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Is the Ketogenic Diet Helpful for Parkinson's Disease?

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

I've been singing the praises about the benefits of the Ketogenic Diet and lifestyle for years because of the benefits for health problems like Diabetes (both types 1 and 2), Dementia, Metabolic Syndrome, and obesity, to name just a few.

Recently, there has been some outstanding research that shows the effectiveness of the Ketogenic Diet in Parkinson’s disease also. One of the pioneers studying the Ketogenic diet in Parkinson's is Dr. Matthew Phillips, a Neurologist in New Zealand.

His research has been able to convincingly demonstrate that a Ketogenic diet is helpful in reducing Parkinson’s symptoms. So, now we have a much better understanding of the mechanisms underlying Parkinson's and how the Ketogenic diet can benefit those suffering with the disease, regardless of the stage of progression.

Oxford researchers recently published a report entitled The Mechanisms by Which the Ketogenic Diet May Improve Parkinson’s Disease in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

The scientists begin their paper by describing how the current standard of care therapy for Parkinson's disease focuses on reducing symptoms of the disease and fails to address the underlying cause which is the loss of what are called Dopaminergic neurons in the brain. These are specific cells that manufacture the neurotransmitter Dopamine in the motor system of the brain. As these cells disappear as a consequence of Parkinson's Disease, there is less Dopamine available and this produces the classic symptoms of the disease.

Current therapy is designed to either replace the Dopamine or create drugs that mimic Dopamine’s activity in the brain. And while these medications have been game changers in terms of temporarily restoring functionality in the Parkinson's patient, again, they fail to address the underlying pathology.

Basically, this is an example of focusing on the smoke while ignoring the fire.

While the researchers focused specifically on the role of the Ketogenic diet in the improvement in Parkinson's patients, it's the unique chemical, D-β-Hydroxybutyrate that is produced during ketosis. D-β-Hydroxybutyrate has several important actions in the brain that are fundamental in the reduction of the brain degeneration caused by Parkinson's.

First, it serves as a powerful precursor for energy production in the mitochondria of brain cells. The failure of mitochondria to produce adequate energy in the specific brain cells that make Dopamine is central to the degeneration seen in Parkinson's. So providing this resource to support energy production gets to the very core of the disease.

Second, D-β-Hydroxybutyrate acts as what is called a "signaling molecule". This means that it actually directs cellular metabolism and even regulates gene expression. These actions help limit the damaging effects of oxidative stress as well as inflammation, both of which are well described as being increased in the brain of Parkinson’s patients.

I'm pretty excited about the research being published these days that finally addresses not just the management of the symptoms of Parkinson's, but its actual cause. And by targeting the underlying cause by increasing ketones, it offers patients a powerful new tool to address their malady.

To learn more about implementing the Ketogenic diet and lifestyle into your daily routine, click here.

Until next time, take care.

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