I love bread like Kanye loves Kanye. So why would I even think about going on the ketogenic diet? In this article, I provide a firsthand account of my first week on the keto diet, including how it affected my MS symptoms.
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet. Experts claim that the keto diet offers many health benefits. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into an alterned metabolic state (ketosis). When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. There are many scientific studies that support the use of the diet to reduce lose weight and improve health. Despite the success stories the diet is still controversial. A diet very high in saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. And putting your body into a ketogenic state is not something that should be taken lightly.
But there are numerous health benefits associated with being on the keto diet! Studies show that a high-fat/low carb diet can lead to:
- Dramatic reduction in blood triglycerides, which are fat molecules that increase your risk of heart disease
- Increased levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk of heart disease
- Reduced blood sugar and insulin levels – particularly helpful for people with diabetes and insulin resistance
- lower blood pressure
- treatment for neurological disorders
I don’t want to die of heart disease! I have a neurological disorder! Maybe this diet is for me!
The Keto Diet for Brain Health
Your brain primarily relies on glucose for the bulk of its energy demands. In a typical American diet high in carbohydrates, there is plenty of glucose available for brain fuel.
But when the brain does not have enough glucose for energy, e.g., during times of fasting or low carb intake,it needs a backup fuel source. In response, the liver breaks down fatty acids and amino acids to produce ketone bodies. Typically, the liver produces ketones in small amounts whenever you go several hours without eating, for example, after a long sleep. However, during fasting or when carb intake is resicted, typically below 50 grams per day, the liver increases its production of ketones from fatty acids even further. This metabolic state, which is known as ketosis, is considered holy grail of the ketogenic diet.
When carbs are eliminated or minimized, ketones can provide up to 70% of the brain’s energy needs.
The ketogenic diet is an established treatment option for children with drug-resistant epilepsy. The chemicals produced during states of ketosis have a marked affect on chemical signaling in the brain, resulting in a reduction in seizures. We really don’t understand the mechanism behind the diet’s anti-seizure effects, but because it has been so successful, scientists have started studying the effects of the keto diet on other neurological issues. These studies centered around the effects of the keto diet on migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disorders, brain cancer, autism, and ALS. And recently, the University of Virginia launched a two-year study on the effects of the keto diet on MS.
I have MS, and my neurogist is at UVA!
And so I enrolled in the study.
Keto Diet for MS: The Study
Turns out that I am the perfect candidate for this study, since I have MS, am in the correct age range, and I am willing to torture myself for little to no compensation. Kidding on the last part.
I made the appointment to meet with the Clinical Study team at UVA.
Bring a bathing suit. We’re going to put you in the Bod Pod.
Enrollment in the study started just like any other enrollment in a clincial study. Lots of paperwork, questionaires, and cognitive tests just for funsies! Kidding again. These are all designed to measure my baseline levels so that my sleep, mood, and cognitive function can be monitored throughout the course of the study. Great. Then I got to speak with the principal investigator for the study and a registered dietician. Access to a dietician is one of the biggest perks of the study in my opinion, since it gives everyone some assurance that I am safely and effectively entering and sustaining ketosis.
After the baseline tests and the meetings, it was time to get my bathing suit on and hop in the Bod Pod.
The Bod Pod is a machine that gives an accurate measurement of your body fat percentage using air displacement. It looks like a giant Tylenol capsule. Basically, you sit in the Tyelnol for about 3 minutes while it does its thing, occassionally breathing into a giant tube. Then the computer spits out a report that lets you know how out of shape you really are.
I am out of shape. But they’ve seen worse. Much worse. And while I admit that I need to lose a few pounds, I was not completely prepared for the numbers that I received, stating that I am at risk for obesity-related issues.
Maybe the keto diet will fix that. After all, people go on it to lose weight.
The First Days of the Keto Diet
At press time, I have been on the keto diet for about 10 days. I am eating all the bacon and sausage and almonds and spinach and whipping cream and avocados and eggs that I can get my hands on. I make sure to add leafy green vegetables that are low in carbs to my most of my meals. And I perform the Ketostix test (i.e., I pee on a stick) daily to measure for ketone bodies. According to the tests, I entered ketosis after the first day, and have detected ketones every day since I started the diet.
So Far, So Good, I Guess
I know I am only 10 days in, but I don’t notice any significant changes yet. There have been days that I have been more lethargic than usual – not MS fatigue, but just a general feeling like not doing much of anything. This feeling is typically paired with a bit of achiness in my upper body and mental spaciness. Then, there are days that I feel terrific – mentally sharper, more energetic. But I am not really sure if that is the diet, or if I am just having a good day. I have not lost any weight. Not one. Single. Pound.
And believe it or not, I don’t miss or crave bread, cookies, or cakes. What I do miss is convenience. For instance, I can’t just go in the pantry and get a granola bar when I am hungry. I can’t snack on Boom Chicka Pop or pretzels at night while I am watching TV. I have to plan meals, and because I am not subjecting my entire family to this torture – I mean diet – I end cooking more than one meal at dinner time. It’s annoying.
Stay tuned to see if things change!