Using food as medicine has taken on new meaning as more scientists and physicians discover ways to use a specific diet protocol, known as the ketogenic plan, to combat conditions including cancer, depression, dementia, epilepsy, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases as well as for weight loss. Now a six-year-old boy who was having 300 seizures a day has found relief by following a high fat low carb ketogenic diet, reported the New York Daily News on Thursday.
The child, Charlie Smith, was taking medication prior to changing to a ketogenic diet. But the drugs did not work, and he continued to lose consciousness and suffer.
After neurologists suggested shifting to a high fat, low carbohydrate ketogenic diet, it took only a short period of time to provide relief for the little boy. He no longer needs medication and has not had seizures since making the change two years ago.
How it works: High fat low carb diets put the body into a state of nutritional ketosis. As a result, the body burns fat rather than glucose, which has been shown in many cases to reduce or even halt seizures.
But epilepsy is not the only disease that can benefit from a ketogenic diet. In an exclusive interview on Friday, we asked Dr. Terry Wahls, author of “The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine,” to offer her insights on how a ketogneic Paleo diet can help with multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Wahls had been a vegetarian for 20 years. But when her neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic referred her to Dr. Ashton Embry’s Direct MS, which was dedicated to supporting research and education in the area of diet and multiple sclerosis, she began exploring the potential of the Paleo diet.
“This led me to the work of Dr. Loren Cordain and his advocacy of the Paleo Diet as a means of treating autoimmune conditions and improving health,” recalled Dr. Wahls. Author of “The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young,” Dr. Cordain has become known as a pioneer in the grain-free, dairy-free, low carb Paleo diet movement .
“I read through the scientific studies and decided that the Paleo Diet as an intervention had merit,” Dr. Wahls told me. “I added meat back to my diet and removed grain, dairy and legumes.”
Despite those preliminary changes, Dr. Wahls continued to decline and received a second diagnosis of secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. “I took the recommended chemotherapy; I got the tilt/recline wheelchair and even took Tysabri, but continued to slowly decline,” she now says.
Pursuing the potential in using food and supplements to slow her decline, Dr. Wahls initially took supplements that helped somewhat. But it wasn’t until she vowed to get the nutrients she needed directly from food based on the Paleo diet that “the magic began to happen.”
It took only three months for her intense fatigue to vanish. “Within six months I could walk throughout the hospital without a cane and my neurologist agreed that I could taper and discontinue my disease-modifying drugs,” says Dr. Wahls.
And one year after being confined to a wheelchair, “I was able to do an 18-mile bike tour with my family.” Now she recognizes that food “is the most powerful driver of epigenetics.”
Dr. Wahls translates epigenetics as “how the environment speaks to our genes, turning some genes on making them active, and others off, making them silent.” And the percentage of chronic conditions linked to environment is dramatic.
“Nearly every chronic disease today (high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological problems, mental health problems, autoimmunity, and cancer) is an interaction with our genes and diet, toxin exposure, physical activity level, stress level, sleep quality and prior infections that account for the development of disease,” Dr. Wahls told me. She estimates that DNA is related to only five percent of the risk.
As for ketogenic diets as the key to reversing disease, Dr. Wahls noted that their use includes “treatment for other neurological and psychiatric disorders including brain cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, dementia, bipolar, depression and schizophrenia.” In addition, various other types of cancer as well as diabetes and obesity can be helped with these low carb high fat (LCHF) diets.
Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” concurs that LCHF plans can make a dramatic difference in a wide range of conditions. In particular, he’s drawn attention for his view that eliminating all forms of grains, not just refined ones, are an essential part of using food as medicine.
In an era where the rate of dementia is growing, Dr. Perlmutter says that you can generate new brain cells regardless of your age by fueling your body with fat and cholesterol rather than sugar and carbohydrates. However, he and Dr. Wahls emphasize that it’s critical to boost fat and limit carbs.
Although some plant-based dieters follow low-carb food plans, Dr. Wahls questions whether a vegan plan can be used to achieve nutritional ketosis. She does feel that it can be helpful in such cases to use medium chain triglycerides (MCT) for this purpose.
“Nutritional ketosis requires high fat and limited carbohydrate. Using medium chain triglycerides (MCT) for the fat source allow for more intake of carbohydrates (up to 60 to 80 grams) as opposed to the 25 grams of carbohydrates needed for those who are using butter and cream as the fat source,” she told me.
However, even vegan dieters who use MCT oil for fat must consume sufficient protein while reducing carbohydrates, cautioned Dr. Wahls. “I am doubtful that it can be sustained successfully,” she added.
The most well-known version of the ketogenic diet for weight loss is the Atkins diet. Although “New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great” does offer information for plant-based dieters, it is targeted at vegetarians who can have eggs and dairy rather than vegans.