Keto diet : does it work?
You’ve probably already heard about the keto diet. It’s getting more popular by the day, and there are a lot of famous people singing the praises of the keto diet, but does it work?
If you need to know more about the keto diet you can find further information here .
Just because a diet is super fashionable, and loved by many celebrities, it does not follow that it’s able to live up to all the hype. As with any diet, especially one that’s becoming very cool, you need to check out the science and the opinions of people who have actually been on the diet before you make up your mind.
What claims are made for the keto diet?
There has hardly been a diet in the history of mankind that has had so many claims to fame made of it. The keto diet has an amazing amount of alleged health and weight loss benefits, but it there anything substantial to back up these claims?
I’m going to briefly outline here the main claims made for the keto diet, and what evidence there is to support those claims. It’s a long list but well worth the read if you’re planning on making an informed choice.
I have not included the obvious benefit of keto: weight loss. You can read more about this here keto diet plan: weight loss
Assists in the reduction or death of cancer cells.
That’s a big claim but it would seem that there is a fair amount of science to back it up. It’s important to remember that it is still unknown what exactly causes cancer, and theories abound. There is evidence of higher cancer rates among city dwellers as apposed to rural peoples, and hunter-gatherers were almost free of cancer.
Certain autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, the use of vegetable oils and low levels of vitamin D seem to increase the risk of cancer among many other causes that have been implicated. It’s fair to say, that while there are so many theories about the origin of cancer, it’s difficult for anyone to decide on an effective way to treat or prevent it.
Apart from the possible environmental triggers, there are also a great many scientists who believe cancer to be a genetic disease.
However, one of the most important findings that relates to the keto diet is that cancer cells depend on sugar for their survival, and cannot utilize any other form of nutrients.
As the keto diet severely restricts sugar intake and also lowers insulin, this obviously has implications for the claim that the keto diet is able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Thomas N. Seyfried Roberto E. Flores Angela M. Poff Dominic P. D’Agostino published a paper “Cancer as a metabolic disease: implications for novel therapeutics ” in which it was suggested that the keto diet could play a role in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells but they emphasized that the diet had to restrict calories at the same time.
A keto diet with unrestricted intake of nutrients did not have the same effect. However, Seyfried et al. did conclude that the keto diet could be effective when combined with other interventions. You can read the full paper here
Dr Valter Longo is a professor of gerontology and biological sciences and director of the longevity institute at the University of Southern California. He studies aging, including the role of fasting and diet in longevity and the effects of fasting on disease.
He believes that fasting plays a major role in the recognition and elimination of cancer cells in the body.
So again, the keto diet which switches the body to burn fats once glucose stores have been depleted, together with calorie restriction would certainly have role in the treatment of cancer.
Poff AM, Ari C, Arnold P, Seyfried TN, D’Agostino DP. published a study “Ketone supplementation decreases tumor cell viability and prolongs survival of mice with metastatic cancer.”
They noted the inability of cancer cells to utilize glucose and suggested that supplementing your diet with ketones would
inhibit the proliferation and viability of cultured tumor cells.
In this study mice were given ketones as a supplement, and the results were that cancer cell proliferation was reduced, and the cells were less able to survive. This was the case even in the presence of glucose.
This is an amazing finding and the team suggest that the use of supplemental ketone precursors as a cancer treatment should be further investigated in animal models to determine potential for future clinical use. (2)
These studies all point to a role for ketosis in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Some studies suggest that the keto diet would need to be combined with fasting, or other interventions at the same time.
This makes the claim that the keto diet could be useful in cancer treatments one we should be taking seriously.
In summary, studies state that the keto diet can be effective against certain types of cancer and when coupled with fasting can play a role in treatments for other cancers. Science has also discovered that cancer cells can only utilize glucose for growth and survival, and there is mounting evidence that a diet which lowers glucose levels could play an important part in the treatment of cancer.
Protects against neurodegenerative disease
There seems to be an explosion in the incidence of neurodegenerative disease, and it causes massive emotional, physical and financial damage to sufferers their families.
The most common are Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers disease. It’s hard to overstate the seriousness of these health problems devastating the lives of millions of people around the world .
There are thousands of scientists working on understanding the cause and treatment of these conditions, and they have made some remarkable discoveries about the role of glucose.
Reger MA et al. In their paper “Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults.” found that brains of people with Alzheimers disease had a reduced ability to utilize glucose for energy. The keto diet which induces fat burning for fuel could provide an accessible alternative fuel to glucose.
Ketones could be used even when the subjects brains could no longer properly utilize glucose, and these subjects saw an improvement in their cognitive ability.
Reger goes on to state that “Higher ketone values were associated with greater improvement in paragraph recall with MCT treatment relative to placebo across all subjects”
MCT oil is a Medium-chain triglyceride which the body can rapidly convert into ketones. It is often used by people on the keto diet to increase their fat intake and to get them into ketosis more rapidly.
You can read the study here
Alzheimer disease has been referred to as the third type of diabetes, due to role glucose plays in the progression of the disease.
Krikorian, R et al. In “Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment” stated that in their study of a very low carb diet they found that “Ketone levels were positively correlated with memory performance” They felt that further study was needed on the ability of a low carb diet to reverse early neurodegeneration.
It does seem that there is a good body of scientific evidence for keto diet being beneficial in respect of the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disease.
Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 33, Issue 2 , Pages 425.e19-425.e27, February 2012.
Hildreth KL, Van Pelt RE, Schwartz RS. Obesity, insulin resistance, and Alzheimer’s disease. Obesity. 2012 Feb. 7.
Inflammation is caused by excess carbohydrates and leads to an increase in free radicals which cause an immune system response. Inflammation is a natural and protective response in our body, but when too many carbs cause a huge rise in chronic inflammation, this natural response becomes damaging.
Long term inflammation in now implicated in most (if not all) chronic health conditions ranging from arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and Alzheimer disease.
This study (1) states: Inflammation has long been a well-known symptom of many infectious diseases, but molecular and epidemiological research increasingly suggests that it is also intimately linked with a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them.
More than enough reason to be seriously concerned about what causes inflammation in our bodies.
The one food item that has been singled out is sugar. That sugar causes inflammation is now well-established. The keto diet which prohibits sugar, and severely limits other carbohydrates has been demonstrated to stop the high levels of insulin which create the dangerous chronic inflammation.
When you switch from using glucose for fuel, to burning fat for fuel your body produces ketones. These ketones inhibit inflammatory pathways, one of which switches on the genes responsible for antioxidant and detox pathways.
In other words, the keto diet produces ketosis which sets in motion a chain of events that directly deals with inflammation.
The evidence is strong and overwhelming. The keto diet is a powerful tool that you can use to deal with one of the greatest threats to your health, both now and in the future.
Treats and reverses type 1 and 2 diabetes
Here the evidence is very clear: the benefits of carbohydrate restriction are immediate and backed with a great deal of science. The keto diet is effective as a way of managing or reversing diabetes.
Feinman RD et al. published their study “Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base.” in 2014.
They found that Dietary carbohydrate restriction reliably reduces high blood glucose, does not require weight loss (although is still best for weight loss), and leads to the reduction or elimination of medication. They also pointed out that this approach did not have the side effects that current medication did.
Given the amount of evidence for a low carb approach to diabetes, it’s a wonder that the dietary advice is still to lower fat consumption, and take insulin.
Reduces the risk of heart disease
A major risk factor for heart disease is high levels of triglycerides in the blood after a fast and one of the main reasons some people have high levels is that they consume too many carbohydrates.
This study Effect of dietary carbohydrate on triglyceride metabolism in humans proves that a carbohydrate rich diet increases blood concentrations of triglycerides.
Interestingly the study points out that this rise in triglycerides was seen even though people who ate a high carbohydrate diet tended to eat less fat.
When people switch to a low carbohydrate diet such as the keto diet, their levels of triglyceride fall, and therefor their risk of heart disease decreases.
The evidence is clear, the keto diet definitely does reduce these dangerous fat molecules in your blood and reduces the risk of you developing heart disease.
Here is an article about muscle bulking and performance while on the keto diet, keto diet and bodybuilding.
There is overwhelming evidence that you can gain muscle and perform at or above your present level while enjoying all the health benefits of the keto diet.
This study concluded that Keto-adaptation provides an alternative to the supremacy of the high-carbohydrate paradigm for endurance athletes.
The evidence is in, and is backed by science and the anecdotal evidence of thousands of bodybuilders who are already using this low carb diet in place of carbohydrate loading.
It is even possible to gain muscle while using the keto diet for weight loss.
The take home message
There are not many diets that can claim to have all the health benefits of the keto diet, and it’s good to see the claims backed up by countless studies run by the most distinguished scientists in the field of nutritional science.
This is a diet that deserves it’s popularity, and there are encouraging signs that it will play an ever-increasing role in preventative medicine.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is not medical advice, please consult your doctor before making big diet or lifestyle changes. This is particularly important if you have a disease that can be modified by the keto diet such as diabetes, epilepsy or cancer, or if you’re on medication.