UC San Diego Launches Clinical Trial of Ketogenic Therapy for Anorexia Nervosa

September 19, 2023 — University of California San Diego has begun enrolling participants in a clinical trial evaluating ketogenic therapy for the treatment of anorexia nervosa. The study is supported by a philanthropic gift from Baszucki Group.

The new study will investigate the tolerability and efficacy of ketogenic therapy in weight-recovered individuals at high risk of relapse, as well as potential genetic predictors of response to nutritional ketosis. It will be led by Dr. Guido Frank, Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, an expert in eating disorder research and brain biology. Dr. Frank is a double-boarded psychiatrist in Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatry and has contributed to more than 100 peer-reviewed publications investigating the neurobiology of eating disorders, including the potential genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to their development.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 28 million people in the United States are living with an eating disorder, and an average of 10% of patients die within ten years of disease onset, making anorexia nervosa one of the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses.

Emerging evidence suggests that ketogenic therapy may be able to reduce or eliminate the drive for weight loss, fear of weight gain, and body image distortion in patients with anorexia nervosa. The trial at UC San Diego builds on a series of case studies and a pilot study inspired by Caroline Beckwith who recovered from a fifteen-year battle with anorexia nervosa after adding high-fat low-carb ketogenic nutrition, along with ketamine infusions, to her standard of care.

“For several decades, it has been hypothesized that anorexia nervosa is a metabolic disorder of psychological origin,” said Dr. Frank. “Our studies will investigate how nutritional ketosis impacts brain circuitry and behavior in anorexia nervosa and ultimately, psychiatric disease.”

Ketogenic therapy has been shown to stabilize brain networks and has 100 years of evidence of efficacy in neurological conditions, including epilepsy. Recent and ongoing clinical trials report promising results for the use of ketogenic therapy in the treatment of serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

“We’ve seen first-hand with our son that ketogenic therapy can send serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder into remission,” said Jan Ellison Baszucki, co-founder and President of Baszucki Group. “Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest psychiatric illnesses, and there is incredible urgency to study new treatment options. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Dr. Frank and his team to assess this metabolic approach in those battling anorexia nervosa.”

The 14-week trial will study twenty individuals with anorexia nervosa who have been weight-normalized but continue to have high impairment from the illness. Study participants will be carefully assessed and monitored, and will be provided nutrition and personalized guidance about ketogenic nutrition from a registered dietician. Individuals nationwide may enroll in the trial provided they can participate in one initial in-person evaluation. The $235,000 gift to support this research is made possible by Baszucki Group. For more information or to sign up for the clinical trial, please visit ClinicalTrials.gov.