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Low carb diets help diabetes and multiple sclerosis in new studies

Learn about low carb diets for MS and diabetes.
Learn about low carb diets for MS and diabetes.

Low carb diets have been shown to trump low fat plans for weight loss. Now new research is pointing to the benefits of low carb diets for several diseases. Most recently, a group of scientists and physicians have discovered that low carb diets represent the best initial intervention for diabetes, reported Science Direct on July 16.

The experts involved in the new report cite evidence that low carb diets lower high blood glucose and allow patients to reduce or, in some cases, eliminate their medication. And while low carb diets are effective for diabetes regardless of whether patients lose weight, the researchers also concluded that "nothing is better for weight reduction."

Side effects can pose problems with medication. However, the researchers also discovered that no such side effects result from low carbohydrate diets. They cited 12 points indicating that low carb diets are the most effective therapy for diabetes, beginning with hyperglycemia.

Noting that dietary carbohydrate restriction has the greatest effect on decreasing blood glucose levels, the researchers also pointed to the ongoing epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The calorie increases in the typical American diet occurring during these epidemics are primarily due to increased carbohydrates.

On average, Americans eat about 500 calories more each day than we did 30 years ago, and much of that increase comes from foods high in sugar and grains, according to a new study. And while more experts are blaming high carb processed foods for our obesity epidemic, low-carb diet gurus have been earning increased attention and respect for new studies showing that low-carb high fat (LCHF) and high protein diets are most effective for weight loss.

Based on the latest data, the Standard American Diet (SAD) includes a small amount of dairy, a slightly more generous serving of produce and protein and lots of oils, fats, sugar and grains. "It's hard to pinpoint why exactly it's increased," Jeanine Bentley, the social science analyst responsible for the USDA's food availability database, said about the added calories. "But it probably comes from an increase in processed and fast foods."

Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, believes that low carb high fat ketogenic diets are beneficial for weight loss and diabetes. In an exclusive interview, she noted that her clients have experienced improvements that parallel the new study. "I have seen several people with diabetes experience remarkable improvement in blood sugar control after adopting this way of eating,” she said.

Conducting his own research, Dr. Stephen Phinney, also believes that ketogenic diets are the most appropriate approach for diabetes. "Given both the healthcare costs and the medical risks associated with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, plus the immediate improvements (if not complete remission) in these diseases with a well-formulated ketogenic diet, this diet should be the primary (aka first) therapy that doctors and dietitians recommend," he said in an interview.

And the benefits of ketogenic diets may also extend to multiple sclerosis (MS) in some studies. However, in contrast to the significant body of research pointing to high fat low carb diets for diabetes and weight loss, the ideal plan for MS is more controversial, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 17.

The MS Center of St. Louis, a partner of Mercy Hospital St. Louis, has been active in educating people with multiple sclerosis and their families. Mercy dietitian Rebecca Doss feels that significant evidence does not exist to recommend any special diet.

However, some studies have shown that vitamin D may reduce the risk. Doss feels that eating a high fiber diet may help but argues against saturated fat. But several physicians disagree.

Dr. Terry Wahls, author of "The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine," has conducted new studies showing that high fat low carb ketogenic Paleo diets are most effective. In an exclusive interview, she revealed that she began her research when she developed MS herself.

"After 20 years as a vegetarian, I read through the scientific studies and decided that the Paleo Diet as an intervention had merit. I added meat back to my diet and removed grain, dairy and legumes. I continued to slowly decline. The following year my doctors told me that my disease had transitioned to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. I took the recommended chemotherapy; I got the tilt/recline wheelchair and even took Tysabri, but continued to slowly decline," she recalls.

Dr. Wahls used the Paleo diet as a template, then customized it "to get 31 nutrients that science said my brain cells needed to thrive. That is when the magic began to happen."

Within only three months, her fatigue diminished significantly. "Within six months I could walk throughout the hospital without a cane and my neurologist agreed that I could taper and discontinue my disease modifying drugs. And within 12 months I was able to do an 18-mile bike tour with my family."

For years, ketogenic diets have been used to control seizures. Recently, for example, a family revealed how their little boy, who suffered from 50 seizures daily, found relief from a ketogenic diet.

But Dr. Wahls feels the potential goes beyond epilepsy, diabetes and MS. "Ketogenic diets are being studied as treatment for other neurological and psychiatric disorders including brain cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, dementia, bipolar, depression and schizophrenia," she said. In her research currently, Dr. Wahls is seeking how to balance nutritional needs with the focus on ketosis.

Also arguing in favor of high fat low carb diets for MS is Dr. David Perlmutter, creator of the "Grain Brain" diet. He lists several case studies on his Web site showing that halting grains and sugar while boosting fat and protein made a dramatic difference for their MS.

One woman recalls that her "signs of MS started in 1988, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I had an attack that left me disabled and forced to retire from a career I loved in education. I have gone through periods of being in a wheelchair, using a walker, and walking with a cane. Today, thanks to going grain-free, I rarely have to use even a cane."

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