Very-low-carbohydrate diets or ketogenic diets have been in use since the 1920s as a therapy for epilepsy and can, in some cases, completely remove the need for medication. From the 1960s onwards they have become widely known as one of the most common methods for obesity treatment.
Recent work over the last decade or so has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many pathological conditions, such as diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, acne, neurological diseases, cancer and the amelioration of respiratory and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The possibility that modifying food intake can be useful for reducing or eliminating pharmaceutical methods of treatment, which are often lifelong with significant side effects, calls for serious investigation. This review revisits the meaning of physiological ketosis in the light of this evidence and considers possible mechanisms for the therapeutic actions of the ketogenic diet on different diseases.
The present review also questions whether there are still some preconceived ideas about ketogenic diets, which may be presenting unnecessary barriers to their use as therapeutic tools in the physician’s hand.
Ketogenic diets are commonly considered to be a useful tool for weight control and many studies suggest that they could be more efficient than low-fat diets, although there is not concordance in the literature about their absolute effectiveness and even some doubts raised about safety.
But there is a ‘hidden face’ of the ketogenic diet: its broader therapeutic action. There are new and exciting scenarios about the use of ketogenic diets, as discussed in this review, in cancer, T2D, PCOS, cardiovascular and neurological diseases. Further studies are warranted to investigate more in detail the potential therapeutic mechanisms, its effectiveness and safety, and we would invite all researchers to face this challenge without prejudice.