Critics of the keto diet call it a diet dripping with over-sensationalism, gimmicky or a passing trend sold by authors who want to sell their latest book. They cite how it's a diet that was originally used in the 70s and that there is no scientific evidence to support the benefits of this diet. Criticism usually cites water loss as the sole cause of weight loss in the diet, which is a clear implication the diet is actually harmful. However, these critics also fail to note that the diet is highly effective for people suffering from epilepsy, that it's been used for over 80 years and critics conveniently ignore the mountain of research that is piling up in support of the diet.
Weight Loss Effects
Start with the long-term effects of weight loss. While more studies are needed, a major study followed the progress of 84 obese individuals over the course of 24 weeks. Carbohydrate restriction was severe, and the researchers kept the diet to a mere 30 grams of carbohydrates. Published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Cardiology, the study tracked a host of factors to determine if there was any change in the health of the patients.
Changes to the various parameters that were documented were checked every eight weeks. The overall results were extremely promising. Triglycerides decreased significantly, blood glucose levels were dramatically reduced and there were no significant changes to urea or creatinine levels. Additionally, total cholesterol levels decreased, with good cholesterol seeing an increase and bad cholesterol taking a nose dive. The conclusion of the study found that it was "safe to use a ketogenic diet for a longer period of time than previously demonstrated."
Subjects in the study lost an average of 15kg of body weight. This is not the type of weight loss that you could expect to see from weight loss alone. For those who maintain that the ketogenic diet results in weight loss because of a reduction in lean muscle mass, that is also not proven scientifically. Another study that used several athletes determined that a ketogenic diet actually helped to build lean muscle mass while decreasing fat. The study used ultrasound technology to accurately measure the weight loss.
Cholesterol Levels and Heart Disease
As the previous study discussed addressed, the overall levels of cholesterol are dramatically improved on a ketogenic diet. This has long been one of the talking points for people who oppose the diet for various personal reasons. The truth is that the ketogenic diet is backed by real scientific evidence, and there is a strong pushback against the diet for various reasons that aren't really central to the point of safety or efficacy of the keto diet.
Critics will often talk about how the diet can cause heart failure and all manner of other issues. This is true of any outlier on any diet. Our traditional western diet that offers what is viewed as a balance of nutrients is also deadly to diabetics, people with insulin resistance and other various conditions. The point remains that these outliers are not considered part of the general public. They are individuals who are unhealthy to begin with. Individuals who are dealing with a specific condition must make changes to their diet, but that doesn't mean the diet is to blame for their condition. It's the unique metabolism and condition of the individual that makes a diet unsafe for sensitive individuals, not the diet itself.
A study by the American Epilepsy Society notes that there a ketogenic diet may have an effect on arterial morphology and endothelial function in children. While there were some harmful side effects, the study noted that healthy individuals had no reason to be concerned. The side effects were specific to a small group that was sensitive to the diet, and dieters who made it past the 12-month mark noticed a significant increase in overall health. Rather than labeling the ketogenic diet as a killer, it would be more productive to learn how to safely get these kids across the 12-month barrier so they can enjoy some semblance of normal life.
Regardless of the safety of any particular diet, it still makes sense to consult with a doctor and ensure that the diet is right for the particular individual. For people suffering from health conditions, this may mean more monitoring and testing is required.
The Effects on Cancer
Cancer cells are essentially starved when an individual starts a ketogenic diet. When you have a cancerous cell, there are significant differences in the construction of those cells. Put simply, cancer cells love glucose. When you switch to a diet that is low in glucose and carbohydrates, you can effectively starve cancer cells. While the diet alone is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on cancer, the weakened state in combination with traditional therapies like radiation may be more effective in killing the weakened cancer cells.
In a study published by Redox Biology, the researchers note that while many supplements and dietary components have been evaluated for their use in the treatment of cancer. However, the role that diet may play in cancer is still in its infancy. Early results suggest that cancer cells need an increase in glucose to maintain their level of health.
A process that naturally occurs in the body known as mitochondrial oxidative metabolism can serve as a way to make cancer cells more susceptible to therapy. Since high-fat and low carbohydrate diets enhance mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and limit the amount of glucose in the blood, the keto diet may serve as the perfect partner in fighting cancer. Ketogenic diets have been shown to decrease tumor size in mice and it's also possible to combat colon cancer, gastric cancer, prostate cancer and malignant glioma.
People who fast may have touched upon a mechanism inherent in their bodies that can help to fight all manner of diseases. Epilepsy patients have long benefited from fasts of less than 3 weeks in length. Past studies supported the idea that dehydration was responsible for the improved epilepsy symptoms. It's now becoming clear that ketosis deserves the credit for treating the symptoms. This is ideal since ketosis allows an individual to continue consuming food and benefiting from the nutrition that comes from food.
The Effects on Medication
While ketogenic diets may make the effects of some medications more effective, this is something you need to speak with your doctor about. The effect of a medication that we're talking about right now is that it may be possible to remove the need for medication in several different conditions. Over the last few decades, evidence has shown that there is a potential positive effect in ketogenic diets. People who remark on the trend of ketogenic diets emerging in the 70s fail to acknowledge that numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits of ketogenic diets.
The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that a ketogenic diet can help with many pathologies, including diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, neurological diseases, acne, cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. With so much promise for disease treatment using a simple diet modification, it's time to start solving the more complex issues that do exist in ketogenic diets. Namely, is supplementation with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals required? Is there a way to maintain a ketogenic state while expanding what is allowed on the diet?
These are questions that are worth asking. The ketogenic diet of today is much more advanced than the diet of the 1970s that was intended only for weight loss. With an estimated cost of $750 billion per year that is spent on pharmaceuticals, it makes sense to push for more cost-effective ways of treating disease. Health care would become less of an issue if a doctor could simply prescribe a diet that is well-researched and proven to treat particular conditions.
It's possible that medications can be replaced by a ketogenic diet. However, more recent is necessary to discover the implications of a ketogenic diet on health, and how it can be implemented in a manner that provides consistent and specific results. Ketogenic diets have been shown to have an effect on acne as it seems that some beneficial effects may lie in the fact that high glycemic foods may cause distributions to hormones.
When it comes to kidney stones, it seems that children are at the greatest risk of developing this condition as a result of a ketogenic diet. In a study of children who developed kidney stones, the condition was adequately treated with potassium citrate. No child in the study had to stop the diet due to kidney stones. This is incredible considering the average length of the trial was 26 months. While kidney stones still occur in about 1 in 20 children, additional research and studies may find a way to prevent the condition altogether while maintaining a ketogenic diet.
Since an estimated five percent of patients who suffer from epilepsy will develop kidney stones on a ketogenic diet, it is worth investigating further why some children develop kidney stones and others do not. This is an area where the ketogenic diet may have a significant impact on the health of individuals, and it would be research that is well worth investing in. Other factors that a ketogenic diet may contribute to could also be to blame. Low urine pH may cause crystals to form, which could eventually result in the formation of kidney stones.
Finally, ketogenic diets may also have a negative effect on bone structure. Patients who are on a ketogenic diet tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures. Whether or not supplementation can solve this is something that needs further investigation. The current treatment is to provide a multivitamin, along with calcium and vitamin D to promote bone strength.
Bones appear to be at risk because of the altered levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This is also known as somatomedin C, which is a protein that has a molecular structure that is similar to insulin. IGF-1 is a hormone plays a major role in the childhood growth, and it may continue to have an anabolic effect in adults. It contains 70 amino acids and is an essential protein for children.
The Journal of Nutrition suggests that a five-year treatment with a keto diet should be considered safe. Additional research is needed, but few diets show so much promise for so many different conditions. It's essential to solve the problems that the ketogenic diet provides so that it can be used in a more effective and highly targeted way to improve overall health and longevity.