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The ketogenic diet became well-known in the 1920s as a therapy for epilepsy. It’s a low carb, high fat diet designed to help reduce seizures in children and adults that don’t respond well to anti-epileptic medications.
In 1921, an endocrinologist discovered three compounds (called ketone bodies) are produced by the liver if you eat foods rich in in fat and low in carbohydrates. By increasing fat and reducing sugar in your diet, you’re forcing your body to burn fat for energy rather than sugar. When your body burns fat, it produces the ketone bodies, which can protect against seizures.
Health experts aren’t sure how or why the ketogenic diet works for people with epilepsy, but they do know you have to follow it exactly to see results.
This diet is not for everyone. It’s very strict and requires extreme discipline.
According to John’s Hopkins Epilepsy Center, the criteria for considering the ketogenic diet include:
Getting started on the keto diet can be overwhelming because it’s usually a dramatic shift in eating habits. Dr. Philip Lee with Mercy Clinic Neurology has nine things you should know about the ketogenic diet.
After starting the diet, you may feel tired or have headaches, sniffling, irritability and even nausea. It’s what some people call the “keto flu,” and it’s only temporary as long as you eat more sodium and electrolytes. Try salting your food, drinking soup broth and eating plenty of salty foods like bacon or packaged lunch meat.
Other side effects of the diet can include digestive problems, high cholesterol, kidney stones, low energy and slower growth rates in children.
Dr. Lee emphasizes that the ketogenic diet is only neurologically used for people with epilepsy that’s difficult to control, and it must be done under a doctor’s supervision. Talk to your Mercy doctor about whether or not the ketogenic diet is right for you or your child.
Dr. Philip Lee is a fellowship-trained neurologist practicing at Mercy Clinic Neurology in St. Louis. Learn more.