Ketogenic Diet Can Help Improve Autoimmune Diseases: Current Studies

The benefits of a ketogenic diet may extend far beyond weight loss. It may also benefit those with autoimmune disorders.

Why Does Ketogenic Diet Help With Autoimmune Disease?

Surrounded by controversy, this dietary approach is characterized by low consumption of carbohydrates, (less than 50 grams per day) and a higher intake of fat. The diet is often demonized for cutting out entire food groups, while advocates maintain its benefits outweigh potential risks.

Evidence of the diet’s health effects is long-standing.

A systematic review of studies finds overwhelming evidence dating back to the 1990s, that the ketogenic diet is effective to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. Later, it became a popular weight loss diet.

There is also considerable evidence that the diet can help people with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and psoriasis.

One reason why might be how the ketogenic diet helps reduce inflammation in the body, which may be beneficial for those with autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, a neurosurgeon and director of complex and adult spinal deformity surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York, told The Epoch Times that inflammation, specifically chronic inflammation, plays a “major role” in autoimmune disease.

“Just like being under constant psychologic stress,” he explained, “when our bodies are in a pro-inflammatory state, we are prone to developing diseases.”

That’s why “scientists are constantly trying to develop ways to combat chronic inflammation in our bodies in order to stop diseases from developing,” said Rasouli.

A recent randomized, controlled trial looked at two groups eating either a whole-food diet with very little processed food or a ketogenic diet. While both groups showed reduced pain and inflammation, the ketogenic group experienced a significantly greater reduction in pain and inflammation.

Another review of studies found evidence that the diet can reduce obesity-related inflammation in the body.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowel that has no cure. Standard treatment involves steroids, anti-inflammatories, and biologics drugs to reduce symptoms.

A case report from 2016 involving a 14-year-old boy diagnosed with Crohn’s disease found that when the boy was advised to follow a low-fat, low-fiber, lactose-free diet, along with standard drugs, he showed no change in symptoms.

This changed once the child was switched to a paleolithic ketogenic diet, which excluded grains, milk, dairy, refined sugars, vegetable oils, oilseeds, nightshades, and artificial sweeteners.

Within two weeks he was off medication; within three weeks, his symptoms had resolved and he reported “restored energy and increased physical and mental fitness.”

There is evidence that this diet may help inflammatory bowel disease by altering our gut microbiome in ways that reduce inflammation.

Arthritis Pain

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that is typically treated with anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which have been associated with serious adverse effects.

A systematic review of studies finds that eating a ketogenic diet is associated with significantly decreased systemic inflammation, which relieves one of the main drivers of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Research seems to show a benefit when it comes to prevention,” Natalie McCormick, research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. “Studies, such as the Nurses’ Health Study, have found that not only can an anti-inflammatory diet help to prevent arthritis, but it may also prevent conditions like heart disease and diabetes that people with arthritis are more likely to develop.”

Another study found that a compound the body produces during ketosis, called beta-hydroxybutyrate, was effective at reducing disease symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

The ketogenic diet also boosts the production of a pain-relieving compound in our bodies called adenosine, offering relief from the most prominent symptom of this disease.


Psoriasis causes patches of thick red skin and silvery scales to develop on different parts of the body, including the face, scalp, elbows, and knees.

Researchers studied the effects of a very-low-calorie ketogenic diet on psoriasis patients to find that this approach can be considered a successful strategy and therapeutic option for management of the condition.

“The dietary program is feasible, with high compliance, and safe,” concluded the study authors.

Another study found that in adult overweight patients with stable chronic psoriasis, an “aggressive” dietary weight loss program consisting of a ketogenic regimen followed by a “balanced, low-calorie, Mediterranean-like diet” showed effectiveness as a first-line strategy for reducing disease severity.

Multiple Sclerosis

A phase 2 clinical trial of ketogenic diets in relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) found they were safe and tolerable over the six-month study period and yielded improvements in “body composition, fatigue, depression, quality of life, neurological disability, and adipose-related inflammation.”

“Our study not only demonstrates the feasibility of dietary changes in MS patients but also the potential benefits that could arise from such interventions,” lead researcher Dr. J. Nicholas Brenton, an expert on MS at UVA Health, said in a statement.

He added that the “intriguing results” of this study, have caused his team to begin investigating how the ketogenic diet affects the immune profile of MS patients.

Is It Safe?

More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet, but the evidence suggests that it’s a promising approach for improving health and managing certain autoimmune conditions.

But is following a keto diet considered safe for those with autoimmune disease? Preliminary data from a 2016 randomized, controlled trial found that a “chronic ketogenic diet” is both safe and feasible. And it is “well tolerated by most people,” said Rasouli, but he still suggests discussing any diet changes with your doctor before getting started.

George Citroner reports on health and medicine, covering topics that include cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions. He was awarded the Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence (MORE) award in 2020 for a story on osteoporosis risk in men.
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