A diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, known as the "ketogenic" diet, quickens recovery in paralyzed rats after spinal cord injury, according to new research.
The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. More than 10,000 North Americans suffer a new spinal cord injury each year and more than one million people live with such damage.
Patients recovering from spinal cord injuries are typically given high-calorie solutions containing large amounts of sugar intravenously as they heal, even though this nutritional plan has never been validated. Previous studies have shown that fasting is beneficial after partial cervical spinal cord injury in rats, but this strategy is unpopular with patients and clinicians.
In this study, researchers investigated the ketogenic diet as a fasting alternative. As is the case with fasting, a lack of carbohydrates forces the body to use fat as fuel. To test the diet, rats were put on either a standard or ketogenic diet immediately after undergoing a cervical spinal cord contusion. The rats on the ketogenic diet recovered faster: after 14 weeks, 54 percent used their injured paws 15 times more frequently than the rats on a standard diet.
"Our results suggest that a ketogenic diet might be an appropriate initial treatment to improve outcomes in human spinal cord injuries," said Wolfram Tetzlaff, MD, PhD, at International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, and the study's senior author. "Although there are still many unanswered questions and more research is needed, the early results from these animal experiments support the rationale for human trials."
A ketogenic diet is already used as a therapy for epilepsy. Furthermore, animal studies during the past decade have shown that this diet may also be helpful for neurodegenerative diseases such as brain injury, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Research was supported by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
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