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What Everyone (seriously) Needs to know about Ketogenic Diet Health Benefits

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: January 25, 2018
ketogenic diet health benefits


Have you recently been diagnosed with a fatiguing illness, a neurological illness or a metabolic illness? If yes, and if your doctor is up to date, I am sure he/she has recommended nutritional ketosis. Indeed, we are all learning more and more about ketogenic diet health benefits. If you’ve heard that nutritional ketosis is great for weight loss, you’re right. However, today’s discussion will be about much more than weight loss. In fact, you might just decide this is something you want to try for yourself when you finish reading this article. I was personally eager to try a ketogenic diet and guess what? I still practice intermittent nutritional ketosis. So, let’s see what all the (positive) fuss is about.

Basics of Nutritional Ketosis

ketogenic diet health benefitsNutritional ketosis is getting into a ketotic (ketone-burning) state by manipulating what you eat. A ketone-burning state is when the body uses fat for fuel rather than glucose. High-quality fats are much better fuel, as they are utilized considerably more efficiently than carbohydrates. When you burn fat as your primary fuel, your respiratory coefficient goes down. This is a dimensionless number measured by your CO2 output; when applied to your BMR, we see an increase in your basal metabolic rate (BMR). In plain English, this means that your metabolism is running more efficiently.

Another great reason to use fat as your body’s fuel is because it’s a higher octane fuel. It is consumed without creating “bodily pollution” meaning free radicals. As you know, free radicals cause oxidative stress. In addition to seeing markers for oxidative stress improve when people consume a healthy ketotic diet, we see improvement in inflammatory markers as well. Most intriguingly, we regard ketosis as a dramatic way to improve mitochondrial function.

One of the Major ketogenic diet health benefits is for our Mitochondria

Recall that mitochondria are the batteries of the cells, making ATP for energy. It is becoming increasingly apparent through a myriad of clinical studies that mitochondrial dysfunction is the root cause of many diseases. There is evidence for mitochondrial dysfunction in diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, fatiguing and toxin-caused illness and fibromyalgia. Cancer is increasingly thought to be an immune and mitochondrial disorder, so ketosis is being studied for the treatment of cancer (and prevention of cancer) as well.

Ketosis improves mitochondrial regeneration and ATP production, so do check with your doctor to see if this way of eating will benefit you. My guess is that it will. I’m going to hone in on the various conditions where the benefits of nutritional ketosis are unquestionable. If you do have a mitochondrial dysfunction disorder, ketosis plus supplements for mitochondrial health will help you.

Is this Diet the Secret to Optimal Health?

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say—for most people—yes. When you “eat this way” you are eating a whole foods diet which is high in healthy fats (they convert to ketones in your liver), moderate protein and only high fiber “low glycemic” carbs in low amounts. Again, much research points to nutritional ketosis as part of the answer to many health problems. This is likely the best diet for those who suffer from obesity. Not only does it quell hunger pangs, but it also spares branched chain amino acids, such that there is a lower chance of losing muscle mass via dieting. Nutritional ketosis was used years ago to treat seizures, and soon you’ll see, it’s “good for your brain.” It’s likely to boost longevity and more. Let’s talk about how it improves your blood sugar, lipid profile, and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic Conditions which Improve on a Ketogenic Diet

Obesity, diabetes, “pre-diabetes” and metabolic syndrome will all improve when one follows a nutritional ketosis diet plan. The most exciting and dramatic improvements are noticeable in those who have metabolic syndrome. A person with at least three of the following metabolic issues has metabolic syndrome. The first issue is a common one: A fasting blood sugar of over 99 ng/dL (but in my book, it’s 85, not 99 as that’s the level where studies show the beginnings of cellular glycation). The other issues include abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and hypertension.

Note: Absolute LDL values are meaningless. We now use an NMR profile to determine LDL particle quantity and size. I thought I’d throw that in there in case your doctor isn’t getting this test. At any rate, there is proof nutritional ketosis can improve all of these conditions to the point of normalization in many people.

One of my favorite benefits of nutritional ketosis is brain optimization

If you have been with me for any length of time, you know that I am a “brain freak.” I am all about optimizing brain health and cognitive functioning so that you are “your best you” for your whole life. Ketones have been demonstrated to be neuroprotective. Further, as water soluble fats, ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier to be more efficient fuel for the brain. Plus, a high-fat diet “feeds the brain” with more building blocks for neurons and neural sheaths. Some people notice brain sharpening right away when they “go ketotic.” Others note a touch of brain fog so don’t worry if this happens to you.

In clinical studies, patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, traumatic brain injuries, autism and even migraine headaches all benefit from ketotic diets. Remember the furor several years ago over coconut oil as the new cure for Alzheimer’s? In my opinion, the person who created this craze, claiming (truthfully) that they cured their spouse, simply put their spouse on a high-coconut-oil diet, made them ketotic and the response was “more than typical.” I’m not saying coconut oil will cure Alzheimer’s, but when I have a Type 1 or Type 2 (vs. Type 3 which is a patient with Alzheimer’s due to toxic mold) Alzheimer’s patient, the first thing I do is put them on a ketotic diet. It’s my guess that ketosis can help any brain “issue.”

Is Ketosis the Secret to Cancer Prevention?

I’m amazed at the paucity of cancer-prevention advice discussed (not discussed!) by the bulk of medical practitioners. We know we can significantly reduce the incidence of cancer with diet, exercise, and supplementation. We now know mitochondrial dysfunction often precedes clinical tumors so “fatigue” should not be taken lightly. Additionally, now we are seeing more studies touting nutritional ketosis as cancer-preventing. I believe we can prevent the vast majority of cancer cases which is really more of a metabolic disorder rather than a “DNA-damage” disorder.

Many studies show that nutritional ketosis also is likely an integral part of effective cancer treatment as well as prevention. That’s right— treatment! The operating premise behind the efficacy of ketosis for cancer treatment is simple. Cancer cells need glucose to survive and can’t use ketones for energy. So, when we supply cancer cells with ketones we literally starve them to death. I don’t know why every single cancer patient isn’t being put on a ketogenic diet, honestly. It certainly won’t hinder other therapies.

So, how to get started on this diet? I’ll give you the basics. However, for the list of approved foods and more on the methodology, please refer to the weight loss article linked earlier or search A-Z health in the weight loss category.

The beginner’s guide to starting a nutritional ketosis diet plan

  1. Throw out “bad foods” in your pantry meaning anything that is not a whole foods product. Give it away or throw it away. Bye-bye cookies. Adios, hot dog buns. Commit to this!
  2. Get a ketosis meter or some urine strips to measure ketones. You’ll check breath levels or urine daily until you know what ketosis “feels like.” Check in the morning and evening. The range to get in is .5-3.0 mmol/l. If you feel “flu-ey” the first week or two, then just dial down your level of ketosis. If you feel hungry or have cravings after that, adjust accordingly.
  3. Make a list of reasons you are doing this special diet. Review it during times of “temptation.” If you get a good “Keto Cookbook” you’ll find you can have all sorts of delicious foods.
  4. Make a health food store list, a grocery list, and a “go surfing online for other purchases” list. Find local sources of grass fed meats, wild caught seafood, organic, non-GMO vegetables, grass fed butter and pastured organic eggs. If you want to make smoothies and great desserts, find quality guar gum and carrageenan-free coconut milk. Find natural shredded coconut and raw non-pasteurized nuts. Find unpasteurized cheese and non-milk based coffee creamer.
  5. Secure your sources for healthy fats such as extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and the non-casein butter called ghee. Ghee is delicious by the way. Purchase the best type of fat to get you into ketosis fast, MCT oil. Ours has a nice pina-colada flavor, but you can also find unflavored MCT oils online.
When To “Break Ketosis”

I would advise that you “break ketosis” once every two weeks for a day. The reason for this recommendation is for GI tract lining health. Ketosis appears to cause a disruption in GI tract mucous. GI mucous disruption can potentially disrupt the microbiome, or gut bacterial protection. We don’t know if there are any long-term ramifications of uninterrupted ketosis for protracted periods of time, but studies are hinting (and I agree) that leaky gut could occur.

In addition, studies show that one day of very low protein might just be another good health practice to allow the body to detox. Some people will notice their eyes and sinuses get dry. These symptoms aren’t favorable for prolonged periods, either. I experience pretty “wicked” dry eyes even at more than moderate ketotic levels. Use lubricating eye drops during the day and thick, lubricating eye drops at night.

To get started on this diet you’ll eat the allowed foods and do a 50/25/25 split of healthy fats, protein, and fibrous vegetable carbs. Go ketotic for 2 weeks, and then pick a day each week where you’ll “break ketosis” plus “go low pro.” This means you’ll have a lot of veggies including things like sweet potatoes one day every other week and you’ll consume 10 grams or less of protein. You will feel energetic—just don’t make this a “training day.” I do my carb-outs on Sundays and do it each Sunday. You’ll find what works for you if you decide the benefits of nutritional ketosis are meant for you.

1 Comment

  1. I am on this diet, along with cancer therapy and I am responding FASTER to treatment-my doctors attribute it to this diet. Thank you for pointing this out!

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