This seminal randomized trial, published in JAMA in 2007, involved 300 women and measured their weight loss on the Atkins diet compared to the Zone, Learn, and Ornish diets. The researchers found that while women on Atkins shed a few more pounds, the weight loss on low-carb diets was “likely to be at least as large as for any other dietary pattern” and “the magnitude of weight loss [on Atkins] was modest, with a mean 12-month weight loss of only 4.7 kg.” In other words, long-term weight loss on Atkins wasn’t meaningfully different from the other diets.
Long-term use of the ketogenic diet in children increases the risk of slowed or stunted growth, bone fractures, and kidney stones. The diet reduces levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, which is important for childhood growth. Like many anticonvulsant drugs, the ketogenic diet has an adverse effect on bone health. Many factors may be involved such as acidosis and suppressed growth hormone. About one in 20 children on the ketogenic diet develop kidney stones (compared with one in several thousand for the general population). A class of anticonvulsants known as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (topiramate, zonisamide) are known to increase the risk of kidney stones, but the combination of these anticonvulsants and the ketogenic diet does not appear to elevate the risk above that of the diet alone. The stones are treatable and do not justify discontinuation of the diet. Johns Hopkins Hospital now gives oral potassium citrate supplements to all ketogenic diet patients, resulting in one-seventh of the incidence of kidney stones. However, this empiric usage has not been tested in a prospective controlled trial. Kidney stone formation (nephrolithiasis) is associated with the diet for four reasons:
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While the evidence behind ketogenic diets for diabetes is still preliminary and the evidence for weight loss isn’t all that convincing (more on that next), the evidence of using the diet to treat epilepsy is extremely robust. The idea for treating people with epilepsy with the keto diet came about in the 1920s, when researchers observed that people who fasted experienced fewer seizures. (Researchers still aren’t sure why the diet can work for epilepsy, but a few mechanisms have been proposed, including making neurons more resilient during seizures.)
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