The Ketogenic diet, commonly known as ‘the keto diet’, is a high fat, low carbohydrate diet that has recently become popular across the nation. The ketogenic diet was developed as a treatment for epilepsy in the 1920s. However, the ideas that inspired this type of diet as a medical treatment can be traced as far back as 400 B.C.
In ancient Greece, fasting was recommended by physicians in order to treat epilepsy. It was reportedly very effective but was not tested by modern doctors until the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1911, French doctors conducted a study on twenty epilepsy patients, putting them on a stringent low calorie, vegetarian diet along with periods of fasting. About ten years later, Dr. Hugh Conklin began treating his patients epileptic seizures with fasting. He theorized that a toxin was being released from the intestines of his patients, and several weeks of fasting could make them feel healthier. By 1930, Dr. Mynie Peterman had developed the diet used today, both for weight loss and as a medical treatment for epileptics who do not respond to traditional medication.
The mechanics behind the efficacy of the ketogenic diet are fairly simple to understand. Normally, when you eat food containing carbohydrates, your body converts the carbohydrates into glucose during the digestive process. This glucose then gets transported across the body, playing an especially important role in brain function. But, on a low carb diet like the keto, your body makes use of stored fat instead, producing ketone bodies as a replacement for glucose. These ketone bodies very effective in the treatment of seizures. What used to be just a side effect of this diet, weight loss, is now the primary reason most people adopt the diet today.
The Keto diet is by no means universally popular however, there are many critics who not only doubt the efficacy of the Keto diet as a method of weight loss, but also view the diet as a health risk to those who use it. According to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the department of agriculture, low-fat diets are a superior option to a low-carb diet. Other studies have shown that this diet can lead to ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition.
For the most part, there is no real evidence to support either those who support the Keto diet or those who critique it. There is a very limited amount of actual scientific studies on the effects of this diet, and most of those took place over a limited timeframe, several decades in the past. And the results of those studies are highly contested as well, leaving the long term health effects of the Keto diet a mystery to us all.