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My awareness of the limits of medical knowledge began when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 18. It peaked with a near-death experience five years later, and was heightened even further when I discovered what’s known as a ketogenic diet.

Those five years, spent far too often as a patient in some of the best medical centers in the United States and the United Kingdom, challenged my idealistic vision of medicine. Now that I am entering Harvard Medical School as a student, I find myself in an awkward predicament.

At 18, one year into a relatively successful marathon running career, I began to experience fractures due to osteoporosis, a bone-weakening condition that shouldn’t be occurring in an otherwise healthy young man. After a seemingly endless series of tests, my doctor diagnosed me with relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S) syndrome, a condition caused by not taking in enough calories to match the calories a person burns exercising each day. RED-S is more commonly seen in women who are underweight and have hormonal abnormalities. I was on the thin side, but had a normal body-mass index, good appetite, and no hormonal abnormalities. Yet I was diagnosed with RED-S because it was the diagnosis of exclusion, which is medicalese for “none of the above.”

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The treatment? I was instructed to eat more calories at all costs, and my endocrinologist prescribed the most potent bone-building medicines available. The combination improved the bone density in my spine, but not in my hip and thighbone.

At 21, I developed severe ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. The medications my gastroenterologists prescribed for it minimally improved my condition and I continued to experience colitis flares throughout my senior year in college. While my classmates worried about choosing the right answers on exams, I worried about having to flee the room mid-test to find a bathroom.

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After graduation, I deferred acceptance to medical school to pursue a Ph.D. in metabolism and neurodegenerative disease at the University of Oxford. Not long after I arrived in the U.K., I experienced a colitis flare so severe that I lost 20 pounds in just a few weeks. The pain was so intense one night that the university called for an ambulance at 2 a.m. to take me to a nearby hospital.

My heart rate in the hospital was 28 beats per minute, a value less than half of what is considered the lower limit of normal, and one that had the doctors and nurses whispering in the hall. After three days of tests, the attending physician passed down another diagnosis of exclusion, postulating that the curcumin herbal supplement my gastroenterologist had recommended for my colitis was responsible for the low heart rate. I protested. There was no evidence that the supplement would reduce my heart rate to such an extreme extent. In addition, I had stopped taking this supplement before being admitted, and the compound lingers in the body for less than one day.

I was discharged, nonetheless, and spent the next day, my 23rd birthday, prone in my dorm room with unrelenting pain in my gut and a heart rate in the 20s.

Drained of hope, I looked for solutions outside conventional medicine. Over the next eight months I tried probiotics, supplements, meditation, and a litany of diets — gluten-free, low-FODMAP, vegetarian, vegan — none of which helped. One diet I was hesitant to try was a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet in which more than 70% of calories typically come from fat. I had been taught to believe that a high-fat diet would cause heart disease and kill me prematurely. Perhaps, but I had little to lose.

After one week on a ketogenic diet, my colitis symptoms began to disappear. Equally impressive, the level of calprotectin, a key marker of inflammation, dropped sevenfold to its lowest level ever and well within the normal range. Over the following months, I came off my colitis medications.

Two years later, I am still following a ketogenic diet and my colitis remains in remission. The osteoporosis has also resolved, including improved bone density in my hip and thighbone that I had not experienced while on medications alone.

So here’s my med school predicament: Within two years of starting what conventional medicine thinks of as a potentially dangerous and unsustainable diet, I went from being a patient with osteoporosis, ulcerative colitis, and a failing heart to a healthy young scholar with a renewed zest for life and great heart health to boot. From my perspective, right or wrong, conventional medicine failed me and so-called alternative medicine, in the form of a ketogenic diet, saved me.

How am I supposed to process that? To embrace the conventional thinking on nutrition I am likely to be taught in med school (assuming, of course, I’m taught anything at all about it), I have to dismiss my personal experience as a potentially meaningless anecdote.

But is it?

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In the course of writing peer-reviewed scientific papers, lecturing to physicians, collaborating with other researchers around generating international consensus statements about therapeutic carbohydrate reduction for a range of medical conditions, and working on a ketogenic cookbook, I’ve learned that several hundred clinical trials have concluded that ketogenic and low-carbohydrate diets are effective treatments for improving chronic metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even mental illnesses and Alzheimer’s disease. I now engage with networks of physicians and patients who share their stories of reversing metabolic diseases after adopting a ketogenic diet.

This raises more questions for me. If both anecdotal evidence and clinical trial data suggest that ketogenic and low-carbohydrate diets are effective medical interventions, why aren’t more physicians providing their patients with these options? Why are they still considered dangerous fads? Is the bias with me, because I’ve seemingly experienced the benefits of this dietary intervention, or is it with the nutritional authorities of conventional medicine because they haven’t?

For better or worse, my experience has only strengthened my resolve to pursue a conventional medical education. If nothing else, this is the best path I can imagine to challenge my biases and resolve my cognitive dissonance: Was I fooled by my experience, or is conventional medicine turning a blind eye toward an effective therapeutic option?

Nicholas Norwitz, who is pursuing a medical degree at Harvard Medical School, received his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford and is a certified metabolic health practitioner with the Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners.

  • A low-carb diet saved me from having a liver transplant. Diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer and Stage 4 cirrhosis (NAFLD) requiring a liver transplant six years ago. TIPS procedure sent my brain into a place no one would want to go. Insisted they remove it and Doctor put me on a low-carb diet (less than 30 grams per day). Two months later my liver tests were normal. It has been three years since that day. Still good tests. I will never change the way I eat. You are right, no one wants to really believe this but I am living proof. Good luck to you, the world needs to change the way it eats. Fatty livers kill more people every day. Needlessly.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. Fatty liver disease responds extremely well to a low-carb diet. I had my liver biopsy 20 years ago. Liver enzymes normal now and weight 40 pounds down. Off blood pressure medications.
      Unlike cardiovascular disease I do not see medications solving the fatty liver problem. Thankfully diet does.
      I am a family practice physician and promote low-carb/keto and it brings my patience back to life.
      John Madany MD

  • Why are you acting like you are smarter than the entire world of Western medicine? .. Like you by yourself have done decades of statistical studies and research on diverse population groups??
    I think Western Medicine has its flaws as well, but I am not arrogant enough to believe my one personal experience is more important or valid than an entire field of science. So you had a positive experience with Keto. That’s great! Why don’t you go study with the intention of learning why the whole world doesn’t gave the same experience as you did. Learn how to use your experience as a way to help others in future studies of the illnesses you have experienced instead of going to Med school to find fault with traditional medicine. I would not be interested in seeing a doctor whose reason for studying medicine was to create a distrust for the conventional system. I look at alternative medicine as well as traditional and I am not interested in pitting one against the other. They are different perspectives. Both are hopefully aimed at the goal of helping people. I think that’s a much more noble intention when it comes to ok studying medicine.

    • Thank you for giving keto for accolades and for the person who just admonished you for looking in to alternstives to health issues. He needs to know there are thousands of people who have successful experiences.the rea tion you should expecy is one like that gentlemans.

    • What you have to understand, Ms. Quinn, is the Dr. Norwitz’s experience is not unique in the slightest. But more to the point, he didn’t question the “entire world of Western medicine.” And he has actually done a tremendous amount of research, including with MDs at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. He evidently undersold himself in this article because he’s a well-regarded researcher, medical lecturer, and metabolic health practitioner. But all that aside, I don’t know why anyone would go out of their way to cruelly attack a person who just courageously shared his story with obvious good intent. Also consider that this is the person you are attacking https://youtu.be/7FjoQAMlQmM – and note: “he tried to make it really personal to me, to help me and not just fit his criteria.” Finally, the question you should be asking is whether certain standard practices are actually helping to address the diseases that face us. Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity and many more diseases are all on the rise, point very clearly to the fact that we need young doctors to question the status quo. Please check yourself because your comment was unjustified and outright rude, if not cruel.

  • Thank you Nick for this article. It is up to the next gen to change the paradigm of how we view Type 2 Diabetes. This is a completely reversible syndrome with the correct nutritional approach which is reduce/eliminate the carbohydrates depending on the degree of carb intolerance. As faculty teaching this we too feel like pariahs at times but with colleagues and the continued scientific and patient evidence more are learning and rethinking.
    Mark Cucuzzella MD Professor WVU School of Medicine

    • Cutting out gluten, dairy and refined sugar significantly improved my chronic insomnia and depression. I tried for several years with conventional medicine and it solved literally nothing. Zero. Let me say that again, nothing. I was so fatigued that on two separate occasions I suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax for which the conventional explanation is ‘you’re a tall, thin male, it happens’ – what an absolute cop out. If they’d said, look very closely at your so called ‘healthy’ diet of pasta, bread, milk, vegetables and meat and said ‘cut out gluten, dairy and refined sugar’ then I might have a modicum of faith. But as it stands, I don’t. So many people out there are suffering with diabetes, depression, fatigue and various other conditions that are caused by way too many carbs. To me, it’s seems both obvious and logical that diet is the culprit for these particular people. But no, conventional medicine wants a one size fits all approach and would have us believe that medication is the only answer. What can I ‘add’ to my body to make myself better? Why not try taking things out instead? Mikhaila Peterson’s story is useful for anyone looking to challenge this idea of diet healing some more.

  • My story with keto is one of healing as well, but not of diabetes. I have/had Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. I was chronically fatigued, and the levothyroxin dose was steadily going up, along with my Dr. prescribing medications for energy (stimulants and even ADHD medication) which I hated. I quit taking those after just a few weeks. I had been experimenting with supplements and restrictions in my diet (like cutting out gluten) for about a year, and I had seen some minor improvements in energy from those, but NOTHING like I experienced after just 2 weeks of Keto diet. Not only did I feel like a normal person without hypothyroidism again, I felt like the clock had been rolled back 10 years from my actual age. Plus, I lost weight naturally, something I had been struggling so hard to do any other way (and believe me, I tried! I never ate more than twice a day, one of those meals being a salad usually, and practiced a lifestyle of intermittent fasting 90 percent of the time. I exercised at least an hour a day, 4 days a week, and in spite of all that I was still gaining weight!) With keto the pounds have begun coming off. I still craved carbs for about a month on the diet, but after about a month those cravings went away. I would recommend at least giving it a try for 90 days and see what it does for you if you have any of the ailments mentioned in this article or comment section.

  • Great article! What an interesting amazing story! I am happy that you feel better and thank you very much for sharing about your experience. Are you doing anything else in addition to the ketogenic diet to improve your bone health, e.g., Vitamin D supplementation and / or weight lifting/ resistance training?

  • Congratulations on having tested this by your self and found it to be so effective. The science is there and if you follow the work of Jeff Volek, Sarah J Hallberg, Tim Noakes and others you know how useless and low quality epidemiological studies, including tons of them from Harvard , continue to distort the “truth” about health and food. Not to mention the work of Harcombe, Malhotra, DuBroff, Lorgeril, Diamond, Sultan, Ravnskov and others regarding the great saturated fat and cholesterol con. Pure and natural food is what made us big and strong and with big brains and you only have to look at people that eat a certain way to know that animal free diet is not the way to go for most people. You don’t have to read a lot of studies to find out what’s going on. On recent non RCT study concluded that among other things that cheese and yogurt intake was related to better health and longevity but in an interview with the leading author she recommended among other things ….and low fat dairy products… Another fellow physician when asked about a boy admitted to hospital after eating only junk food and losing his vision, hearing and damaging his bones and both lacking in protein, iron, calcium , vitamin A etc said that he needed to eat more fruit and veggies but didn’t mention food that contains all of the things he was lacking, meat and dairy. Such is the state of the union.

  • Congratulations to you as you succeed to a point of unbreakable health ! Your journey , patience, and gut curiosity are gifts to you and so many other folks .As a chef in nyc for over 35 years , I was always surprised how people reacted to clean , healthy combinations. Twelve years ago I started a Chef and Doctor series which included a hour presentation and a tasting meal that usually shared a synergie with the presentation . My goal was to connect people like you , education, personal experience with a focus and joy of healthy, healing foods . Bioavailability is so important and meals that rely on a true service of food possibilities to joy and health are some of our values , especially clearing the myths and removing the intimidation of your personal relationship to food ! After a extensive Japanese NHK documentary from Okinawa to Hokkaido working with drs , scientists, fabrication of Japanese artisanal foods some more than 15 generations, we learned that blue zone diets were simple. Best quality of fats , variety of proteins, complex carbs , and a large , large variety of fermented vegetables as well as wild vegetables. However a uniquely personal approach was often discovered like a 90 something year old fisherman in mother Hokkaido, that told me for years he relied on unpasteurized milk to keep him strong and healthy . I hope your journey ahead will have time to enjoy diets that have not been influenced by business but more by ones physiological and proper balance of foods , large variety , proper serving sizes and helping folks listen to their own body’s request as to how food can function , maybe also eat when hungry not on schedules . As a chef who has been so interested in joy and health of food , reading your story and the most interesting commits , I believe we are on the healthier path to be able to work together , chefs and health professionals, so the saying that health practitioners know nothing about food , and food industry has no interest in health will no longer be tue !

    • 100% true! Collaboration is key. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing! While I was doing my PhD in Oxford I was also writing a cookbook on the side that was a collaborations among myself, chefs, and scientists. I think you’d enjoy the concept. If I had your address, I could have my publishers send you a free copy. It’s actually released next week and projected to be a best-seller. https://newmediketo.com. That you very much for your message and valuable insights. You seem like a man after my own heart (being a food loaded with CoQ10 that I quite enjoy, even it can be a bit chewy if cooked improperly).

    • Nicholas , hello and you you for response , I would be most interested in your cook book of which I peaked at , if possible to send to 161 Duane street ,New York, N , Y 10013 , i would be most grateful and would love to have you on our data base as we start again the Chef And Doctor séries , best David bouley

  • A ketogenic diet saved me as a diabetic type 2 from insulin. Please pursue this miraculous diet, because the community needs to be aware of it’s health benefits. It’s the only diet I’d support for many various health conditions. Please read up on Dr. Bernstein. ✌️

  • I went on a low carb diet at 66 when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. At the same time I made sure I got plenty of exercise, mainly from Nordic walking and two outdoor exercise classes a week. In three months I lost joint pain, 30 pounds and chronic fatigue. Dr. R.K. Bernstein’s ” Diabetes Solution”, and the website “bloodsugar 101” were where I got my diet advice. Only later did I realize that I was following a keto-ish diet.
    The way many healthcare professionals are taught is killing their diabetic patients.
    It is a crime! It undermines trust in the medical professions and gives people a reason for vaccine hesitancy. When all the research points one way and doctors go another way, why would you trust professionals completely?

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