Anyone who experiences chronic pain knows that medication alone rarely completely alleviates the deep discomfort that chronic pain brings.
For this reason, patients, doctors and researchers have all turned to lifestyle elements, like diet and physical activity, to determine how certain choices can work to alleviate symptoms of chronic pain.
One of the diets that has recently gained significant attention as a potential solution to a range of problems from weight loss to chronic pain is the ketogenic diet (or keto diet, for short).
Could taking on a keto diet be the solution for your chronic pain? Here, we review the basic components of a ketogenic diet, and review what the current research says about whether it can help us cope with our chronic pain.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
One of the main things that differentiates the keto diet from a “normal” diet is the macronutrient ratio. While the exact ratio will vary depending on the company promoting each diet, the general pattern is as follows: a certain portion of the calories come from carbohydrates (a very small portion) at 5 percent, a larger portion of calories come from protein (35 percent), and the largest number of calories come from fats (65 percent).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), on the other hand, is composed of 45-65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20-35 percent from fat and 10-35 percent from protein. It is clear that the ketogenic diet is a significant change, tripling fat, and essentially eliminating carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet is based on a bodily process called ketosis, which is a chemical route to make energy available when glucose stores (the preferred source of energy for the body) are depleted. Instead, the body looks to fat as an energy source, breaking it down and producing what are called ketones. Because fat is being broken down into energy, people tend to lose body fat.
These ketones can be used by the muscle and brain for energy when needed, though not by the liver. At the same time, a ketogenic diet needs to be closely monitored and balanced to ensure that the body doesn’t break down muscle for energy instead of fat. For these reasons, it is important to have a closely monitored diet if you are looking to take on a ketogenic diet.
Does a Ketogenic Diet Help to Control Chronic Pain?
Now that we know what a Ketogenic diet is, does it help with alleviating chronic pain?
One of the first studies that examined this possibility was one published in Plos One in 2009. The article discussed laboratory researched performed on juvenile and adult rats to see if a keto diet help to reduce pain and inflammation. They found that independent of a rat’s age, a ketogenic diet helped to control pain and peripheral inflammation.
It seems that it might have to do with the metabolic changes associated with the ketogenic diet, which increase ATP energy molecules and certain types of amino acids. Both of these have neuroprotective effects, meaning they protect the neurons in the brain. For this reason, a ketogenic diet is often prescribed to children with epilepsy and chronic headaches, and it has shown positive results.
Another study evaluated multiple potential treatments for “unexplained” chronic pain, the ketogenic diet being among them. It is the expert opinion resulting from the study that, indeed, ketogenic diets, combined with other therapies, might offer positive metabolic effects that can help to diminish chronic pain caused by central sensitization.
While evidence to support a recommendation of the keto diet for people with chronic pain still requires significant research, initial studies demonstrate that it is effective for a range of nervous system disorders. In order to determine whether the ketogenic diet is good option for someone who is experiencing chronic pain, it is important to talk to his or her dietician and medical specialist to ensure that the sort of pain they are experiencing, together with any other issues that may be going through, could be benefitted with a low-carb, high-fat diet, such as the keto diet.