I have a prediction: you’re going to start hearing a LOT more about ketones and ketogenic diets in the next decade or two.
For those not familiar, a ketogenic diet is a way of eating that promotes the formation of ketone bodies in the liver, which are released into the bloodstream and can then be used by the brain as a source of energy (some argue that it’s the brain’s “preferred” source of energy).
We’ve known since the early 20th Century that something special happens to a brain on ketones – that’s when it was discovered that they were a powerful tool for preventing seizures. Ketogenic diets beat the pants over any pharmaceutical when it comes to controlling seizures.
Then something terrible happened.
You see, getting the body into nutritional ketosis requires you eat a high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate diet (typically 20-50 grams per day).
So when saturated fat became the bogey-man for heart disease (since proven wrong, MANY times over: 1, 2, 3, and so on…), ketogenic diets were viewed as dangerous, an extreme measure for extreme cases.
Now that the era of saturated-fat-phobia is coming to an end (albeit a painfully slow one), the doors have once again opened to ketogenic diets. And now we’re making up for lost time.
The Ketogenic Diet and Migraine
We’ve only just begun to see glimpses of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets beyond the treatment of epilepsy, including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimers, Parkinsons, etc.), and obesity.
As with epilepsy, promising data was published in the early 20th Century on the effects of ketosis on migraines, but was all but forgotten or ignored during the Great Fat Scare.
Now, migraineurs around the world are finally once again starting to the reap the transformative power of ketogenic range carbohydrate restriction. And I’m one of them.
Since overhauling my own diet in 2010, I’ve been in ketosis a few times, and have experienced both the enhanced energy and mental clarity it provides, along with its awesome power against migraines.
Just as they are in patients with chronic seizures, ketones are another arrow in the migraineur’s quiver, a weapon in our beast-killing arsenal (vastly preferable, in my opinion, to pharmaceuticals, which are less effective and more destructive) that we can deploy when needed.
The Keto Experiments
But I have some additional questions about nutritional ketosis and its effects on migraine that I’d like to answer for myself, which is why at the beginning of the year I started the “Keto Chronicles” inside of the Migrai-Neverland forum.
There, in addition to maintaining a keto food journal, I’ll also be reporting on various experiments I’m running on myself, which will be designed to answer those questions, including:
- How quickly can I get into ketosis if I’m otherwise maintaining an evolutionarily appropriate diet? What sorts of things can I do to speed up this transition?
- Just how potent is the migraine protection afforded by nutritional ketosis? Can it prevent a migraine even when exposing myself to my strongest triggers? Do higher levels of blood ketones enhance this protection?
- Can the supplements provide the same migraine protection benefits as nutritional ketosis? How potent are their effects on blood ketone levels?
I have several tools that I’m using for these experiments, including (click the image for link to Amazon page):
These test strips measure the presence of ketones in the urine, indicated by the change in color on the test strip. These aren’t especially accurate when measuring the precise amount of circulating ketones, but are much cheaper than the blood test strips.
So, I use these primarily as a binary, “all or nothing” assessment to know whether or not I’m in ketosis. For more precise measurements, I’ll be using:
Blood Ketone Monitor
This measures the actual concentration of ketones in the blood, specifically the concentration of beta-hydroxybutyrate (the two ketones produced by the liver when in nutritional ketosis are beta-hydroxybutyrate and oxaloacetate).
Studies on ketogenic diets and epilepsy suggest that higher blood levels are associated with enhanced protection against seizures. The downside is that the testing strips are pricey, so I’ll be using them judiciously!
There are three types of supplements that can also generate circulating ketones directly, for a limited time after their ingestion. These include:
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are a specific type of fat molecule, found naturally in highest concentration in coconut, especially coconut oil. Here, I’ll be using both fractionated coconut oil (made by taking coconut oil and removing the parts that solidify at room temperature) and MCT oil (which is synthesized).
This supplement, which only recently became available for purchase, consists of straight beta-hydroxybutyrate. Unlike the MCT oils above, it doesn’t require processing by the liver first to generate ketones. Here, you’re just eating straight ketones.
As mentioned above, my central goal here is to better understand the scope of migraine protection afforded by ketones, and to fine tune the ways I can use both nutritional ketosis and the various supplements to my advantage. We’ll also be creating a host of new “keto-friendly” recipes as a happy byproduct.
Hopefully, you can benefit from what I learn!