The Keto Diet - More Than Just Fat Loss

If you want to know what the research-backed benefits of the ketogenic diet are beyond weight loss, you want to read this article.

 

Ketogenic diets and “going keto” are all the rage these days. One need only look at Google Trends, the birth of “Keto Corner” at Vitamin Shoppe, or the droves of ketogenic-based cookbooks and blogs that have debuted in the past 18 months for proof that keto is the darling child of the fitness and nutrition community.

 

If you’re looking to lose belly fat, you’ve probably given serious consideration to adopting a ketogenic diet, and thereby swearing off all things sugary and starchy for the foreseeable future.

 

But, what if you aren’t interested in losing weight? What if you’re perfectly happy with your body composition the way it currently is?

 

Is a ketogenic diet still worth trying?

 

The good news is that losing weight fast isn’t the only reason to consider going keto (even though there’s considerable scientific research demonstrating its effectiveness for burning fat).[1] In fact, there are a number of benefits beyond fat loss that accompany a ketogenic diet[2], some of which may surprise you.

 

And with that said, let’s get to the topic of today’s article -- benefits of the ketogenic diet besides weight loss.

Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet Beyond Fat Loss

Reduces Inflammation

Acne, irritable bowel syndrome, pain, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis are all linked to inflammation in some way or another. Additionally, several studies have noted that a low intake of sugar leads to improvements in many of these inflammation-related disorders.[2,3,4]

 

Ketogenic diets are extremely low in carbohydrate and sugar by definition. They also have been shown be anti-inflammatory, due to beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)-mediated inhibition of the NLRP3 inflammasome.[5] FYI, NLRP3 is a major player in many inflammatory diseases.

 

In case you weren’t aware, BHB is one of the three main ketone bodies that the body generates (along with acetoacetate and acetone) when in a state of ketosis. So, by adopting a ketogenic diet, you may reduce one of the key factors involved in inflammatory diseases, and potentially reduce symptoms associated with acne, arthritis, psoriasis, IBS, and eczema.

 

Reduce Blood Sugar and Insulin

Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, chronically elevated blood sugar levels, and Type 2 Diabetes are at epidemic proportions these days due to a mix of poor diet, overeating, and lack of exercise.

 

The overconsumption of carbohydrates also plays a role in each of these diseases as well.

 

How so?

 

When you eat carbohydrate, whether it be in the form of a potato or piece of candy, it’s broken down into glucose, after which it enters the bloodstream, elevating blood sugar levels.

 

To deal with this increase in blood sugar content, the pancreas releases insulin, the nutrient shuttling hormone, to move glucose from the bloodstream into skeletal muscle, where it’s stored as glycogen.

 

However, when glycogen stores are full, the glucose is then stored in fat cells.

 

In normal, fit individuals, this process occurs and prevents the blood from reaching toxic levels of sugar. However, in people with Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, etc. they have insulin resistance, meaning that their cells don’t “recognize” insulin thereby making it harder to dispose of glucose from the bloodstream.[6]

 

To help correct this problem, there is a very simple solution -- remove carbohydrates from the diet. When carbs are cut, insulin and blood sugar both go down.[7,8] In fact, when using a low-carb or ketogenic approach, some diabetics are able to reduce their reliance on insulin by up to 50%.[9] Another study in type 2 diabetics, noted that 95.2% of the individuals were able to either reduce or outright eliminate their blood sugar medication within 6 months of adopting a low-carb, ketogenic diet.[10]

 

In other words, if you’re struggling with high blood sugar levels, pre-diabetic, or Type 2 Diabetic, a ketogenic diet may be able to help you get a hold of your out of control blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

 

Helps Reduce Appetite

Wait….

 

Didn’t you say this list of benefits were about benefits that weren’t fat loss?

 

Reducing appetite isn’t strictly about weight loss, though it does support weight loss, in so far as losing weight requires that you burn more calories than you consume. So, by reducing your appetite a ketogenic diet supports weight loss.

 

But losing fat isn’t the only time it helps to have a reduced appetite. If you’re a busy executive, constantly traveling between meetings or bogged down with work, you really don’t have the time to stop and eat a meal every 2-3 hours. Being less hungry throughout the day frees you up mentally and physically to be more productive, and then when you do have time to sit back and relax, you can feast away.

 

Having a reduced appetite isn’t only beneficial for the on-the-go executive, either. Entrepreneurs, stay-at-home mothers, and just about anyone else who enjoys just living life to the fullest, without having to be bothered by their stomach to eat every couple of hours can benefit from the appetite-lowering effects of a ketogenic diet.[11,12]

 

How does the ketogenic diet reduce appetite?

 

This is a question researchers are continuing to investigate, but one of the prevailing theories is that being in a state of ketosis increases levels of cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone which increases satiety. It’s also believed that ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, is suppressed when on a ketogenic diet.

 

In other words, going keto may help improve feelings of satiety and reduce feelings of hunger, via its effects on CCK and ghrelin.[11,13]

 

Improves heart health

For decades, fat was demonized as the macronutrient that clogged arteries and increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. However, recent research has shown that fat was unnecessarily vilified, and that fat is not only essential for our bodies, but healthy too.

 

When the keto diet is followed properly (healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, etc. and not trans fats or faux-keto foods), research indicates it can support heart health[14,15] via:

 

  • Reducing cholesterol

  • Lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol

  • Increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol


Also, researchers have noted that low-carb diets transform the LDL particles from small to large, while reducing the quantity of LDL particles floating throughout bloodstream.[16]

 

Why is this important?

 

Individuals who have mostly small particles tend to have a greater risk of heart disease, while those with large “fluffy” particles have lower risk.[17,18,19]

 

Additionally, low-carb diets (including ketogenic diets) have been shown to be an effective means for reducing blood pressure. And, if you weren’t aware, high blood pressure (hypertension) is an important risk factor for many diseases, including stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and more.

Improves Energy Levels and Sleep

For many people, the first few days on a ketogenic diet are rather unpleasant, with most experiencing symptoms of “keto flu” (headache, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, etc.). This is due to a mix of electrolyte depletion and the body scrambling to figure out how to burn fat for fuel when it’s used to burning glucose.

 

But, after the first few days, most individuals report feelings of increased energy and focus, along with fewer cravings. This by and large has to do with stabilization of insulin and blood sugar levels.[29]

 

Additionally, ketogenic diets have also been shown to improve sleep by increasing slow-wave sleep patterns.[30,31] More specifically, individuals experience a greater amount of stage 4 deep sleep and less REM or “dreaming” sleep.

 

May Preserve and Enhance Cognitive Function

The ketogenic diet was originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy.[23] Given the effectiveness of the diet for reducing seizures in epileptics, researchers have begun digger deeper into the potential neurological benefits the high-fat, ultra-low-carb diet may offer.

 

One study has found that the ketogenic diet improves alertness, boosts cognitive functioning, and exerts strong neuroprotective benefits.[20] Additional research notes that a ketogenic diet may be able to support mental performance, aid memory, increase productivity, support better memory, and possibly treat mild cognitive impairment.[21,22]

 

As a result, researchers are beginning to use the diet as a means to help those with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and other degenerative neurological disorders[24], due to the potential neuroprotective effects of ketone bodies (such as BHB).[25]

 

May Help Reduce Cancer Risk

One of the most intriguing areas of ketogenic diet research in the field of oncology, where the keto diet is being studied for its potential beneficial effects on various cancers.

 

One particularly interesting study documented that the ketogenic diet may be a viable adjunct treatment to chemotherapy and radiation in cancer patients.[26] Most likely, this has do with a combination a factors, including “starving” cancer cells of glucose and inducing greater oxidative stress in cancer cells than in healthy cells.

 

Other theories floated by the research community include lowering blood glucose and decreasing complications with insulin, which has been associated with a few forms of cancer.[27]

References

  1. Bueno, N. B., de Melo, I. S. V., de Oliveira, S. L., & da Rocha Ataide, T. (2013). Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The British Journal of Nutrition, 110(7), 1178–1187. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114513000548

  2. Perez-Guisado, J. (2008). [Ketogenic diets: additional benefits to the weight loss and unfounded secondary  effects]. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion, 58(4), 323–329.

  3. Masino SA, Ruskin DN. Ketogenic diets and pain. J Child Neurol. 2013;28(8):993-1001.

  4. Austin GL, Dalton CB, Hu Y, et al. A very low-carbohydrate diet improves symptoms and quality of life in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009;7(6):706-708.e1.

  5. Baroja-Mazo, A., Martín-Sánchez, F., Gomez, A. I., Martínez, C. M., Amores-Iniesta, J., Compan, V., Pelegrín, P. (2014). The NLRP3 inflammasome is released as a particulate danger signal that amplifies the inflammatory response. Nature Immunology, 15, 738. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/ni.2919

  6. DeFronzo, R. A., & Ferrannini, E. (1991). Insulin Resistance: A Multifaceted Syndrome Responsible for NIDDM, Obesity, Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease. Diabetes Care, 14(3), 173 LP-194. Retrieved from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/14/3/173.abstract

  7. Yancy, W. S., Foy, M., Chalecki, A. M., Vernon, M. C., & Westman, E. C. (2005). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2(1), 34. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-2-34

  8. Noakes M, Foster PR, Keogh JB, James AP, Mamo JC, Clifton PM. Comparison of isocaloric very low carbohydrate/high saturated fat and high carbohydrate/low saturated fat diets on body composition and cardiovascular risk. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:7. Published 2006 Jan 11. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-7

  9. Westman, E. C., & Vernon, M. C. (2008). Has carbohydrate-restriction been forgotten as a treatment for diabetes mellitus? A perspective on the ACCORD study design. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-5-10

  10. Westman EC, Yancy WS, Mavropoulos JC, Marquart M, McDuffie JR. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008;5:36. Published 2008 Dec 19. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-36

  11. Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L. A., Delbridge, E., Purcell, K., Shulkes, A., Kriketos, A., & Proietto, J. (2013). Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67(7), 759–764. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.90

  12. Johnstone, A. M., Horgan, G. W., Murison, S. D., Bremner, D. M., & Lobley, G. E. (2008). Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in  obese men feeding ad libitum. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(1), 44–55. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.1.44

  13. Paoli A, Bosco G, Camporesi EM, Mangar D. Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship. Front Psychol. 2015;6:27. Published 2015 Feb 2. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00027

  14. Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2004;9(3):200-5.

  15. Dashti, H. M., Al-Zaid, N. S., Mathew, T. C., Al-Mousawi, M., Talib, H., Asfar, S. K., & Behbahani, A. I. (2006). Long term effects of ketogenic diet in obese subjects with high cholesterol level. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 286(1–2), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11010-005-9001-x

  16. Richard J. Wood, Jeff S. Volek, Yanzhu Liu, Neil S. Shachter, John H. Contois, Maria Luz Fernandez; Carbohydrate Restriction Alters Lipoprotein Metabolism by Modifying VLDL, LDL, and HDL Subfraction Distribution and Size in Overweight Men, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 2, 1 February 2006, Pages 384–389, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.2.384

  17. Campos, H., Genest, J. J., Blijlevens, E., McNamara, J. R., Jenner, J. L., Ordovas, J. M., … Schaefer, E. J. (1992). Low density lipoprotein particle size and coronary artery disease. Arteriosclerosis and Thrombosis: A Journal of Vascular Biology, 12(2), 187–195. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.ATV.12.2.187

  18. Benoiˆt, L., Andre´, T., Sital, M., Bernard, C., R., D. G., J., L. P., & Jean-Pierre, D. (1997). Small, Dense Low-Density Lipoprotein Particles as a Predictor of the Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease in Men. Circulation, 95(1), 69–75. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.CIR.95.1.69

  19. Packard, C., Caslake, M., & Shepherd, J. (2000). The role of small, dense low density lipoprotein (LDL): a new look. International Journal of Cardiology, 74, S17–S22. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-5273(99)00107-2

  20. Hallböök T, Ji S, Maudsley S, Martin B. The effects of the ketogenic diet on behavior and cognition. Epilepsy Res. 2011;100(3):304-9.

  21. Reger, M. A., Henderson, S. T., Hale, C., Cholerton, B., Baker, L. D., Watson, G. S., … Craft, S. (2004). Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiology of Aging, 25(3), 311–314. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0197-4580(03)00087-3

  22. Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Dangelo K, Couch SC, Benoit SC, Clegg DJ. Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Aging. 2010;33(2):425.e19-27.

  23. Freeman, J. M., Vining, E. P., Pillas, D. J., Pyzik, P. L., Casey, J. C., & Kelly, L. M. (1998). The efficacy of the ketogenic diet-1998: a prospective evaluation of intervention in 150 children. Pediatrics, 102(6), 1358–1363.

  24. Gasior M, Rogawski MA, Hartman AL. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol. 2006;17(5-6):431-9.

  25. Maalouf M, Rho JM, Mattson MP. The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies. Brain Res Rev. 2008;59(2):293-315.

  26. Allen BG, Bhatia SK, Anderson CM, et al. Ketogenic diets as an adjuvant cancer therapy: History and potential mechanism. Redox Biol. 2014;2:963-70.

  27. Nead KT, Sharp SJ, Thompson DJ, Painter JN, Savage DB, Semple RK, Barker A, Perry JR, Attia J, Dunning AM, Easton DF, Holliday E, et al. Evidence of a Causal Association Between Insulinemia and Endometrial Cancer: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst 2015;107.

  28. Johnson, J. A., & Gale, E. A. M. (2010). Diabetes, Insulin Use, and Cancer Risk: Are Observational Studies Part of the Solution–or Part of the Problem? Diabetes, 59(5), 1129 LP-1131. Retrieved from http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/59/5/1129.abstract

  29. Veech, R. L. (2004). The therapeutic implications of ketone bodies: the effects of ketone bodies in pathological conditions: ketosis, ketogenic diet, redox states, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial metabolism. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 70(3), 309–319. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2003.09.007

  30. Afaghi, A., O’Connor, H., & Chow, C. M. (2008). Acute effects of the very low carbohydrate diet on sleep indices. Nutritional Neuroscience, 11(4), 146–154. https://doi.org/10.1179/147683008X301540

  31. Willi, S. M., Oexmann, M. J., Wright, N. M., Collop, N. A., & Key, L. L. (1998). The Effects of a High-protein, Low-fat, Ketogenic Diet on Adolescents With Morbid Obesity: Body Composition, Blood Chemistries, and Sleep Abnormalities. Pediatrics, 101(1), 61 LP-67. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/101/1/61.abstract