Ketogenic diet: low on carbs, high on hype

shallow focus photography of meat dish and leaves
Photo by Valeria Boltneva

Ketogenic diet is nothing new and was used already about 100 years ago to lessen the symptoms in patients with drug-resistant schizophrenia. Its Atkins diet is reborn with contemporary or personal modifications.

What is the ketogenic diet? Cells in our generate energy by breaking down food. Most cells prefer carbohydrates to generate energy as it is the easiest and for the cell most efficient way of generating energy. However, you know the story about carbohydrates or carbs. Our food contains too much carbohydrates and sugar. Overconsumption of sugar leads to obesity and causes many diseases such as adult type 2 diabetes, strokes, dementia, and cardiovascular problems.

The idea of the ketogenic diet is to eliminate carbs from food and force the body to look for alternatives to generate energy. This is where the “keto” part comes into play. In absence of carbs, the body uses fat instead of carbs to generate energy. Fat is broken down into ketone bodies. The shift from using carbs to ketone bodies is called ketosis. A ketogenic diet maintains the body in a state of ketosis, which is characterized by an elevation of D-b-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate.

In medicine, ketogenic diet is used to treat obesity in adults and seizures in children, and to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, depression, brain cancer, and mood disorders. In patients with Type 2 diabetes ketogenic diet is used to control blood sugar levels, although this effect does not last.

Healthy people use ketogenic diet to reduce their body mass index and for weight loss. The cognitive effects of ketogenic diet might be individual effects and vary from person to person. There is no scientific evidence for neuroprotective benefits of ketogenic diet, despite many anecdotal reports from enthusiasts. However, clinical trials are on the way.

However, there is another side of the coin. Ketogenic diet requires consumption of fat and meat, both known to result in high cholesterol levels. Interestingly, cholesterol and triglyceride levels do increase only during the first initial few months and drop back to normal levels when continued. Long-term use of ketogenic diet seems to be safe, and there is no evidence that this diet increases risk factors in healthy individuals. However, ketogenic diet is not advised in patients with kidney disease as their condition can worsen. Moreover, the ketone bodies cause breath smelling like nail polish remover or acetone.

Ketogenic diet must be used continuously to have lasting benefits. Balanced ketogenic diet, that not only relies on fat and meat but includes nuts, legumes, and fruits is a healthy dietary habit and refutes the old notion that the brain requires 130 grams of carbs to function properly. Long-term effects of ketogenic diet on brain are not very well known.

Note of caution: Talk to your (real) doctor first, the licensed clinical nutritionist next before you start the ketogenic diet. You want to improve the quality of your life and not put yourself in danger due to unknown incompatibility with this type of diet.

Categories: Metabolomics, New insights

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