Can a keto diet improve knee pain?

If you have aching knees, can a keto diet help? And if it does, is it simply because the keto diet helps you lose weight, taking stress off your joints, or is something more happening, such as reduced inflammation?

Diet Doctor medical director Dr. Bret Scher, in this DDNewsvideo, examines the findings of two studies, one from 2022 and the other from 2019. Both suggest that knee pain does indeed improve on a keto diet. 

And the reason for the improvement is likely both weight loss and reduced markers of inflammation.

“Any weight loss is going to be beneficial for lower body arthritis symptoms,” says Dr. Scher. “But if you can eat in a way that also helps lower systemic inflammation, that’s probably beneficial as well.”

The 2022 study is from researchers at Virta Health. It is part of their ongoing series of research studies that have followed 262 patients with type 2 diabetes undergoing intensive online coaching and support to eat a low-carb ketogenic diet. 

Virta compares these patients to 87 patients receiving the usual care for type 2 diabetes. (The Virta study is a registered clinical trial, but participants were not randomized into the intervention and control arms. You can find more of our reports about Virta’s ongoing findings here.)

Publishing in March 2022 in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, the Virta researchers report that they collected data from patients about knee pain and function as part of their two-year trial. 

Compared to the group getting the usual care for type 2 diabetes, those on the keto diet had statistically significant improvement in knee pain and function, likely due to weight loss from their abdomen and reduced markers of inflammation.

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: Continuous care intervention with carbohydrate restriction improves physical function of the knees among patients with type 2 diabetes: a non-randomized study

Diet Doctor wrote about an earlier study in 2019, which was a small trial that randomized 21 adults with knee pain to one of three diets for 12 weeks: low carb, low fat, or a control (no change) diet.

While participants on both the low carb and low fat diets lost similar amounts of weight, only those on low carb experienced improvements in knee pain and function. The researchers hypothesized that this was likely due to the low carb diet reducing inflammation.

While both studies are preliminary and more research is needed, it is an encouraging finding for the millions of people with sore, aching knees, Dr. Scher notes.

“Of course, it is not going to work for everyone. It is not going to be one miracle cure. But what’s the downside of trying if you’re suffering from arthritis? There’s data that suggests it’s beneficial,” he says.

Each week, Dr. Scher creates two or three videos that review relevant or interesting scientific studies in the fields of nutrition, exercise, health, or disease and carefully analyses the researchers’ methods and findings. In doing so, he helps you better understand how to judge the quality of various research papers and make informed decisions about your own health and wellness. 

You can find more of Dr. Scher’s news videos on the Diet Doctor Youtube Channel. Subscribe to the feed so that you don’t miss any of his videos.

Or you can find out more about how to get started on a keto diet here


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