The ketogenic diet became popular as a therapy for epilepsy in the 1920s and 30s. It was developed to provide an alternative to non-mainstream fasting, which had demonstrated success as an epilepsy therapy. However, the diet was eventually largely abandoned due to the introduction of new anticonvulsant therapies. Although it emerged that most cases of epilepsy could be effectively controlled using these medications, they still failed to achieve epileptic control in around 20% to 30% of epileptics. For these individuals, and particularly children with epilepsy, the diet was re-introduced as a technique for managing the condition.
The role of fasting in the treatment of disease has been known to mankind for thousands of years and was studied in detail by ancient Greek physicians and ancient Indian physicians. An early treatise in the Hippocratic Corpus, “On the Sacred Disease,” describes how alterations in diet played a role in epilepsy management. The same author also describes in “Epidemics” from the collection, how a man was cured of epilepsy when he abstained completely from consuming food or drink.
The first modern scientific study into fasting as a cure for epilepsy was conducted in France, in 1911. At the time, potassium bromide was used to treat epileptics, but this agent slowed patients’ mental capabilities… Instead, twenty epilepsy patients followed a low-calorie, vegetarian food plan that was combined with fasting. Two patients showed significant improvements, although most could not adhere to the dietary restrictions. However, the diet was found to improve the patient’s mental abilities compared with the effects of taking potassium bromide.