As those of you who follow me on Instagram probably know, I have been experimenting with the Ketogenic Diet for the past two weeks. I had planned to keep a daily diary of my experience but sadly I failed to do so but I think I can still give a pretty concise description of my journey into Ketosis. Rather than write a really long blog (because who can be bothered to read one of those?), I have split it in two so that this week I will explain the science behind the diet and what made me want to try it and next week I will give you a summing up of my experience. If all goes to plan I will have been sticking with it for three weeks by then.
So what is the Ketogenic Diet?
Firstly, this is not a fad diet. In fact Hippocrates observed that fasting was a cure for seizures. In the early 1900'2 and 1920's, research was performed at the Mayo Clinic, they discovered that a diet consisting of primarily fats with just enough protein to prevent protein malnutrition mimicked the physiological state of fasting, namely the elevated levels of ketone bodies (Betahydroxybuterate and Acetoacetic Acid). By reducing the amount of carbohydrates consumed, insulin levels are suppressed and the body is placed into a fat burning state. Ketones are protein sparing which means muscles (including the brain) are not broken down. This state helped to reduce seizures in their patients.
How is it different from the Atkins Diet?
Atkins is a low carbohydrate, high protein diet but actually, when we eat high levels of protein our bodies turn it back into glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis. We also don't need as much protein as many of us think and consuming too much places a strain on the liver. 1g of protein per kg of body weight should be sufficient for most people. With the Ketogenic diet you get most of your calories from good fats such as olive oil, avocado and oily fish.
What are the Benefits?
It takes more work to turn fat into energy than it takes to turn carbs into energy. Because of this, a ketogenic diet can help speed up weight loss. Fat also keeps you fuller for longer so you don't feel hungry and when you do get hungry, it comes on slowly rather than the urgent cravings that you experience on a higher carbohydrate diet.
Because blood sugar is more stable you do not experience energy crashes after eating (afternoon slump anyone?) which often result in extreme tiredness and sugar cravings.
This is the main reason I wanted to try the Ketogenic Diet. Contrary to popular belief, the brain doesn't need carbohydrates to function, in fact brains love ketones! Many people report feeling much sharper mentally and much better able to focus. Some studies suggest that the keto diet offers neuroprotective benefits. These may help treat or prevent conditions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and even some sleep disorders. One study even found that children following a ketogenic diet had improved alertness and cognitive functioning. Tim Ferriss is a massive advocate for the ketogenic diet in regards to the cognitive benefits he feels.
I personally feel so much more 'switched on' mentally, the brain fog I used to feel has disappeared my concentrations levels have improved and I can read educational material for longer without my brain starting to wander.
Potential Treament for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that causes enlarged ovaries with cycsts. A high-carbohydrate diet can negatively affect those with PCOS.
There aren't many clinical studies on the ketogenic diet and PCOS. One pilot study that involved 5 women over a 24-week period found that the ketogenic diet:
- increased weight loss
- aided hormone balance
- improved luteinizing hormone (LH)/follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) ratios
- improved fasting insulin
Helps with Seizures
The original studies into the Ketogenic Diet were researching ketosis as a means to treat seizures. The Mayo Clinic found that when participants were fasted for 2-3 days (which puts you into a state of fasted ketosis) the patients seizures were controlled.
Mike Dancer had what is known as terminal epilepsy (it would have killed him as they could not control his seizures), he turned to the ketogenic diet and the seizures completely stopped, prior to this he was having multiple seizures everyday. You can read more about his story here:
Otto Warburg was a leading cell biologist who led to the discovery that cancer cells are unable to flourish using energy produced from cellular respiration, but instead from glucose fermentation. Dr. Thomas Seyfried and other cancer researchers agree, and have further discovered that cancer cells are also fueled from the fermentation of the amino acid glutamine.
With ketogenic diets, lowering carbohydrates will reduce your levels of glucose, the fuel that feeds cancer cells. This will put your body into ketosis and will assist in depleting cancer cells of their energy supply.
Cancer cells are unlike normal cells in many ways, but one of their traits that is most unique regards insulin receptors. They have ten times more insulin receptors on their cellular surface. This enables cancer cells to gorge themselves in glucose and nutrients coming from the bloodstream at a very high rate. As you continue to consume glucose as your primary diet source, cancer cells will continue to thrive and spread. It is no surprise that the lowest survival rate in cancer patients is among those with the highest blood sugar levels.
The ketogenic diet is particularly effective when combined with periods of intermittent fasting. Fasting increases ketone production and can starve cancer cells. Late stage cancer patients can further weaken their cancer cells by completing a lemon water cleanse for three to seven days.
Are there any side effects?
The first week can be tough! With the start of the keto diet, the body switches from using sugar as a source of energy to using the body’s stored fat. In the process of breaking down fat, the body produces ketones, which are then removed by the body through frequent and increased urination. This may lead to dehydration and flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, irritability, nausea, and muscle soreness.
With this frequent urination, there is also the inevitable loss of electrolytes, which can exacerbate these symptoms. In addition, as carbohydrates are a source of energy and stimulation, removal of this source of energy will result in increased sugar cravings, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, much like most other withdrawal symptoms.
To combat this you must increase your consumption of water and also add salt to replace the lost sodium. Drinking enough is also important because we store toxins in our fat cells, when these are broken down for the body to use as fuel, toxins are released into the blood stream and must be 'flushed out' which requires adequate hydration.
As you can see, there are lots of reasons how the ketogenic diet may be beneficial. Next week I will give you a more detailed account of my own experience with the diet and a step by step guide of how to get your body into ketosis.