The Ketogenic Diet – is it for you?
The Ketogenic Diet – is it for you?
Also called “Keto” or “LCHF” among other nicknames, the ketogenic diet may seem like a recent fad; when it in fact has been around more than 90 years.
The concept was developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the renowned Mayo Clinic, as a natural and quite controversial treatment for epilepsy. Despite being highly effective in reducing the frequency of seizures in those treated, the method became obsolete as new medications emerged in the 1940s.
However, medications have not been a successful course of treatment for all patients. One such example is a man named Charlie Abraham, whose family started The Charlie Foundation after him reaching a full recovery through a ketogenic diet alone.
In Charlie’s case, none of the available anti-seizure medications or even extensive surgical interventions affected his condition for the better, which caused him to finally turn to the method of putting his body in ketosis. Charlie began his ketogenic diet journey as a small child and remained on it for approximately five years, and as a result, he has managed to stay seizure free well into his college years.
While a famous example, Charlie’s story is in no way unique. There are countless studies on the topic of ketosis and its potential to treat number of diseases and physical conditions. Most commonly known is that of obesity, which is perhaps the most alarmingly prevailing health condition in the western world.
So how does Ketosis work? The diet is based on a macronutrient ratio of high fat, moderate to low protein, and very low carb. This combination raises many eyebrows due to it being the complete opposite of the typical “low fat” recommendation for staying lean and healthy. However, what it does is to change the way energy is used in the body, which is a powerful tool when struggling with stubborn pounds that seem to stay regardless of diet or efforts in the gym.
When the body enters ketosis, which usually occurs anywhere between 3 days to a week after beginning a low carb regimen, fat is converted in the liver to fatty acids and ketone bodies. This means that instead of turning to carbohydrates as a source of energy, the body effectively begins to create and use ketones to support its many functions; both from daily calories and existing fat storage. This process, which requires the daily intake of carbohydrates to be at 50 grams or less, lowers glucose levels and improves insulin resistance – a great advantage for those who are severely overweight and suffer from various blood sugar disorders.
A body that is is not in ketosis naturally uses sugar to thrive. It does this by converting carbohydrates to glucose, which is then used as energy or stored in the liver and muscle tissue. When deprived of dietary carbohydrates, the brain – which accounts for 20% of total daily energy expenditure – has no other choice but to turn to liver produced ketones. If our bodies didn’t have this brilliant ability to adapt, humanity would have been wiped out long ago due to inevitable starvation.
When ketones (hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate, and acetone) are excreted, they are released into the bloodstream, absorbed by various organs, transported into the mitochondria; i.e. the brain’s energy center, and utilized as fuel. Excess ketones end up either in the urine or in a person’s breath, which is the cause for the typical metallic-like “keto breath”.
Despite the lack of sugar, blood glucose stays normal thanks to the amount derived from certain amino acids and the increased breakdown of fatty acids.
People who begin a ketogenic diet, after many years of sugar dependence, often experience an initial drop in energy levels along with other less comfortable physical symptoms. This is referred to as “keto flu”, and usually only lasts for no more than a week, before the body learns how to use ketones for energy and derive glucose from various amino and fatty acids.
The main reason why ketosis seems to have such a great impact on neurological disorders is that most of those share one common denominator; namely, deficient energy production. It is speculated that the ketone BHB is in fact more effective as fuel than regular glucose, as it provides more energy per unit oxygen used. In addition, ketones raise the amount of mitochondria brain cells and thus has the potential to ward off age-related brain diseases such as dementia and general memory loss.
What about the downsides? One of the biggest concerns with a diet so high in saturated fat is a rising level of cholesterol, which is widely announced as the evil culprit of all heart diseases. Albeit many are still hesitant to change their views on the topic, many medical professionals are beginning to rethink the notion of cholesterol and its effects on overall health.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is currently the leading cause of death worldwide. What’s interesting is that ketosis, despite the fact that it may raise cholesterol levels, appears to simultaneously have the ability to reverse CVD.
To explain briefly, keto diets improve triglyceride levels, HDL, and LDL particle size, which are used as direct indicators of CVC risk levels. Further, modern science has established that LDL cholesterol is only a weak predictor of cardiovascular disease and there are a multitude of other factors to consider – such as those caused various degrees of obesity, which a ketogenic diet has the ability to decrease.
Cholesterol has many subtypes, which work together in an extremely complex and carefully balanced system. The amount of cholesterol considered healthy ranges widely, given that the proportions of subtypes are healthy. This means that a person who has seemingly high cholesterol levels could in fact be at less risk than someone who has very low cholesterol levels, due to the differing levels of subtypes these consist of.
What furthers supports this theory is that the ratio of triglyceride levels in relation to HDL is considered a key marker of insulin resistance, which means that the same lipid predictors of cardiovascular disease are the same as those which indicate aforementioned blood sugar disorder.
A ketogenic diet is not for everyone, and it is up to each individual to research the pros and cons in regard to their own health. Hopefully, this article has given you a bit more food for thought in regard to at least some of the questions related to ketosis.
If you have anything to add to this article or have an experience to share, please email us we’d love to hear your thoughts!