For those unfamiliar, ketogenic dieting is any diet plan “low-carb” enough to switch your body into a state of producing and burning a significant amount of ketones. In short, you change the energy source from carbs/glucose to fats/ketones.
This isn’t a blog post that explains how to go about doing this but instead an eye-opener as to why the benefits may draw you towards making a dietary change. As we can see on Google Trends the interest on this topic has skyrocketed in the past 2-3 years.
Focusing the brain (increased memory, cognition, clarity, and seizure control; less migraines)
Related to this research, some serious attention has been given to ketogenic dieting and Alzheimers Disease. Scientists have discovered increased cognition and enhanced memory in adults with impairments in these areas, and a growing body of research shows improvement at all stages of dementia. Ketosis has been shown to be effective against Parkinson’s disease as well.
For a broader audience of dieters, the often-reported side effects of increased mental clarity and focus and less frequent and less intense migraines are likely related to the more stable blood sugar and altered brain chemistry that improves memory and cognition as well.
Fighting some types of cancer
D’Agostino’s lab published an article in 2014 entitled “Ketone supplementation decreases tumour cell viability and prolongs survival of mice with metastatic cancer.”
Here is important background from the abstract:
Cancer cells express an abnormal metabolism characterised by increased glucose consumption owing to genetic mutations and mitochondrial dysfunction. Previous studies indicate that unlike healthy tissues, cancer cells are unable to effectively use ketone bodies for energy. Furthermore, ketones inhibit the proliferation and viability of cultured tumour cells.
Here is a good overview article of recent animal studies, which includes this 2013 article from D’Agostino’s lab:
Decreasing inflammation (which improves acne, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, IBS, pain, etc…)
A Nature Medicine article last year found a likely mechanism behind what people have known for decades: ketogenic dieting is profoundly anti-inflammatory and helps with a host of related health problems.
The researchers found that “the anti-inflammatory effects of caloric restriction or ketogenic diets may be linked to BHB-mediated inhibition. In other words, the key player in many inflammatory diseases is suppressed by BHB, which is one of the main ketones produced from a ketogenic diet.
Thus the implications on arthritis, acne, psoriasis, eczema, IBS, and other diseases involving inflammation and pain are significant enough that it is prompting more research attention.
Improving energy levels and sleep
By day 4 or 5 on a ketogenic diet, most people report an increase in general energy levels and a lack of cravings for carbs. The mechanism here involves both a stabilisation of insulin levels and readily available source of energy for our brain and body tissues.
Sleep improvements are a bit more of a mystery. Studies have shown that ketogenic dieting improves sleep by decreasing REM and increasing slow-wave sleep patterns. While the exact mechanism is unclear, it likely is related to the complex biochemical shifts involving the brain’s use of ketones for energy combined with other body tissues directly burning fat.
Assisting Women’s Health (increased fertility, stabilising hormones)
An extensive review published in 2013 looked at the research and evidence of ketogenic diets enhancing fertility (long story short, it looks promising). Studies also show that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can be treated effectively with low-carb dieting, which reduces or eliminates symptoms such as infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, acne, and obesity.
Overall, keeping blood sugar levels low and stable, which results in lower overall levels of insulin in the blood, helps equilibrate and stabilise other hormone levels, especially in women. This naturally has downstream benefits on a wide variety of metabolic pathways related to insulin, such as hunger and energy utilisation.
Helping the eyes (more stable vision; less risk for cataracts)
As any diabetic will tell you, it is well known that high blood sugar has a detrimental effect on eyesight and leads to an increased risk for cataracts. It’s therefore not surprising that keeping blood sugar levels low improves eye and vision health.
Gaining muscle and improving endurance
BHB, specifically, has been shown to promote muscle gain. Combined with tons of anecdotal evidence over the years, there is an entire movement behind bodybuilders using a ketogenic approach to gain more muscle and less fat (typically muscle gain also comes with fat gain, so there’s understandable attention being given toward preventing this).
In addition, Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek have a number of papers published about ketogenic dieting for ultra-endurance athletes. In short, once these athletes are fully fat-adapted, there is evidence to suggest that mental and physical performance is significantly improved beyond a “normal” carbohydrate-rich diet.
And last but not least, curbing diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome while sparing muscle loss
Of course, there are over 160 research papers currently on Pubmed with the words “diabetes” and “ketosis” or “ketogenic” in the title alone. It’s clear that ketogenic dieting is extremely effective for many people with both type I and type II diabetes for all the reasons discussed above related to keeping blood sugar levels and insulin in check.
In addition, recent papers within the last few years investigating the effect of ketogenic dieting on obesity conclude that it’s an extremely effective way to not only lose fat, but spare muscle loss while curbing many disorders related to obesity as well, including the set of symptoms and risk factors known as Metabolic Syndrome (i.e. abdominal obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol).
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