Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
September 19, 2018
Multiple sclerosis has no cure at this current moment. It is unclear what is the exact etiology otherwise there would be a cure. Based on research, genetic and environmental factors play a role. Based on MRI observations, there are inflammatory and degenerative components to the pathogenesis.
What is the ketogenic diet and how does it pertain the brain
The ketogenic diet was initially found to be effective in treatment of medically refractory seizures. But the underlying concept might be applied to other diseases as well.
Instead glucose as the energy substrate, ketones are utilized, If the supply of glucose is reduced, the energy source is shifted towards the beta-oxidation of fatty acids into ketone bodies. These ketones become the new source of energy and allows increased ATP formation which is the source of energy in the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of the cell where energy is formed.
Different lines of thinking regarding pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis
There are lines of thought that Multiple sclerosis can be inflammatory versus neurodegenerative. Because of this many agents are directed towards the autoimmune component of the disease process. It is commonly thought that the autoimmune process results in the neurodegeneration seen on MRI.
As evidenced by the “black holes” seen on MRI after acute attacks, there is evidence there is a neurodegenerative aspect. This other line of thinking suggests that it is a degenerative process that triggers the inflammatory response.
It’s been found that degenerating axons have abnormal mitochondria.
Ketogenic diet and inflammation
In one animal study, it was found that the ketogenic diet reduced inflammatory cytokines after 14 days in animals (2).
Ketogenic diet and increased ATP
In one animal model with a control group and a group on ketogenic diet, after 3 weeks it was found that those on the ketogenic diet had a higher ATP/ADP ratio which is speculated to contribute towards neuronal stability.
How can the ketogenic diet help with Multiple Sclerosis?
The ketogenic diet reduces the formation of reactive oxygen species. It preserves ATP production when the mitochondria fails. The thought is that the axons start to degenerate once the mitochondria are dysfunctional (1).
There are no human clinical studies on ketogenic diet and the improvement of multiple sclerosis. Based on pre-clinical studies, there is indication that ketogenic diet may help improve the ATP stores when the mitochondria becomes dysfunctional which may potentially slow neurodegeneration of axons.
The ketogenic diet might reduce inflammation which is thought to be triggered by a neurodegenerative process in Multiple Sclerosis. However, more studies are needed especially human clinical trials. Currently there is not enough evidence to support this based on the available studies as pre-clinical studies do not always correlate in human trials. More studies are needed.
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- Storoni, M., Plant, G. The therapeutic potential of the ketogenic diet in treating progressive multiple sclerosis. Mult. Scler. Int. 2015. doi 10.1155/2015/681289
- Dupuis, N., Curatolo, N., Benoist, J.F., Auvin, S., Ketogenic diet exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. Epilepsia, 2015. 56(7):e95-98
- DeVivo, D.C., Leckie, M.P., Ferrendell, J.S., McDougal, D.B., Jr. Chronic ketosis and cerebral metabolism. Ann Neurol. 1978, Apr. 394):331-337