Animal Fat, Sleep, and the Ketogenic Diet

Kathy Tucker draws my attention to a recent article about the ketogenic diet, which is essentially a very-high-animal-fat diet, used to treat childhood epilepsy. I’ve blogged about the ketogenic diet (here, here, and here) but that was before I was on a similar diet. Kids on the diet didn’t develop high cholesterol (“very few children actually end up with cholesterol or lipid problems on the diet”). I slept better when I ate more animal fat, which suggests that animal fat makes the brain work better overall. The success of the ketogenic diet supports that idea. My results suggest that it is the animal fat, not the other fat, that makes the diet effective.

That many kids with epilepsy get better when put on the ketogenic diet can be seen as a canary-in-the-coal-mine phenomenon. Canaries are more sensitive to bad air than miners; children with ketogenic-responsive epilepsy are more sensitive to lack of animal fat than the rest of us. That lesson was lost on me when I first learned about the diet and its success. The broader lesson is that almost any disease has something to teach us about what the best environment is.

8 Replies to “Animal Fat, Sleep, and the Ketogenic Diet”

  1. Did you happen to catch the last sentence of the article?

    “Max’s brain is thought to have recovered enough that he is being gradually transitioned to normal meals.”

    Time to load poor Max up with sugar, corn, and wheat again!

    Maybe Max’s doctor should instead rethink his definition of a “normal” meal.

  2. The most ketogenic fats are the medium chain fatty acids. These fatty acids produce ketones even in the presence of carbohydrates. You can buy MCT oil over the internet. Coconut oil contains some medium chain fatty acids and to a lesser extent butter.

    This is anecdotal — I tend to begin getting sleepy in the evening. Lately for about the last several months, I have been consuming about 100 calories of coconut milk in the evening and that night time drowsiness has gone away.

  3. I’ve had this notion as well.

    The first evidence of epilepsy being treatable through a ketogenic diet is old (1920s?), and through the years the idea has only been verified.

    Yet it’s still regarded as some anomaly, something that “probably benefits only a bizarre minority of epileptic patients.”

    There’s also evidence for ketosis being beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s.

    Furthermore, no one wants to make the connection that, maybe — just maybe — the clear and obvious benefits of a ketogenic diet towards epilepsy and Alzheimer’s has some — just SOME — relevance to normal brains.

    The brain is a peculiar organ in terms of metabolism, in that brain cells need glucose moreso than other cells of the body (the heart famously prefers ketones to glucose). I imagine there is probably some relation between the brain’s unique metabolism, and the benefits of ketogenic diets.

  4. Seth, what do you think is the crucial difference between animal fats and plant oils/fats that accounts for the benefit of animal fats? Is it the degree of saturation? Or is it not the fat at all but rather some other (non-fat) substance that’s present in animal fats?

  5. I slept better when I ate more animal fat, which suggests that animal fat makes the brain work better overall.

    A more parsimonious conclusion would be that some component of the fat — and there are hundreds of chemicals dissolved in it — had a mild sedative effect.

Comments are closed.