Ketogenic diets as treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020 Sep;21(3):381-397. doi: 10.1007/s11154-020-09580-7.


During the last decades, several interventions for the management of overweight and obesity have been proposed. Among diets, the first studies focused on the effect of water only and total fasting diets with or without proteins. Unfortunately, they were found to be associated with adverse events which lead to the abandon of these strategies. Interestingly, despite the radical approach, total fasting was effective and generally well tolerated. A strict connection between protein-calorie malnutrition and increased in morbidity and mortality in hospitalized patients was found at that time. Then, the seminal works of Blackburn and his collaborators lead to the introduction of the protein-sparing modified fast. Encouraged by the early results using this intervention, diets evolved to the current very-low-calorie ketogenic diets (VLCKD). In the present review, results of studies on the VLCKDs are presented and discussed, with a particular reference to the protocolled VLCKD. Also, a recent proposal on the nomenclature on the ketogenic diets is reported. Available evidence suggests VLCKDs to be effective in achieving a rapid and significant weight loss by means of an easily reversible intervention which could be repeated, if needed. Muscle mass and strength are preserved, resting metabolic rate is not impaired, hunger, appetite and mood are not worsened. Symptoms and abnormal laboratory findings can be there, but they have generally been reported as of mild intensity and transient. Preliminary studies suggest VLCKDs to be a potential game-changer in the management of type 2 diabetes too. Therefore, VLCKDs should be considered as an excellent initial step in properly selected and motivated patients with obesity or type 2 diabetes, to be delivered as a part of a multicomponent strategy and under strict medical supervision.

Keywords: Ketogenic diet; Obesity; Type 2 diabetes; VLCKD; Very-low-calorie ketogenic diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caloric Restriction / methods
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diet, Ketogenic* / methods
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Weight Loss / physiology