The ketogenic diet is not a benign, holistic, or natural treatment for epilepsy; as with any serious medical therapy, complications may result. These are generally less severe and less frequent than with anticonvulsant medication or surgery. Common but easily treatable short-term side effects include constipation, low-grade acidosis, and hypoglycaemia if an initial fast is undertaken. Raised levels of lipids in the blood affect up to 60% of children and cholesterol levels may increase by around 30%. This can be treated by changes to the fat content of the diet, such as from saturated fats towards polyunsaturated fats, and if persistent, by lowering the ketogenic ratio. Supplements are necessary to counter the dietary deficiency of many micronutrients.
The ketone bodies are possibly anticonvulsant; in animal models, acetoacetate and acetone protect against seizures. The ketogenic diet results in adaptive changes to brain energy metabolism that increase the energy reserves; ketone bodies are a more efficient fuel than glucose, and the number of mitochondria is increased. This may help the neurons to remain stable in the face of increased energy demand during a seizure, and may confer a neuroprotective effect.
Variations on the Johns Hopkins protocol are common. The initiation can be performed using outpatient clinics rather than requiring a stay in hospital. Often, no initial fast is used (fasting increases the risk of acidosis, hypoglycaemia, and weight loss). Rather than increasing meal sizes over the three-day initiation, some institutions maintain meal size, but alter the ketogenic ratio from 2:1 to 4:1.
Insulin is a hormone that lets your body use or store sugar as fuel. Ketogenic diets make you burn through this fuel quickly, so you don’t need to store it. This means your body needs -- and makes -- less insulin. Those lower levels may help protect you against some kinds of cancer or even slow the growth of cancer cells. More research is needed on this, though.
I was very curious about this, so I asked the opinion of metabolic expert Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Here is what she told me. “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,” she confirmed, though generally she recommends that people “use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them.”
Long-term use of the ketogenic diet in children increases the risk of slowed or stunted growth, bone fractures, and kidney stones. The diet reduces levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, which is important for childhood growth. Like many anticonvulsant drugs, the ketogenic diet has an adverse effect on bone health. Many factors may be involved such as acidosis and suppressed growth hormone. About one in 20 children on the ketogenic diet develop kidney stones (compared with one in several thousand for the general population). A class of anticonvulsants known as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (topiramate, zonisamide) are known to increase the risk of kidney stones, but the combination of these anticonvulsants and the ketogenic diet does not appear to elevate the risk above that of the diet alone. The stones are treatable and do not justify discontinuation of the diet. Johns Hopkins Hospital now gives oral potassium citrate supplements to all ketogenic diet patients, resulting in one-seventh of the incidence of kidney stones. However, this empiric usage has not been tested in a prospective controlled trial. Kidney stone formation (nephrolithiasis) is associated with the diet for four reasons:
It all depends on you. Researchers suspect that the 16:8 diet isn’t quite as effective for weight loss as more extreme forms of fasting, like alternate-day fasting. On the other hand, studies suggest that alternate-day fasting doesn't produce better weight loss results compared to daily calorie restriction. Plus, eating only every other day is very restrictive and can be tougher to stick to.
I’ll share some of my experiences, now doing heavy strength training for 3 years in a fasted state: For my first “fasted” workout or two after starting an IF protocol, it was very weird to not eat before training. However, after a few sessions, I learned that my body could certainly function (and even thrive) during my training sessions despite not eating a pre-workout meal.
I never exercise on an empty stomach. As a rule, I put something in the tank 2 hours before a hike or yoga class to make sure I don't peter out...or pass out. But it turns out that exercising in a fasted state worked for me. Instead of feeling light-headed, I had more grit and go. I marched up that mountain on a mission and planked with more purpose. Major perks: Science shows that exercising in a fasted state can supercharge your body's fat-burning potential.
The other thing that worked out in my favor was that it felt dang good. Granted, the first couple of hangry days were no fun, but on the other side of that, my energy levels skyrocketed, eating became an experience to be enjoyed rather than just food to be wolfed down, and everything seemed to have more flavor. Did strawberries always taste so sweet?
Not around your waist, but on your plate: A new report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that more and more of us are choosing whole-fat foods over skim, lite, fat-free or other modern monikers of leanness. And while many health organizations like the American Heart Association still want us to cut down on fat—particularly saturated fat—this full-fat trend may be a healthy rebellion against those decades-old credos, according to recent studies. Click here to discover The 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss!
Third, you've probably already fasted many times, even though you don't know it. Have you ever slept in late on the weekends and then had a late brunch? Some people do this every weekend. In situations like these, we often eat dinner the night before and then don't eat until 11am or noon or even later. There's your 16–hour fast and you didn't even think about it.
So what if you think you could restrict your eating to fewer than eight hours, but aren’t sure you could commit to alternate-day fasting? You might want to try shortening your daily eating window a little bit more. Varady and her team are currently in the process of comparing 4-hour and 6-hour eating windows for shedding pounds. “We are curious to see if these shorter eating windows result in more rapid weight loss compared to 8-hour time restricted feeding,” she says.
The brain is composed of a network of neurons that transmit signals by propagating nerve impulses. The propagation of this impulse from one neuron to another is typically controlled by neurotransmitters, though there are also electrical pathways between some neurons. Neurotransmitters can inhibit impulse firing (primarily done by γ-aminobutyric acid, or GABA) or they can excite the neuron into firing (primarily done by glutamate). A neuron that releases inhibitory neurotransmitters from its terminals is called an inhibitory neuron, while one that releases excitatory neurotransmitters is an excitatory neuron. When the normal balance between inhibition and excitation is significantly disrupted in all or part of the brain, a seizure can occur. The GABA system is an important target for anticonvulsant drugs, since seizures may be discouraged by increasing GABA synthesis, decreasing its breakdown, or enhancing its effect on neurons.
In Buddhism, fasting is undertaken as part of the monastic training of Theravada Buddhist monks, who fast daily from noon to sunrise of the next day. This fasting is also undertaken by laypeople who undertake the eight precepts, optional rules laypeople can take to get an impression of what it is like to live as a monastic. Taiwanese physician Ming-Jun Hung and his co-authors have analyzed early and medieval Chinese Buddhist Texts and argue that the main purposes of the half-day fast is to lessen desire, improve fitness and strength, and decrease sleepiness.
Intermittent fasting—more an eating pattern than a diet, science says it can help you lose weight (a smaller eating window means less calories consumed), but even better, research has linked it to improved blood sugar levels, decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, and, according to neuroscientist Mark Mattson's research, it might just help your brain ward off neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's while improving mood and memory.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is designed to help you lose up to 6 to 10 pounds (2.7 to 4.5 kilograms) during the initial two-week phase. After that, you transition into the second phase, where you continue to lose 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week until you reach your goal weight. By continuing the lifelong habits that you've learned, you can then maintain your goal weight for the rest of your life.