Efficacy and safety of very low calorie ketogenic diet (VLCKD) in patients with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020 Mar;21(1):5-16. doi: 10.1007/s11154-019-09514-y.


Very low calorie ketogenic diet (VLCKD) has been proposed as a promising option to achieve a significant weight loss in a short time period. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate its efficacy and safety in patients with overweight and obesity. Four databases were searched on May 2019. Studies reporting data on body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, body composition, blood pressure, HbA1c, lipids, and markers of liver and kidney function were selected. Discontinuation was also assessed. Twelve studies were included. VLCKD was associated with weight losses of -10.0 kg (I2 = 6%) and - 15.6 kg (I2 = 37%) in studies with a ketogenic phase up to and of at least four weeks, respectively. The weight lost during the ketogenic phase was stable in the subsequent follow-up up to two years (p = 0.12). Also, VLCKD was associated with reductions of BMI (-5.3 kg/m2), waist circumference (-12.6 cm), HbA1c (-0.7%), total cholesterol (-28 mg/dl), triglycerides (-30 mg/dl), AST (-7 U/l), ALT (-8 U/l), GGT (-8 U/l), systolic and diastolic blood pressure (-8 and - 7 mmHg, respectively). No changes in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, serum creatinine, serum uric acid and serum potassium were found. Serum sodium increased during VLCKD (+1.6 mEq/l). The overall prevalence of patients discontinuing VLCKD was 7.5% and this was similar to patients undergoing a low calorie diet (p = 0.83). The present review supports the use of VLCKD as an effective strategy for the management of overweight and obesity. Future guidelines should include a specific recommendation for this intervention.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; Obesity; Overweight; Systematic review; VLCKD; Very low calorie ketogenic diet.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure
  • Body Mass Index
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Diet, Ketogenic*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Overweight / blood
  • Overweight / diet therapy
  • Overweight / physiopathology
  • Patient Safety
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss*
  • Young Adult


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human
  • Cholesterol