You have probably heard by now about a diet called The Keto Diet or the Ketogenic diet. You’ve probably heard about celebrities that are on it, best sellers that are written about it, your friends who are trying it or read about it in magazines. But just what is a Keto Diet? Is it good for you? Can it be dangerous?
Eating a Ketogenic diet has grown in popularity over the last decade due to its ability to help people lose weight quickly. Physiologically the diet promotes ketosis due to the very low intake of carbohydrates which is the foundation of the diet. In the short term, Keto diets have been shown to promote weight loss and reduce some cardiovascular risk factors.
Critics say that there can be renal (kidney) damage to those who stay on a Keto diet for too long, although studies do not reflect this. However, if you have kidney disease always talk to your doctor before trying any new diet plan.
Conventional wisdom and medicine have it drummed in our heads that a high-fat diet is a health risk factor for cancer and heart disease. This has led to a challenge by alternative health experts that the type and quality of fat ingested plays more a part in our health than the total amount of fat we consume. Today there is an emphasis on omega 3 fats and fatty acids as being health protective.
When the body is in a state of ketosis it’s like being in a fasting state. The body is using fat for energy. Being in a fasting state has many positive health implications. It’s widely known in the medical community that fasting reduces seizures of all types. In fact, Johns Hopkins Medical Center has used the Ketogenic diet with great success to treat seizures. St. Louis Children’s Hospital found that 50% of their patients became free of seizures and up to 30% had considerable improvement.
The brain’s primary source of fuel comes from glucose. The body can only store a small amount of glucose in the liver. Our body evolved in order to overcome the problem of not having a steady supply of food readily available. One way is the ability of the body to convert protein to glucose. This is not very efficient because this would involve muscle wasting and long-term survival of the species wouldn’t have been possible. Another form is the breakdown of fat into a fuel that can be used by the body. Body fat can be accumulated and then used as fuel in a limited food environment. This type of fuel is called ketones and is a very superior type of fuel for the brain and body.
The body breaks down fat in the liver and converts it to ketone bodies. The brain uses these ketones as a fuel source without the need to consume carbohydrates regularly. This was/is a superior survival mechanism to ensure the survival of the human body in times of scarcity.
Since scarcity was a common occurrence before modern times as recent as 200 years ago, our bodies are still evolutionarily adapted to using ketones for energy. Modern times have ensured we don’t go very long without carbohydrates so storing fat is very easy for the body. Using fat for energy is not something we need for survival anymore but our body doesn’t know that there are supermarkets at every corner. This is one reason why we are struggling with an obesity epidemic today.
Advantages Of A Ketogenic Diet
- Lower HbA1c markers for type 2 Diabetics – In a study, those on a ketogenic diet lowered their Hba1C levels.
- Less frequent migraines – A recent study showed that after being on a ketogenic diet for one month there was a significant reduction in frequency and duration of migraine headaches in the participants.
- Greater testosterone levels – recent studies show a rise in testosterone when on a ketogenic diet.
- Weight loss.
- Cancer prevention and treatment.
Ketoacidosis VS Ketosis
There is some confusion about these two very different conditions. Ketoacidosis is very serious and possibly life-threatening. Ketosis is something we enter into every night. The two terms are similar and many doctors are only familiar with Ketoacidosis and could be why the fear of ketosis being dangerous is widespread.
According to The Ketogenic Diet Resource ketosis is an ”insulin-regulated response which results in a mild release of fatty acids and ketone body production in response to either a fast from food or a reduction in carbohydrate intake. Ketoacidosis is driven by a lack of insulin in the body. Without insulin, blood sugar rises to high levels and stored fat streams out of fat cells. This excess amount of fat metabolism results in the production of abnormal quantities of ketones. The combination of high blood sugar and high ketone levels can upset the normal acid/base balance in the blood and become dangerous…”
It would take a dangerously low level of insulin to get into a state of ketoacidosis.
Ketosis occurs when your blood ketones are in a range of 0.5 to 3.0 mmol. Being on a low carb diet does not mean you are in ketosis.
3 Types of Ketogenic diets
- Nutritional Ketosis – A diet high in fat, modest in protein and low in carbohydrate can induce the body to produce ketones.
- Supplemental ketosis – There are supplements you can take that can help your body to produce ketones. MCT oil or medium chain triglycerides can help with this.
- Combination of both – Following a low carb/high fat ketogenic diet while taking targeted supplements can help with the transition to ketones in the body.
For more information on the ketogenic diet and to watch a video:
Long-term safety studies for ketogenic diets are out there. The results are mixed but I haven’t seen any dangerous effects of a ketogenic diet. Some conditions, like childhood seizures, can be controlled with a ketogenic diet and long-term studies following these kids have been positive.
If you are obese or have any other physical problem where a ketogenic diet can help, it’s certainly worth it to speak to your doctor about it.
For general weight loss, there are plenty of great books out there to help guide you through a ketogenic diet or a higher fat, lower carb diet. Here are some of my favorites.
In conclusion, ketosis is a state our body gets in to produce ketones from fat which the brain uses for energy in times of famine or scarcity of carbohydrates. In modern times, using fat for fuel is not needed since the Standard American Diet contains more than enough carbohydrates for brain fuel. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous state and not to be confused with ketosis. There are medical benefits for a ketogenic diet, especially for seizures and obesity.
If you have tried a ketogenic diet or are interested in it, please comment below!