At UPG, we get a lot of questions about diets and how they could benefit people living with serious ailments. Today, we look at two popular disease-fighting diets: the ketogenic diet and the alkaline diet.
We have known for a long, long time that what you put in your body will affect what you get out of your body. As Hippocrates himself, the father of modern medicine, has said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Here at United Patients Group, we always strongly recommend eating better to feel better. For most people, this simply means more vegetables and less processed foods. But in certain cases, a strict diet may be needed to fight the illness. Let’s take a deeper look at a couple of these strict diets, which people they’re supposed to help, and whether and how they work.
Before anti-convulsants were created, one of the main ways epilepsy was treated was through the ketonic diet, an extremely high-fat, low-carb regimen. When the patient ingests very few carbohydrates, his or her body can’t create energy the usual way (by converting carbs into glucose) and has to run on substances called ketone bodies, created by the liver and sent to the brain. Elevated levels of these ketone bodies (the molecules acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid) lead to a metabolic state called ketosis, which through unknown mechanisms helps reduce or even eliminate epileptic seizures.
The ketonic diet became the primary treatment of pediatric epilepsy after it was reported at an American Medical Association (AMA) convention in 1921. Fasting, which also induces ketosis, had been a known treatment before then, but it obviously was not sustainable long-term. As anti-convulsants became available, the ketonic diet’s popularity faded away, but it was resurrected in the late 1990s as an alternative treatment for intractable epilepsy.
The diet imposes a strict ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 fat to proteins and carbs and is usually used for children (adults have a harder time following it). Because it is so difficult to get right, the diet requires medical supervision. But for epileptics who don’t respond to medications, the ketonic diet can be quite effective. One study of 150 children who were taking at least two anti-convulsants found that 34 percent of those who remained on the diet after three months had a greater than 90 percent reduction in seizures. Another survey of 58 children who didn’t respond to multiple anti-epileptic drugs reported improved seizure control in 67 percent of patients who followed the ketonic diet.
The alkaline diet is all the rage in some circles, promoted by numerous books claiming benefits from weight loss and energy increase to curing heart disease and cancer. The idea is that the human body is naturally slightly alkaline (pH 7.35–7.45), but eating foods that cause an acidic reaction makes our systems acidic (anything lower than 7 on the pH scale), which can throw the system off. According to this theory, eating more alkaline foods will restore balance to the body, curing ailments that thrive in acidity, such as cancer.
Foods to avoid on the alkaline diet include dairy, processed grains, red meat, and sugars. Foods to increase include veggies, sprouted grains, nuts, and low-sugar fruits. Drinking alkalinized water is also encouraged. Because the diet recommends lots of fresh, whole foods, people who go on it will likely lose weight and feel better. But what about its health claims?
Mainstream medicine rejects the entire premise that you can change your body’s pH levels with diet. Gabe Mirkin, MD, explains, “All foods that leave your stomach are acidic. Then they enter your intestines where secretions from your pancreas neutralize the stomach acids. So no matter what you eat, the food in stomach is acidic and the food in the intestines is alkaline. Dietary modification cannot change the acidity of any part of your body except your urine.”
The American Institute for Cancer Research is blunt in its rejection of the low-acidity-environment theory: “Altering the cell environment of the human body to create a less-acidic, less-cancer-friendly environment is virtually impossible. … While proponents of this myth argue that avoiding certain foods and eating others can change the body’s pH level, these claims stand in stark contrast to everything we know about the chemistry of the human body.”
Having said that, we have met quite a few people who feel genuinely transformed by going on the alkaline diet. If you’ve tried it and found any notable (or even miraculous) benefits, please share your story in the comments.