THE IMPORTANCE BIOINDIVIDUALITY OF DIET
Most of you know by now that I’m a doctor that really loves to encourage the plant based lifestyle. I follow it myself and am trained as a Gerson therapy practitioner. I always encourage whole foods and organic choices. Following a clean, plant based or even vegan diet may be right for MANY people. It is a great way to prevent disease while you are young or on your journey to health, but that does not mean it is right for every single person. What if I told you that some people get vitamin deficiencies on a vegan diet? Or that some people have to cut out meat to improve their constipation? Everyone is different. Because we all have a different genetic makeup with unique genetic codings or mutations, then certain foods, nutrients and even medications are absorbed at varying rates, in different ways or not at all. It is not plausible that one diet can be suitable for everyone on the planet.
For example, even the Gerson Institute acknowledges that liver capsules or bone marrow/broth is needed for parasympathetic dominant conditions such as lymphoma or leukemia. They will often add kefir, organic yogurt, hemp, chia, or bone broth to the Gerson diet, especially in someone who needs to add weight. Often, in the elderly or cachetic (those wasting away due to disease), you must urgently rescue them in order to reverse their disease. This may mean incorporating a diet high in protein and often patients cannot do this with plants alone-even under the supervision of Gerson. People with adrenal fatigue, sympathetic driven, or type A may be prone to constipation. If this is the case, they should not be consuming meat for the most part. Other people are sensitive to gluten or even fiber and still others excel as a vegetarian or vegan. My point is that I believe in bioindividuality of diet. Did you know that there is a diet that has been scientifically shown to drastically improve certain conditions that affect the brain?
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET?
YES. This diet is the Ketogenic diet. And wait–don’t jump the gun on me here-its not your typical Atkins bacon indulgence fest. The ketogenic diet is being taught to everyone from children with epilepsy and autism to patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease, brain tumors, traumatic brain injury, Parkinsons and other mitochondrial disorders. Epilepsy affects some 2.3 million adults in America and close to half a million children. Further, about one in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lives.
The strict diet consists of about 90% fat and 7% protein and 3% glycemic carbohydrate ratio. Note that veggies other than potatoes are considered non glycemic carbohydrates and are therefore allowed. A more lax version of the diet is 80% fat, 15% protein, and 5% carbohydrate; the ratio of fat to carbohydrate plus protein ranges from 2:1 to 4:1. Higher ratios are more restrictive but also more effective!
No one is quite sure how the diet works so well for epilepsy. However, multiple anecdotal events and even studies have shown that when it is quite beneficial for children who have been resistant to standard anti seizure medications. One theory in the ketogenic diet’s success is the state of ketosis is produces and how this affects the brain. It is thought that hyperpolarization of neurons occurs, stabilizing synaptic function and increasing resistance to seizures throughout the brain. And studies show this may be similar to how fasting works!
Prolonged fasting can produce a metabolic state called ketosis. It is difficult to achieve and hang out in continually, but when done properly, the body will use fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrates/sugar. The brain can also use fat for energy and this has a profound affect on how the brain functions and interacts, although it is not fully understood quite yet. Eating a diet which increases the availability of fat and limits the amount of carbs and proteins has a similar effect as fasting. In fact, a proper ketogenic diet is kicked off with a 24-48 hour water fast.
“Now a report, appearing several weeks ago in the journal Neurology, reveals that in fact, a ketogenic diet is also profoundly helpful in treating adult forms of epilepsy as well. This research, published by investigators in Maryland, found that there was at least a 50% reduction in seizures in 32% of patients treated with a ketogenic diet as well as in 29% of patients who went on a modified Atkins diet. In fact, 9% of those placed on the ketogenic diet and 5% of those placed on the modified Atkins diet had a greater than 90% reduction in the frequency of their epileptic seizures. These diets were designed such that the bulk of calories, between 67% and 75%, came from fat. The study revealed that “the anticonvulsant effect occurs quickly with both diets, within days to weeks.” Interestingly, the most common side effect was weight-loss which the office indicated “maybe advantageous inpatients with obesity.”
Another clinical trial at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2008 showed that the diet significantly reduced the number of seizures in some children whose seizures did not respond well to automatic electrical devices. After three months, 4 in 10 (40%) children who started the diet had the number of their seizures reduced by over half and were able to reduce their medication.
The diet should be followed for approximately three years. There are many stories like 11 year old Charlie at the charliefoundation.org-who adopted the ketogenic diet for five years and became seizure free. He is now in college and eats whatever he wants!
Believe it or not this information has been well studied in the neurology field since the 1920s. There are multiple studies validating its efficacy.
WHAT OTHER BRAIN DISORDERS CAN THE KETOGENIC DIET HELP?
- Brain Tumors and Possibly Other Cancers: Remember I talked about how the ketogenic diet produces ketosis which forces the brain to use fats for energy and drop glucose utilization? Normal tissue can adapt readily to using ketones (instead of glucose) as a substrate, but malignant cancer cells probably do not have the same degree of metabolic flexibility. Therefore, cancerous tumor cells are preferentially killed over healthy cells! Although I love Gerson Therapy, I have to question the fat restriction (other than flaxseed). Gerson therapy seems to work well for certain cancers while the ketogenic diet seems to support other cancers. Ketogenic diets have been associated with decreased tumor growth in animal models of gliomas, prostate cancer, and gastric cancer.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: Again the theory here is that ketosis provides a new and novel way for the brain to extract energy, better known as ATP. Sadly, human studies are lacking. “Several animal studies have investigated the effect of ketone bodies in traumatic brain injured rats. A state of ketosis from either fasting or provided by a ketogenic diet has been shown to improve recovery. In direct contrast to the benefit of ketogenic diet on brain recovery is the negative effect of high-sugar, high-fat diets given to brain injured rats. The recovery in these rats was measurably worse.” Can we have some human studies please?
- Autism: A study published in 2003 demonstrated that some children with autism on an intermittent ketogenic diet experienced a significant reduction in autistic symptoms. It has been hypothesized that this is due to the production of adenosine. It seems this diet may be very restrictive for children with autism, who often have a limited variety of foods they choose to eat. A casein and gluten free diet has also shown to be promising, so you can imagine how difficult it might be for parents to follow another diet on top. More studies are needed to confirm the extent at which the ketogenic diet could help those with autism.
- Alzheimers/Parkinsons/ALS Disorders: In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 152 people with Alzheimer’s, a ketone agent extracted from medium-chain triglyceride oil was given as a medication along with a normal diet. The degree of memory improvement was significant in the study group who had Alzheimer’s and was positively correlated with the blood levels of the ketone agent. Aging mice were able to navigate mazes and recognize objects better while on a ketogenic diet compared to a control group of mice on a regular diet. Another animal study showed that ketogenic diet fed to brain-injured mice protected neurons from damage and even allowed them to regenerate! Moreover, a few of my patients have made vast strides concerning their neurodegenerative condition using medium chain triglyceride fats, better known as coconut oil. Studies are now showing the diet may hold promise in repairing faulty mitochondrial (powerhouse of the cell) dysfunction too.
WHAT DO YOU EAT ON THE KETOGENIC DIET?
Think tons of heathy fats, nuts, seeds, oils like olive or coconut, grass fed creams and butters. This diet is not for everyone. It is for those with a brain condition, and even then, is not recommended long term because of side effects such as kidney stones, elevated cholesterol, constipation and in some, weight loss. There are a number of fabulous recipes over at charliefoundation.org-think almond flour crackers, spinach souffle, avocado ice cream, broccoli slaw, high fiber rolls and flaxseed porridge.
Again this diet is not for everyone and all patients should begin by talking to their trusted healthcare provider to see if it may be right for them. It is not meant for longterm strict adherence.
This is just one example of a diet that is not the norm for what many of us would consider healthy. Although the plant based diets is what is normally touted, the ketogenic diet has proven that it too holds a place in the healing realm. This is why I personally believe in bioindividuality of diet and nutrition choices. We could all use some more fruits and veggies in our lives, but perhaps we should have a bit of compassion for people who choose a different path than us.
You are becoming your own best doctor!