Patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) who adopted a high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet saw significant improvements in their MS – including reductions in neurologic disability, fatigue and depression and heightened overall quality of life, a new study from UVA Health (University of Virginia) finds.
The ketogenic diet – popular for weight loss – was put to the test among 65 volunteers with relapsing-remitting MS, an inflammatory disorder in which the immune system attacks the natural insulation that protects the body’s nerves in the brain and spinal cord. MS symptoms vary widely, but people often struggle with cognition, dexterity and mobility.
Dietary changes are known to have effects on the body’s immune system. In particular, the ketogenic diet may have several benefits for immune-mediated disorders, so the researchers wanted to investigate how this diet could help patients with MS.
The study findings
In the new study, more than 80% of participants on the keto diet adhered to it for the full six-month study period. Participants lost body fat and reported significant improvements in fatigue, depression and quality of life.
In addition, their performance improved on physical endurance testing, such as the six-minute walk.
The team found that the diet had a wide range of benefits, as determined both by patient report and by laboratory and clinical tests.
For example, patients on keto diets walked farther and faster in six minutes than they did prior to the diet. Other benefits included reductions in total body fat and enhanced fine motor speed, as well as improved fatigue, depression and quality of life scores and beneficial changes in inflammatory blood markers.
About the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet cuts carbohydrates dramatically and replaces them with healthy fats. As a result, the body relies on fat as a primary energy source (as opposed to carbs/sugars).
Based on the findings, the researchers conclude that the ketogenic diet is safe in the short-term and potentially effective in improving MS-related symptoms and overall quality of life.
“Our study provides evidence that a ketogenic diet is safe and beneficial, reducing some symptoms for people with MS, when used over a six-month period,” the researchers said. “Still, more research is needed as there are risks associated with these diets. It is important that people with MS consult with their healthcare provider before making any big changes to their diet, and that they be regularly monitored by a physician and registered dietitian if pursuing a true ketogenic diet.”
The researchers will present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th annual meeting in April in Seattle. They also plan to submit the results to a peer-reviewed journal.
Source: UVA Health, March 8, 2022.
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