In the last 15 years, about two dozen studies have been conducted on low-carb diets and all of the studies came out with one conclusion – the Ketogenic diet works! It is a much healthier and more effective option for weight loss compared with any high-carb calorie restricted diet. This article explores the numerous health benefits of ketogenic diet in addition to weight loss.
Besides regulating appetite and using ketones for fuel instead of glucose, Ketogenic diet also brings about several important changes in the body and cell that are typically not seen with other diets and hence the added benefits.
Ketogenic diet drives the following changes:
- At the cellular level:
- The cell replaces glucose with the more efficient fuel Ketones
- Burning Ketones produces less reactive oxygen species
- Ketone as a fuel stimulates mitochondrial function and production
- Restricted carb intake triggers autophagy (that destroys cancerous cells) and anti-inflammatory processes
- At the entire body-level:
- Insulin levels dip as carb intake is restricted
- The body starts using fat-reserves to derive energy
- Inflammatory fat levsls and reactive oxygen species content decrease triggering an anti-inflammatory response in the body
- These unique changes in the body trigger many other health benefits and help in preventing many deadly diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, etc.
Let’s look at these benefits individually and understand how Ketogenic diet is responsible for it:
1. Ketogenic Diet (KD) Helps in Weight Loss in a Healthy Way
Studies have repeatedly proven that Keto diet helps people lose weight in a healthy way within a short period of time.
The low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein nature of the diet ensures that the body uses its fat reserves for energy and does not lose muscle mass.
Further, since rich food including fat and proteins tend to take longer to break down the dieters feel full longer and automatically suppresses their appetite.
Additionally, the lower insulin levels owing to low carb intake triggers the kidney to get rid of excess sodium and water weight from the body. The results are visible usually within the first week or two.
Even in the medium to long-term of 6 months to 1 year, Keto diets give better results compared with other diets. Note that Keto diet is not simply a diet but a lifestyle!
2. Ketogenic Diet Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels and Prevents Type 2 Diabetes
When we eat carbs, the digestive system breaks it down into simple sugars, such as glucose, from where they enter the bloodstream and raise the “blood sugar levels”.
Since, high levels of sugar in blood is toxic, the body excretes the hormone, insulin, to prevent blood sugar spikes. Insulin’s work is to prompts body cells to utilize the sugar for producing energy and thus get rid of excess sugar.
However, if the body is loaded with excess sugar, it eventually fails to produce sufficient insulin or the cells eventually get blinded to the insulin – also known as insulin resistance.
These conditions leads to one of world’s deadliest disease – type 2 diabetes.
High carb intake = high glucose = high insulin = high body fat
Since, the Keto diet restricts the intake of carbs, the body doesn’t have to go through the entire process and blood sugar levels drop to normal automatically. Keto diet is extremely successful in treating and preventing type 2 diabetes as proven in multiple studies.
However, if you are already on medication for diabetes, please do recommend with your doctor before starting the Keto diet. Your diet or medication might need to be altered to prevent hypoglycemia.
3. Ketogenic Diet Burns the Harmful Visceral Fat around Abdomen and Reduces Belly Fat
While, Ketogenic Diet expedites the burning of overall fat in the body, it is especially efficient in burning the Visceral fat located in the abdomen that coagulates around major organs and expands waist size.
In a recent study, it was found that there is strong correlation between waist size and reduced life expectancy in both men and women.
It is Visceral fat that is most responsible for developing heart diseases and diabetes. By restraining the body to run on fat, any harmful fat in the body is burned and removed reducing the risk of diseases considerably.
4. Ketogenic Diet Regulates Healthy Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
Despite the belief by many cynics that the high amounts of fat leads to cholesterol concerns in dieters, multiple studies have proven otherwise.
The Keto diet helps regulate cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart diseases in two ways: 1) Increasing the levels of “good cholesterol” HDL; and 2) Rendering the “bad cholesterol” LDL harmless.
By increasing the intake of healthy fats under Keto diet, the levels of HDL are increased.
5. Ketogenic Diet Improves Brain Function
The combination of carb restriction and ketone utilization allows the brain to balance the neurotransmitters – Glutamate and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) that are the primary neurotransmitters for excitation (trigger stimulation) and inhibitory (control stimulation), respectively.
Poor focus and brain fatigue are caused due to excess glutamate and very low GABA, since the brain has to use glutamate and glutamic acid (from glucose) for fuel, leaving very to be processed into GABA.
By providing an alternative fuel, Ketones, the brain is able to balance the content of two neurotransmitters and thus allow the brain to relax (by restricting the firing of neurons) and improve mental focus.
Additionally, the increase in GABA production also reduces stress and anxiety in the dieter.
Ketones can fuel more than three-fourth of all brain cells, while the remaining fuel needs are met by either the glucose available from the low carb intake or by breaking the moderate protein intake in the liver.
Evidently, Ketogenic diet makes brain cells more efficient, reduces inflammation in brain cells, and promotes the production of healthy neurotrophic factors.
6. Ketogenic Diet Slows Down Cancer and Cures Tumors
Since, most body cells shift to Ketones as primary fuel under Ketogenic diet, cancerous cells are deprived of their only fuel source glucose, eventually causing them to die.
Additionally, the diet also suppresses the insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) that is responsible for formation and progression of cancerous cells. IGF-1 thrives when carb intake is high. With restricted intake, IGF-1 production is suppressed and thus curb the growth of cancerous cells.
These effects were confirmed in a study of 32 patients who had brain or spinal cord tumors and and were treated using the Ketogenic diet in continuation with regular treatment. These patients showed dramatic improvement in health compared to other tumor patients on regular diets.
7. Ketogenic Diet Helps Treat Epilepsy in Children
Considered the origin of Ketogenic diet, treatment of epilepsy in children is the most effective and proven long-term benefit of the diet.
In 1924, Dr. R. Wilder at the prestigious Mayo Clinic designed a low-carb diet to treat epilepsy in children and found remarkable results.
But it was not until 1998, that the first high quality study to tie the direct benefits of keto diet on epilepsy was published.
In a study of 150 children, it was found that within six months nearly 32% of children on the diet had 90% decline in seizures. The seizure rate declined to 90% after one year.
Many other similar researches have been done in the same field with similar results.
8. Ketogenic Diet Reverses and Prevents Serious Neural Diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease
Excess sugar consumption impairs the brain’s functioning and leads to plaque build up in the brain. In fact, scientists have concluded that high carb intakes worsens cognitive performance and behavior in patients with Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease.
A month-long study of Parkinson’s disease patients undergoing keto diet revealed that the diet helped reduce the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale Scores by nearly 45%.
A similar finding was revealed when the memory of Alzheimer’s patients were tested after giving them MCT oil daily (that are easily converted into ketones in the liver) for about a month. Doctors found that the patients had much better memory recall driven by the larger content of ketones (esp. β-hydroxybutyrate) in the body.
Keto diet is known to prevent neuronal loss, preserve neuron function and protect brain cells against injury.
9. Ketogenic Diet Helps Treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
A leading cause of infertility in women, PCOS, is primarily caused due to elevated insulin levels. The excess insulin force the ovaries to produce abnormal levels of androgens (like testosterone) and inhibit the production of sex hormone binding globulin – a glycoprotein that restricts testosterone to enter into cells.
With this disruption in testosterone and globulin levels, excess testosterones often interact with different cells in the body by floating around in blood leading to abnormal hair growth on chest and face, mood swings, fatigue, low sex drive, and infertility.
The symptoms get worse when the increased androgen levels trigger 5-alpha reductase activity enzymes that convert testosterone into a highly potent metabolite called dihydrotestosterone.
The keto diet’s low carb intake ensures insulin levels are regulated and reverse the levels of free testosterones.
The same was proven in a research done on five overweight women who ate less than 25 grams of carb per day for almost six months. It was found that the women lost on an average 12% body weight and their free testosterone levels decreased by more than 20%.
10. Ketogenic Diet Prevents and Reduces the Intensity of Migraines
The anti-inflammatory and enhanced mitochondrial metabolism benefits of the Keto diet has also proven to prevent and reduce the intensity of migraines.
The ketone bodies produced during keto diet block high concentrations of glutamate and reduce oxidative stress on the brain – that are the primary reason behind both migraines and epilepsy. A study on two twin sisters who had high-frequency migraine revealed that they benefited significantly from weight loss KD and reported much relief from migraines.
11. Ketogenic Diet Increases Overall Energy Levels
With enhanced mitochondrial metabolism and less reactive oxygen species concentration, the cells have more energy increasing the overall energy levels of the body.
Keto diet is a proven way to improve the energy efficiency of most body cells.
12. Ketogenic Diet Decreases Inflammation and Proved Relief for Chronic Pain
The Keto diet produces less toxic substances (reactive oxygen species) in the body and thus damage to cells is prevented to a considerable extent.
Since, cells do not require repair the body doesn’t have to use its inflammation mechanism and thus there is lesser inflammation in the body.
Another significant benefit of the anti-inflammation feature is the reduction in chronic pain for patients.