Pilot Study Finds Limited Benefit of Ketogenic Diet in Parkinson’s Disease

by Ella

A recent pilot trial investigating the potential of a three-week ketogenic diet (KD) supplemented with medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in managing Parkinson’s disease (PD) has yielded mixed results, with no significant improvement in motor symptoms observed.

Published in the journal BMC Neurology, the study aimed to explore the tolerability and efficacy of a KD supplemented with MCT oil, a specific type of fat, in Parkinson’s patients. While previous research has suggested that KD may offer benefits for neurodegenerative diseases like PD, including improved cognition and reduced motor symptoms, the findings from this trial did not demonstrate significant therapeutic effects.


Background and Study Design

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by motor difficulties and can also manifest with nonmotor symptoms such as cognitive impairment and sleep disturbances. KD, a dietary regimen low in carbohydrates and high in fats, has gained attention for its potential neuroprotective effects, including the production of ketone bodies as an alternative fuel source for the brain.


In this Phase 1 clinical trial conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 16 Parkinson’s patients were randomly assigned to either an MCT-KD group or a standard diet group for a seven-day inpatient admission followed by a two-week MCT-KD regimen at home. The study aimed to assess tolerability, changes in motor symptoms using the Timed Up & Go (TUG) test, disease severity, nonmotor symptoms, working memory, and resting-state electroencephalography (rsEEG).


Key Findings

While both groups exhibited similar symptoms at baseline, the standard diet group showed a higher percentage of daily off periods (times between medication doses when symptoms are not adequately controlled) compared to the MCT-KD group. However, no significant differences were observed in the TUG test results between the groups after seven days.


Nonmotor symptoms decreased in both groups after three weeks, with a greater reduction observed in the MCT-KD group. Patients reported potential benefits of the MCT-KD, including increased energy, improved motor function, reduced appetite, eased constipation, and decreased fatigue. Blood ketosis, indicative of ketone body production, was detected earlier in the MCT-KD group and continued to increase over the study period.


While the MCT-supplemented KD was found to be feasible and acceptable for Parkinson’s patients, the study did not demonstrate significant improvements in motor symptoms compared to a standard diet. Further research is needed to elucidate the potential therapeutic effects of KD in Parkinson’s disease and its impact on disease progression and symptom management.



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