The Ketogenic Diet is now the #1 searched diet in America.
Suddenly more than Vegan. And at least 5X more than Paleo!
Check this out taken from Google Trends in May '17:
It comes with some serious promise: weight loss, higher energy levels, and even noticeably increased cognitive performance. And unlike many other diets, there’s some very strong research to support it.
But where did the keto diet come from?
Ask those in-the-know and you’ll get something like this:
“The ketogenic diet was invented in the United States to treat pediatric epilepsy in the 1920’s.”
And to some extent that’s true. But keto’s rich history stretches far beyond our modern world.
It’s been in cultures for thousands of years. It was behind one the biggest breakthroughs in medical history.
This is no fad diet we are dealing with.
Jesus himself even used it to heal an epileptic boy.
Read on to uncover the wild history of America’s most popular diet.
Our story begins in Ancient Greece, circa 500 B.C. This is where we get the first ever recorded accounts of epilepsy.
To the Greeks, epilepsy was spiritual possession. It was punishment by the moon goddesses Selene and Artemis.
It was also connected to genius. Julius Caesar and Hercules were both thought to be epileptic.
They called it the “Sacred Disease.” A disease so powerful and spiritual it could not be healed. Seizures were anger from above – too terrifying to be from the physical world.
Then around 400 B.C., a physician named Hippocrates comes along and calls BS. Hippocrates would later be called The Father of Medicine. When he spoke, people listened.
He wrote a text called “On the Sacred Disease.” It’s opening lines are some of the most powerful words written in medical history:
"I am about to discuss the disease called 'sacred.' It is not, in my opinion, any more divine or more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause, and its supposed divine origin is due to men's inexperience and to their wonder at its peculiar character."
Whoa let’s think about that for a second. Just because symptoms are extraordinary or terrifying, does not make the disease an act of god. No illness is sacred. All is curable.
That mindset change is one of the greatest breakthroughs in medical history. You could say it laid the foundation for all advances to come.
And as you might expect, it wasn’t long before the Greeks found an epilepsy treatment.. right from the natural world.
Another Hippocrates text, Of the Epidemics, tells the story of a man seized by epileptic convulsions.
Hippocrates prescribed complete abstinence from food and drink. And low and behold, he was cured.
Yep that’s right, a simple fast cured the most demonic of diseases.
Remember when we fast, our bodies run out of glycogen in the first 24 hours. The body begins producing ketones for fuel instead of glucose. Yes, these are the same ketones behind our modern day keto diet.
What Hippocrates had discovered was the power of ketones. And we have our first historically recorded use of therapeutic ketosis.
Our story continues with a passage from the Book of Mark (9:14-29, New International Version).
Jesus is walking through town and notices a large crowd arguing. He sees his disciples in the crowd and walks over.
“What are you arguing with them about?” he asks.
A man in the crowd answers,
“Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
The symptoms are unmistakable. The young boy has epilepsy.
“Bring the boy to me,” says Jesus.
The crowd watches as the boy is thrown into a crippling seizure by a dark spirit.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus turns to the boy and commands:
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieks and violently leaves him. Jesus lifts the boy triumphantly to his feet.
After Jesus goes indoors, his disciples turn to him and ask, “Jesus, why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Wow. Another reference of ketogenic fasting in the most unlikely of places... The Bible.
This passage would later become inspiration for Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ.
The top part depicts the transfiguration of Christ. And there in the lower part we see the healing of the boy with epilepsy.
Modern Times - France
Fasting’s power as an epilepsy cure would fade over the medieval years (remember those damn Dark Ages?).
The Catholics would read our story above with Jesus and the boy. But to them prayer – not fasting – was the only cure.
Convulsions became a form of possession or witchcraft. Exorcisms were ordered. And epilepsy returned to the supernatural world.
There it would stay until its modern revival in France, 1911.
At that time Potassium Bromide was the drug of choice for epilepsy. Sounds like nasty stuff. What were doctors doing pumping people full of bromide?
Doctors believed back then that epilepsy was caused by masturbation (no seriously... they did). Bromide is a powerful sedative and zapped patients of their sexual excitement. Voila, epilepsy cured.
The problem was bromide zapped them of… well ... just about everything. It made patients feel sick and lifeless. Doctors quickly realized they needed an alternative.
And they found it again in fasting. That same year, French Physicians Guelpa and Marie authored the first scientific report on the value of fasting in epileptic treatment.
Modern Times - United States
A similar awakening was happening in the United States around this time. It was led by a curious man named Bernarr Macfadden. Described as a fitness guru and “physical cultist,” he was known to make outrageous claims.
He told anyone who’d listen that our medical system was an organized fraud.
Follow my rules, he said, and you’ll live to 120. Bernarr was a good looking dude, and people paid attention:
Bernarr would become famous, eventually befriending President Franklin D. Roosevelt and even running for president himself (didn’t work out unfortunately… if it had who knows… maybe we’d all be on Keto??)
Bernarr’s longevity strategy was very simple. You fast, and fast often. Anywhere from three days to 3 weeks at a time.
His theory was much of our body’s energy goes into digesting food. With no food to digest, our energy goes to restoring our health.
He claimed everything from epilepsy to asthma could be cured through fasting. He had no credentials to back those claims – only experience.
At least one doctor believed him. That was Dr. Conklin, one of Bernarr’s assistants.
Dr. Conklin took Bernarr’s methods and started a homeopathic practice in the Midwest. He offered epileptic therapy through fasting. No drugs administered.
His results shocked the medical world:
- 90% cure rate in children younger than 10 yr
- 80% in adolescents 10–15 yr old
- 65% in patients 15–25 yr old
- 50% between 25 and 40 yr
- above age 40, the percentage was very low
Physicians around the U.S. repeated Dr. Conklin’s results and became believers themselves.
The results were great, but there was just one problem. You can only fast for so long… how do you get long-term results?
Enter Rollin Woodyatt. He found out that fasting wasn’t the only way we can produce ketones. You could get there, he said, with a very low-carb, high-fat diet.
But would a nutritionally ketogenic diet deliver the same results fasting had for thousands of years?
The world was about to find out.
Another physician, Dr. Russell Wilder, read Woodyatt’s work and decided to try the diet on three epileptic patients he was treating. Sure enough… dramatic seizure control in all three.
He knew three people weren’t enough to draw conclusions from, but was eager to keep researching. And so he coined the term ketogenic diet in 1924.
As quickly as it was coined, though, the ketogenic diet went dark for another 60 years.
This time because of the rise of anti-epileptic drugs (AEPs). Doctor’s focus went from diet to drugs.
Can’t blame them, getting kids to take a pill is a lot easier than telling them to forego pizza for life.
The ketogenic diet returned to the mainstream in October 1994 with a premier on NBC’s Dateline show.
The story was on Charlie Abrahams, a two-year old suffering from epilepsy. Charlie’s parents had tried everything. No drug or therapy could control it.
Charlie’s Father Jim then stumbles on an old reference to the ketogenic diet used at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He takes Charlie there to begin ketogenic diet therapy.
And… it works! Charlie’s symptoms disappear and he develops like a normal kid.
His family was thrilled. But they had an important question...
“Why the hell didn’t anyone tell us about this diet!?”
Fair question. Afterall, Charlie had suffered thousand of seizures. He’d taken countless medications. He saw five pediatric neurologists, two homeopathic physicians, and one faith healer.
Until a simple change in diet cured his seizures.
To spread the word, Jim creates a foundation to promote the diet and fund research.
He even makes a movie (he was a Hollywood director), 1997’s First Do No Harm, starring Meryl Streep. It has a familiar plot: a young elliptic boy is cured by the ketogenic diet.
This sets off an explosion of interest in the ketogenic diet that continues to this day. It’s goes far beyond pediatric epilepsy.
It turns out the ketogenic diet has promise in treating all kinds of neurological and metabolic disorders.
Alzheimer’s. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Autism. Parkinson’s. Maybe even cancer.
It may reverse Type II diabetes.
It has shown promise in what many call the medical crisis of our generation... depression.
Even healthy people are turning to the diet for lifestyle enhancement. Increased energy, aerobic performance, and cognitive boost are just a few of the benefits people on the diet swear by.
The ketogenic diet may prove one of the biggest nutrition breakthroughs in human history.
And it only took us 2500 years to see it. But hey, better late than never.
To your health,
Ben & Brandon