I have autism & bipolar. The diagnosis for both was about a year ago, but the effects have been throughout my life.
I’ve been reading research lately while at school during classes I don’t like, and found a handful of articles that talk about the “ketogenic diet” or “ketosis diet.” It grew out of a diet in the 1800’s, where kids with epilepsy would go on starvation diets and see temporary cures.
Yes – starvation can cure epilepsy, albeit temporarily.
A researcher found that the body of a healthy individual under starvation conditions creates three new chemicals – acetone, acetoacetic acid, and another one with a longer, less memorable name. He hypothesized that these were the chemicals that improved normal brain function in starvation.
A few years later, the classical ketogenic diet was born. It used significant intake from fat and provided only 10% of calories from carbs or protein – only enough protein to sustain body mass, and carbs the same. Excess protein would be processed via gluconeogenesis into glucose, and carbs would be processed into glucose as well, which would decrease the brain’s reliance on ketones for energy.
As time under starvation or low-carb conditions progresses, the body switches over to using ketones. Muscles switch quickly, but it takes the brain a while – even after months on a ketogenic diet, a significant portion of the brain still relies on glucose. But slowly it switches.
The amazing part of the research showed that, once kids were seizure-free for about six months, they could slowly come off the diet and in many cases, remain seizure-free. That is amazing. These were kids who had tried at least 6 different medications and hadn’t seen any improvement.
Epilepsy and bipolar share similar activities in the brain. So much so, in fact, that epilepsy medications are prescribed for bipolar. There hasn’t been a large-scale study of a ketogenic diet and its effects on bipolar, but a handful of small-scale studies show significant promise, and rat models show that ketosis can decrease depression.
On the same line, anecdotal and small-trial evidence shows that autism, which is currently completely incurable, is positively affected by a ketogenic diet. There again have been no large-scale studies, but hope for a cure in an area without one is still some type of hope.
The physiological rationale behind why the ketogenic diet has never been explained with full accuracy. Some people think that the displacement of sodium ions with acidic ketones makes neurons less likely to “rapid fire”. Others see that ketones are more energy-dense (5 calories / gram vs 4 calories / gram in glucose) and so enable the brain to use more energy, rebuilding tissue and activating pathways that did not previously have enough energy to be used.
Regardless of the reason, I suddenly found myself looking at a diet that held out a hope of helping, and maybe even curing, autism and bipolar from my life. And if that’s really possible, I’m willing to do anything.