Keto Diet Origins - Links to Epilepsy & Diabetes

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We’ve got something real special for you today, Keto friends; something that we hope will be incredibly informative!

 Doctor checking blood pressure

You may already be aware of the Keto Diet’s use as an effective means of mitigating the effects of diabetes; due to the focus on fats and proteins over carbohydrates, it is a perfect form of dietary therapy that will help make diabetic individual’s lives a lot more comfortable in the long run (alongside medication and insulin injections, of course). It might even be assumed by some of you that the diet finds it’s origins as a form dietary therapy and treatment for diabetes.

Well, you’d be half right; it DID originate as a form of dietary therapy to help treat a difficult to manage and life changing medical disorder. But it wasn’t diabetes; it was Epilepsy. However, to fully explain these origins, we have to go a little bit further back first and foremost.


One of the earliest known practices for dealing with Epilepsy as an ongoing problem was the practice of Fasting; texts from as far back ancient Greece reference massively reduced consumption of food and drink as a means to treat the disorder and reduce seizures. Granted, the ancient Greek’s understanding of the disease was, shall we say, “a little flawed”- they believed it was, like most ailments, supernatural in origin- but they were sort of on the mark with the treatment; early modern studies into the practice that took place in France in the 1910‘s saw some success with epilepsy patients that managed to stick to the extremely strict dietary restrictions placed upon them. Around about the same time, osteopathic physician Hugh Conklin began to use fasting as a form of treatment for his epileptic patients, after conjecturing that the root cause of the problem were toxins secreted by the Peyer’s Patches found in the intestines, that would secrete into the bloodstream and trigger seizures in high doses. The “water diet” he proposed, which included a period of 18 to 25 days fasting to allow this toxin to dissipate, boasted a cure rate of up to 90% in children, and about 50% in adults; quite significant results, though it was reported that seizures returned after the fast was over. Regardless, this practice was quickly picked up by contemporary neurologists and proved to be quite successful, although one Dr. Murray wrote to the New York Medical Journal claiming to have reduced the return rate of seizures by following the fast with a starch and sugar free diet- sounding familiar yet?

Scientist analysing



Just under a decade later, Rollin Woodyatt’s further research on the subject of diabetes uncovered that people who ate diets that were high in fats, low in carbs, produced three water soluable compounds in their livers that others didn’t- these compounds are β-Hydroxybutyrate, Acetoacetate and Acetone, which are today known as Ketone Bodies collectively. Russell Wilder, of the Mayo Clinic, built on this research along with his colleague, paediatrician Mynie Peterman, coining terms like Ketosis/Ketonemia, Ketogenic Diet, and developed the baseline measurements and formula that the diet we use today is still formed around. It’s success rates amongst individuals with epilepsy were similar to that of Conklin’s “water” diet- it was particularly effective amongst children and teenagers, but began to drop off in effectiveness amongst adults. However, it was known to not only reduce the amount of seizures patients would suffer, but would in some cases render them seizure free in the future. As a result, it became the go-to-method of treating and combating most forms of epilepsy until 1938, when H. Houston Merritt and Tracy Putnam’s discovery of Phenytoin (aka Dilantin) changed the course of research towards discovering and developing new drugs. This lead to the eventual introduction of Sodium Valproate in the 1970s, a time in which a wide range of drugs were available and effective in treating many other forms of epilepsy, in which the already declining Ketogenic Diet further faded into obscurity as a form of epilepsy treatment.


 Blood sugar check

However, as you can no doubt tell, the diet saw a revival in the early 90s throughout the mainstream as a result of the Charlie Abrahams Case- the infant son of Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams, Charlie suffered from severe epileptic seizures that no form of mainstream or alternative treatments seemed to combat, and it was only upon stumbling upon mentions of the Ketogenic Diet in a reference guide for parents (and subsequently bringing his son to one of the at-the-time very few clinics that still offered it) that Charlie’s condition began to improve. This inspired Jim Abrahams to set up the Charlie Foundation, which promoted and raised awareness of the diet whilst securing funding for further research into it- efforts which lead to the publishing of several medial journals on the subject, as well as a revitalised interest in the diet’s effectiveness at treating or aiding in the treatment of epilepsy within the medical community.


Of course, throughout all of this, it has continued to be recommended as a form of dietary therapy for diabetic individuals with a fair bit of success. Likewise, the diet has also been adopted in the mainstream as a means of losing wait and helping promote bodily health alongside regular exercise. Not bad for a humble little diet born out of millennia-old superstitions, eh?

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