New insights into the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet

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Purpose of review

High-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets have been used for almost a century for the treatment of epilepsy. Used traditionally for the treatment of refractory pediatric epilepsies, in recent years the use of ketogenic diets has experienced a revival to include the treatment of adulthood epilepsies as well as conditions ranging from autism to chronic pain and cancer. Despite the ability of ketogenic diet therapy to suppress seizures refractory to antiepileptic drugs and reports of lasting seizure freedom, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. This review explores new insights into mechanisms mobilized by ketogenic diet therapies.

Recent findings

Ketogenic diets act through a combination of mechanisms, which are linked to the effects of ketones and glucose restriction, and to interactions with receptors, channels, and metabolic enzymes. Decanoic acid, a component of medium-chain triclycerides, contributes to seizure control through direct α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor inhibition, whereas drugs targeting lactate dehydrogenase reduce seizures through inhibition of a metabolic pathway. Ketogenic diet therapy also affects DNA methylation, a novel epigenetic mechanism of the diet.


Ketogenic diet therapy combines several beneficial mechanisms that provide broad benefits for the treatment of epilepsy with the potential to not only suppress seizures but also to modify the course of the epilepsy.

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