  • Severe hyperactivity. There are initial reports that the ketogenic diet improves hyperactivity in animal reports, and some anecdotal reports of the benefit in humans. As with Autism, there are also reports of epileptic children treated with the ketogenic diet also having improvements in their hyperactivity.
  • Schizophrenia. There is a case report of a radical improvement in schizophrenia with the ketogenic diet. However, this may be due to a removal of the gluten from the diet rather than the overall dietary changes.
  • Depression and bipolar disorder. There are a number of cases that have been reported where the ketogenic diet helps normalize the mood state of those with bipolar disorder.