The Ketogenic Diet

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

August 20, 2018

The new study published in Cell (covered here in NMJ) by UCLA researchers who report a possible mechanism for the ketogenic diet’s benefit in reducing seizures may suggest some new ways to think about a number of things. The researchers, led by Elaine Hsiao, suggest that following the ketogenic diet quickly shifts populations of bacteria that comprise the gut biome in favor of Akkermansia and Parabacteroides. These bacteria create a reaction that increases GABA levels in the brain. The increased GABA suppresses seizures.

No wonder people report how ‘good they feel’ when following a ketogenic diet; they are increasing GABA levels, something that is rather hard to do. Sure people take supplements containing GABA but the research has long questioned if any of this crosses the blood brain barrier to actually reach the brain. Following this diet may do what supplementation can’t.

Think of GABA as the opposite of caffeine; it is calming, inhibits unwanted excitement, the mellowing neurotransmitter. The more anxious and frenetic the individual, probably the more they will cherish how they feel eating a ketogenic diet.

Just because people ‘feel good’ does not tell us whether this is a healthful practice in the long run. The actions of the human biome are complicated. The general rule is that diversity is good and anything that simplifies the ecosystem less good. It may be that increasing these two populations of bacteria using the ketogenic diet is helpful, but let’s not be surprised when we eventually discover the downside.

About the Author

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO, is a graduate of National University of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, and recently retired from his practice in Denver, Colorado. He served as president to the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is a past member of the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He is recognized as a fellow by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. He serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review (NDNR), and Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal. In 2008, he was awarded the Vis Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. His writing appears regularly in NDNR, the Townsend Letter, and Natural Medicine Journal, where he is the past Abstracts & Commentary editor.