The popularity of ketogenic diet has been on the rise lately and for good reason. There is lots of new research about the negative metabolic effects of carbohydrates and the potentially protective benefits of a higher fat diet to prevent heart disease, cancer, and aid in weight loss. Even Dr Mercola is onboard and has just released a new best selling book called Fat for Fuel
WHAT IS A KETOGENIC DIET?
The ketogenic diet eliminates carbohydrates entirely or is allowed in only in very small amounts. The main macronutrient is dietary fat, usually 70-75% of total daily calories. The rest is broken down into 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
A typical breakfast might be an egg over a bed of leafy greens with three tablespoons olive oil, ½ avocado and ¼ cup blueberries. Lunch might be an arugula salad with almond slivers, roasted salmon, olive oil and avocado.
Choosing high quality fats is the healthiest way to approach ketosis through choices like avocado, unrefined coconut or MCT oil, chia or flax seeds and grass-fed dairy products.
HOW DOES IT RESULT IN WEIGHT LOSS?
There is strong evidence to support that switching to a ketogenic diet can result in weight loss. No calorie counting required. In one study, individuals on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than their cohorts on a low-fat, low-fat diet. Their cholesterol profile also improved with a reduction in triglycerides and HDL levels.
Switching your metabolism from carbohydrate-dependent to fat-dependent can result in weight loss, lasting stamina with increased energy. The energy we receive from carbohydrates is short-lived with stores lasting only about 24 hours. When we eat a cookie or piece of bread, insulin (fat storage hormone) rises, leading to our storing any excess sugars we can’t use right away as fat. Eating less carbs automatically decreases the amount of insulin released to our tissues and we use our existing fat stores for energy.
Most individuals are safe to try a ketogenic diet for 4-6 weeks. But you also have to take into consideration your activity levels. If you are a person that engages in regular, intense exercise, you may need to eat a slightly higher percentage of carbs on those days. This can vary from person to person.
WHAT ABOUT CANCER AND KETOSIS?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The genesis of cancer has been typically been focused on DNA mutations leading to cell proliferation. Halting or slowing down this process via cell autophagy (death) that occurs during fasting is thought to be cancer protective. Fasting induces cancer cell death via a process called differential stress resistance by the production of free radicals to only kill the cancer cells.
Another theory is that cancer is actually caused by mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are energy powerhouses or the batteries that run our bodies most intricate biological processes. Cancer causing mutations may be due to impaired mitochondrial metabolism by the production of reactive oxidative species that cause DNA damage.
While the main focus for treatment is typically on surgery and chemoradiation, combining those therapies with a diet that supports reducing side effects, increasing energy, supporting mitochondrial health, and preventing reoccurrence is key. This is congruent with the fact that the cause of cancer is likely multifactorial and we should be treating it comprehensively.
Eating a ketogenic diet that drastically reduces carb intake may “starve” the cancer cells of the necessary fuel to grow. The long term effects include cancer cells growing more slowly and/or decrease in number.
Other studies have looked at how ketosis reduces IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). This hormone is essential to cell development and acts on insulin, an anabolic hormone. Anabolic means to build or grow. Reducing IGF-1 levels has a direct on decreasing insulin which may reduce tumor growth and cancer over time by following a ketogenic diet.
SHOULD YOU TRY A KETOGENIC DIET?
The answer is maybe. The ketogenic diet is promising for cancer, weight loss and athletic performance, but is very hard to stick to. You can get ketone urine strips from the drugstore to see if you are in a ketogenic state at the end of each day. But most people have a hard time cutting back enough carbs to get there. It is also questionable whether this diet is safe long-term (there are concerns that it can lead to kidney issues).
It is prudent to regularly track specific biomarkers if you are on a ketogenic diet to track progress as well as to monitor any harmful metabolic changes. This is key to ensure there is no long term damage to the thyroid and sex hormones in particular.