When most people embark on a new diet plan, it’s for one reason only — to shed body fat. And we all know there’s one diet that has recently gained quite the reputation for doing that really well: the ketogenic diet. Similar to the Atkins diet, it involves lowering your carb intake to push your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. This is where the body switches from burning carbs as its primary source of energy to burning fat. In consuming a high amount of fat (and a moderate amount of protein), the idea is that you’ll remain satiated even though you’re skimping on the carbs.
If it all sounds a bit extreme and ‘bro science, that’s because it is. But according to new research, the ketogenic diet may be useful for more than just shedding fat. A study from the Sapienza University in Rome showed that the ketogenic diet may work wonders for migraines. The diet was originally created almost a century ago to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. This is because ketones help to block the high level of glutamate (found in MSG and other processed foods) that can trigger epilepsy.
Curious about whether the same principle could be used to treat migraines, the Italian researchers originally ran a study back in 2013. They found that the diet reduced migraine frequency in 90% of their test subjects, but they weren’t sure why this was the case. In their follow-up study, they learned that the ketone bodies dampen the neural inflammation that causes both migraines and epilepsy.
“In the classic ketogenic diet, the fat that’s taken in with the food is the source for the production of ketone bodies. These have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is important because ‘sterile inflammation’ – inflammation caused by damage rather than by microbes – is at the heart of migraines.” – Study lead author, Cherubino De Lorenzo – via coach.nine.com.au
So, what’s the downside?
Fewer migraines and shredded abs – sounds amazing, right? But as someone who’s actually tried this type of diet (and yes, I did lose body fat) I can tell you that it’s very, very hard. To go into a state of ketosis, you have to eat less than 20 grams of carbs per day. To put this into perspective, a cup of broccoli contains around 8 grams of carbs. As the body enters ketosis, many people experience this lovely little thing called the ‘keto flu.’ For around 3 to 5 days, you may feel weak, dizzy, fatigued, and generally just on another planet. Ironically, I also experienced a lot of headaches during this stage.
Once you get out of this transition process, you tend to feel really alert, focused, and energized– which is great! But the thing is, any time you go over that carb threshold (accidentally or otherwise) you go out of ketosis and have to go through the process again. Plus, on this type of diet, many people tend to eat foods like cheese, bacon, and butter in excess: which long term obviously isn’t amazing for your cholesterol levels.
Luckily, you may not have to go full keto to ward off the dreaded migraines. The researchers aren’t sure whether ketone production is the only reason the ketogenic diet works so well for migraines. It could also be due to the fact that in following this type of diet, you’re less likely to consume some of the common migraine triggers — including MSG, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. So, instead of jumping on the keto bandwagon, it may be worth chatting to your doc about cutting some of these foods out of your diet.