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Fish is one of the staples of the ketogenic diet. Photography by Aya Brackett
  • The ketogenic, or keto diet, is one that focuses on meats, fats, and non-starchy vegetables.
  • Researchers say the low carb diet may help ease depression and fatigue for people with multiple sclerosis.
  • Other experts say the diet can possibly help with symptoms of an inflammatory disease such as multiple sclerosis, but they say more research is needed.
  • They also note the keto diet is difficult to maintain long-term.

The ketogenic diet — or one involving meats, fats, and nonstarchy vegetables — may be safe for people with multiple sclerosis and may even help them feel less fatigued and depressed.

That’s according to new research scheduled to be presented during the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting next month in Seattle, Washington.

The new study adds to a growing body of research that seeks to explore how a diet with an emphasis on fewer carbs and even fewer sugars can help people lose weight, improve their mental health, and even lessen the symptoms of certain diseases.

The high fat, low carb keto diet was first studied and developed in the 1920s to help children prone to seizures because it pushes the body into a state of ketosis, or a fasting state when it converts available fat, not sugar, into energy.

Since then, the keto diet has been explored in an effort to help manage conditions from obesity and diabetes to inflammation-related conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

The latest study, conducted by researchers at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, involved 65 people with relapse-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease.

Participants were instructed to consume two to three ketogenic meals per day for 6 months. That included 1 or 2 servings of eggs, fish, or meat with up to 4 tablespoons of butter, oil, avocado, ghee, or heavy cream, along with 1 to 2 cups of nonstarchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, cucumbers or cauliflower.

Study participants were allowed a maximum of 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, adherence of which was noted by daily urine tests.

All told, about 54 people — or 83 percent of test subjects — were able to follow the diet for the full 6-month testing period.

Using questionnaires, researchers say study participants reported better physical and mental health scores. They reported a 17 percent improvement using a common MS disease progression test and were able to walk an average of 100 feet more than at the start of the study.

Researchers said blood samples showed improved levels of inflammatory markers in the blood by the end of the study, although they didn’t specify what those markers were.

Acknowledging there’s still a need for more research into the subject, Dr. J. Nicholas Brenton, a study author and neurologist at the University of Virginia, said in a statement, “Our study provides evidence that a ketogenic diet may indeed be safe and beneficial, reducing some symptoms for people with MS, when used over a 6-month period.”

Others not associated with the study, however, say the study’s stated outcomes may not be as clear as that.

Dr. Latt Mansoris research lead at HVMN, a nutrition brand that created drinkable ketones, which are the chemicals made in the liver that signal the body to burn fat when sugars aren’t available.

Mansor said that the keto diet is difficult to maintain long-term, but since MS is an inflammatory disease, the anti-inflammatory properties of ketones could help with disease symptoms and fatigue.

“From a biochemical point of view, I am very interested in knowing what the results are on inflammatory markers,” Mansor told Healthline.

Amy Adams, a registered and licensed dietitian in the Boston, Massachusetts area, found the results of the study less compelling because it only had 65 participants. She added there was no control group and only 83 percent of those participants followed through with the diet.

And, she told Healthline, low carbohydrate diets tend to be difficult to adhere to long-term.

“While I could not find many studies researching MS and the ketogenic diet, there are several studies looking at the ketogenic diet for weight loss, which support that the ketogenic diet is difficult to adhere to long-term,” Adams said. “Moreover, there aren’t many studies going beyond that 6-month period.”

To help adhere to the diet, Adams recommends that people eat a variety of foods high in polyunsaturated fats, focus on fiber, and eat small meals frequently throughout the day.

“This will help you to stay motivated and enjoy your meals,” she said.