I'd be willing to bet that you have definitely heard of the Ketogenic Diet, or as it is more commonly known: Keto.
Living in a time when social media is our primary source of information, we see so many Instagram posts, blogs, and articles showing you these amazing stories on how you can lose weight by simply eating fat. Yes, you read that right, FAT= FIT.
Is that really possible?
Are there complications?
Is that the only benefit - is it really a “miracle diet”?
That's what this article is for.
But before we dive into the world of keto, keep in mind the first and most important fact, that keto is not for everyone, no diet is (but keep reading... I'll show you if this can work for YOU). We are all different and our diets should be designed depending on our individual lifestyle and the impact that they will have on our health.
WHAT IS KETO?
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet designed to put our body into a metabolic state of "ketosis."
Normally our body burns carbs for energy, but in this state of low carbohydrate intake, we use fats as our source of energy. Our body (more specifically our liver) turns fats into ketone bodies that replace glucose as a primary source of energy, and we enter a metabolic state referred to as "nutritional ketosis." (1)
There are three ketone bodies produced by the liver:
BHB (Beta-hydroxybutyrate) is considered the main effector of the therapeutic benefits of keto diet therapy.
When speaking about ketones, what draws the most attention is their role as mediators of the anti-seizure, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory effects of a keto diet. (2)
BENEFITS OF KETO
There has been a lot of speculations regarding the benefits of a ketogenic diet. Some studies show that when it comes to mild ketosis it can be quite beneficial and offer good therapeutic potential. Keto diet is often associated with significant weight loss, improvement of glycemic control in diabetics, reduction of seizures in children with epilepsy and it has a beneficial impact on polycystic ovarian syndrome.
[BENEFIT]: Weight loss
So, let's be honest, this is what catches most people's attention. And yes, there is evidence in favor of ketogenic diet weight loss effects. In addition to that, it may also help you with the munchies by controlling your hunger and keeping the cookie monster inside you in-check.
In recent years, one of the most studied strategies for weight loss is the ketogenic diet. Many studies have shown that this kind of nutritional approach has a solid physiological and biochemical basis and is able to induce effective weight loss along with improvement in several cardiovascular risk parameters. (3)
Possible reasons why keto has a role in weight loss (3) :
- Higher satiety effects of proteins
- Effects on appetite-controlling hormones (leptin and ghrelin)
Others suggest that ketone bodies have a possible effect in suppressing appetite directly and that BHB acts as both energy and satiety signal. (3)
- Reduced lipogenesis (aka formation of fats)
- Increased lipolysis (aka decomposition of lipids - or fats)
So you're decomposing more fat than you are generating... leading to weight loss.
There is no doubt that there is strong supportive evidence regarding the effectiveness of a keto diet in weight loss. However, the mechanisms underlying the effects of a keto diet on weight loss and the long-term health effects are still a subject of debate. (3)
[BENEFIT]: Improving polycystic ovary syndrome
It doesn't matter if you are in your twenties or early forties, PCOS symptoms can really ruin your day, your self-esteem and mess with your overall health.
Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods and sometimes excess levels of the male hormone, Androgen. Which can lead to excessive body hair and infertility. They can also have problems with acne, obesity and insulin resistance.
It is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age.
So how can keto help?
There are some studies showing that a ketogenic diet may lead to a reduction of overall PCOS symptoms. (4)
Based on the information from one study, a ketogenic diet can lead to a reduction in (4) :
- LH/FSH ratio (luteinizing hormone/follicle-stimulating hormone)
- Fasting serum insulin
All of which help to reduce androgen production, acne, chances of obesity (and diabetes), as well as, help to regulate menstrual periods.
Further research is still needed to determine if the benefits were from strictly from the weight loss which the subjects experienced or from the carbohydrate restriction specifically.
[BENEFIT]: Controlling epilepsy
If you are a parent or sibling of a child with epilepsy, you know that the first thing most doctors will do to treat them is give them medications. And that is the easiest and probably the lowest risk treatment for children with epilepsy.
About 70% of children with epilepsy will get control of their seizures just with medication use and many of them will ultimately stop the medications. (5)
But there are children who don't respond to medications properly, and they can be great candidates for a ketogenic diet.
Low-carb, high fat diet can be very helpful for children with epilepsy. In some cases, they can have a notable reduction of seizures or even become seizure-free.
The state of ketosis leads to changes in brain metabolism. The theory is that ketosis may stabilize cell membranes making them less likely to seize. (5)
The diet is often effective in common forms of epilepsy that don't respond to medications as well as in the difficult to treat epilepsy syndromes of infancy and early childhood such as West Syndrome, Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome, and Dravet Syndrome. (6)
Diabetes is a chronic disease that includes type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes conditions that can be potentially reversible include:
- Prediabetes -
Higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes
- Gestational Diabetes -
Occurs during pregnancy (may be resolved after the baby is born) (7)
For people who have significantly or slightly elevated blood glucose levels (diabetes or prediabetes) a quick response of the ketogenic diet is a reduction in blood glucose.
More simply, if you have fewer carbs in your diet there's going to be less glucose produced by digestion and therefore the level of sugar coming into the blood is going to be reduced. (8)
In addition to these benefits, it has been said that keto may increase physical endurance, make your stomach calmer, help with acne, high blood pressure and some mental health issues. But these benefits are still a subject of debate so it didn't feel right to include them on the main list of benefits.
Keep in mind that keto diet has most likely produced good results for many, but as much as it is praised by others, it does not mean that it will work for you. You should always consult your doctor or nutritionist before starting any new diet, including keto.
If you want to start a keto diet...
I would recommend that you check out this article:
It talks about what you should be looking for in yourself before getting started, foods to eat, foods to avoid when starting out, and more. Click the link to keep reading.
1. Wajeed Masood, Kalyan R. Uppaluri, Methodist University, Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Campbell University.
2. Detlev Boison, Robert Stone Dow Neurobiology Laboratories, Legacy Research Institute, Portland, Oregon, USA; Correspondence to Detlev Boison, PhD, Robert Stone Dow Neurobiology Laboratories, Legacy Research Institute
“New insights into the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet”
3. Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Padova, Padova
"Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe?"
4. John C Mavropoulos, William S Yancy, Juanita Hepburn, and Eric C Westman
Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA,
Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA
“The effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: A pilot study”
5. Dr. Elaine Wirrell, Mayo Clinic, “Ketogenic diet”
6. Maciej Gasior, Michael A. Rogawski, and Adam L. Hartmana
Epilepsy Research Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda. The John M. Freeman Pediatric Epilepsy Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
“Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet”
7. Mayo Clinic, “Diabetes”
8. Dr. Stephen Phinney, Virta Health, “Nutritional Ketosis and Ketogenic Diets”