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Does the Keto Diet Cause Guillain Barre Syndrome?

FACT CHECKED
  Published on January 17th, 2022
  Reading time: 4 minutes
  Last modified April 10th, 2022
Diagnosis of Guillain Barre Syndrome

The keto diet has made national news once again and this time, the reason may be a bit far-fetched. Celebrity Jenna Jameson has (unfortunately) been hospitalized after being unable to walk due to a condition called Guillain Barre Syndrome. Jameson has used the keto diet in the past to lose an impressive 80 pounds of post-pregnancy weight. While she hasn’t been keto recently, reports are suggesting that her prior keto diet ‘may’ have worsened or even caused her Guillain Barre Syndrome. Let’s delve into the details regarding this erroneous claim.

What is Guillain Barre Syndrome and How is it Caused?

Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) was coined in 1916 when two French doctors, Guillain and Barre described the affliction in two affected soldiers who suffered paralysis, but later recovered. GBS is characterized by the immune system attacking the nerves. This condition can be prompted by a viral or acute bacterial infection.

Guillain Barre Syndrome

One of the most common causes for GBS is infection with Campylobacter jejuni. GBS can also develop after other infections such as Zika virus, influenza, Epstein Barr virus, and cytomegalovirus. [1]

Campylobacter jejuni is an emerging pathogen which is the most common cause of foodborne infection in the United States. The two primary risk factors involving this bacterium are consumption of undercooked poultry and the mishandling of raw poultry. [2]

Guillain Barre Syndrome

Symptoms start as tingling in the feet and legs as well as weakness—this eventually can spread to the upper body and result in paralysis. It is common to make a full recovery with proper treatment.

The Key Reason the Keto Diet is Being Blamed for GBS

The keto diet is becoming the scapegoat for Jenna’s GBS symptoms. One argument states that people may eat more poultry than average on the keto diet, therefore they are more likely to ingest campylobacter jejuni (found in undercooked chicken) if they eat chicken frequently.

Logically, one could conclude that all diets and nutrition lifestyles which incorporate chicken are drivers for GBS. However, one dietitian told the NY Post, “The amount of fruits and vegetables that she’s not taking in can also mean that she’s not getting in enough phytonutrients to keep her immune system strong to fight off the campylobacter before it got out of hand.” 

Nutrients on a Ketogenic Diet

There are false claims stating that the keto diet lacks fruits and vegetables thereby leaving people “undernourished”. While a keto diet typically consists of less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day, most of the allowed carbohydrates consumed come from fibrous foods such as vegetables and fruits like dark leafy greens, lettuces, cruciferous veggies, berries, avocado, olives, tomato, bell peppers, and even cauliflower.

Guillain Barre Syndrome

For example, one can consume a cup of cooked spinach, two cups of chopped romaine lettuce, two cups of cooked broccoli, and ½ cup of raspberries in one day to achieve a total of 46 grams of carbohydrates, and whopping 24 grams of fiber.

Now let’s compare that to the average American’s intake. The average person consumes only 1.4 cups of vegetables and 0.9 cups of fruit per day, and only 10 percent or less of those vegetables come from the dark green varieties. [3] Half of the vegetable consumption comes from potatoes despite the fact they are starchy tubers—even French fries are classified as ‘fresh vegetables’ by the USDA. [4]

While some demonize the keto diet for supposed lack of fruits and vegetables, along with the void of nutrients that come from those whole foods, one who follows the keto diet plan properly will obtain far more produce than what is consumed by the average person.

The Verdict on Keto and GBS

Time and again, the keto diet takes flack from the media for reasons that have little evidence or credibility. One would imagine that ketosis, a metabolic state which has shown tremendous promise for inflammation, autoimmune diseases, neuromuscular, and neurodegenerative diseases [5] wouldn’t be the cause of such an issue as GBS. 

Suggesting that a condition as serious as GBS is caused by the keto diet’s theoretical increased risk of raw poultry is quite the stretch. Of course, with any nutrition plan which uses chicken or turkey as basic proteins, it’s important to cook your fare to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, recent evidence shows a link between SARS-CoV-2 and Guillain-Barre syndrome. [6] Though rare, due to the current situation in which we are in, its plausible that Jenna’s case could add to the growing list of individuals who have experienced something similar. 

We are wishing Jenna a full and speedy recovery!

References

1.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 20). Guillain-Barré syndrome. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter/guillain-barre.html

2.

Altekruse, S. F., Stern, N. J., Fields, P. I., & Swerdlow, D. L. (1999). Campylobacter jejuni—An Emerging Foodborne Pathogen. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 5(1), 28-35. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid0501.990104.

3.

Americans still can meet fruit and vegetable dietary guidelines for $2.10-$2.60 per day. USDA ERS - Americans Still Can Meet Fruit and Vegetable Dietary Guidelines for $2.10-$2.60 per Day. (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2019/june/americans-still-can-meet-fruit-and-vegetable-dietary-guidelines-for-210-260-per-day/

4.

NPR. (2004, June 15). USDA classifies French fries as a fresh vegetable. NPR. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1958611

5.

Paoli, A., Bianco, A., Damiani, E., & Bosco, G. (2014). Ketogenic diet in neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases. BioMed research international, 2014, 474296. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/474296

6.

Linda W G Luijten, Sonja E Leonhard, Annemiek A van der Eijk, Alex Y Doets, Luise Appeltshauser, Samuel Arends, Shahram Attarian, Luana Benedetti, Chiara Briani, Carlos Casasnovas, Francesca Castellani, Efthimios Dardiotis, Andoni Echaniz-Laguna, Marcel P J Garssen, Thomas Harbo, Ruth Huizinga, Andrea M Humm, Korné Jellema, Anneke J van der Kooi, Krista Kuitwaard, Thierry Kuntzer, Susumu Kusunoki, Agustina M Lascano, Eugenia Martinez-Hernandez, Simon Rinaldi, Johnny P A Samijn, Olivier Scheidegger, Pinelopi Tsouni, Alex Vicino, Leo H Visser, Christa Walgaard, Yuzhong Wang, Paul W Wirtz, Paolo Ripellino, Bart C Jacobs, the IGOS consortium. Guillain-Barré syndrome after SARS-CoV-2 infection in an international prospective cohort study. Brain, Volume 144, Issue 11, November 2021, Pages 3392–3404, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awab279

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