Health

What Are the Health and Metabolic Benefits of Ketosis?

Published on: August 16, 2019

What Are the Health and Metabolic Benefits of Ketosis?

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If you’re thinking of following a low-carb ketogenic diet, then you want to know for sure about the benefits of ketosis. A growing number of studies reveal that ketosis helps the body in many ways. Today, we’re going to explore them in detail.


Is Ketosis Healthy?

Ketosis as a result of following a well-formulated ketogenic diet (a.k.a. “nutritional ketosis”) is healthy. As a normal metabolic process, it happens when your body is deprived of carbohydrates and undergoes fat burning to produce ketones for energy. In this case, your ketones increase but do not reach the level of ketoacidosis. Therefore, nutritional ketosis is considered safe [1]. Ketoacidosis is a risk for those who have type I diabetes.


Family-cooking-together-ketosis-benefits

Why Do You Want Your Body to Be in Ketosis?

The human body happily thrives by deriving its energy from ketones. Being in a ketotic state also means that your blood glucose is kept low and within the normal range. Here are the common reasons why one desires to be in ketosis:


Ketosis helps you lose weight faster

The reason why being in ketosis makes you lose those unwanted pounds is that you’re no longer getting your energy from dietary carbohydrates. By that time, your glycogen stores have already been depleted and your stored fat is being metabolized for fuel.

During the first few days on keto, one tends to lose more water weight. Some people can even lose as much as 10 pounds in a week. This is explained by the long-held notion that each gram of glycogen in your muscle is stored with at least 3 grams of water [2].

Ketone bodies decrease your appetite as they suppress ghrelin - the hunger hormone [3]. Reducing your carbohydrate intake also prevents blood sugar spikes, which in turn, keeps your cravings at bay [4].


Ketosis helps you fight some diseases

A high-sugar diet has been found to be a significant factor in the development of obesity, heart disease, cancer, non-alcoholic liver disease, cognitive decline, and other chronic diseases [1, 5]. Following a low-carb keto diet lowers chronic inflammation, which is a driver of many diseases [6].

Studies also suggest that ketosis promotes neuronal autophagy, a process by which the body clears out unwanted proteins to prevent brain deterioration. This is why ketosis can be beneficial for brain trauma patients [7, 8].


woman-exercising-outdoors_ketosis-physical-benefits

Physical Benefits of Ketosis

What physiological benefits can you gain from achieving ketosis? Here are five of them:


1. Reduced visceral fat

Visceral fat is the kind of fat that accumulates within your abdominal cavity and covers your internal organs. Visceral fat is damaging to your health as it increases your risk of disease [9].

A diet high in refined carbs causes an increase in visceral fat. Study shows that visceral fat impairs insulin signaling and is prone to inflammation [10].

Ketone metabolism produces fewer free radicals, which explains the anti-inflammatory potential of the keto diet and its ability to decrease visceral adipose tissue [11].


2. Preservation of muscle mass

One of the common misconceptions is that carbohydrates are necessary to build muscle.

There was a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, and that study stated that consuming protein together with fast-acting carbohydrates increases lean body mass (LBM), and an increase in insulin stimulates muscle growth [12].

There isn’t enough data to support this. Furthermore, the last cited study only analyzed the impact of supplementation timing, not composition [12].

While it is often claimed that a very low carbohydrate diet results in a significant loss of muscle, studies actually show the opposite. A very low carb diet protects against muscle protein breakdown as long as a person eats adequate amounts of protein [13].

 

3. Sustained energy levels

Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal may give you a jolt of energy, but it won’t last very long.

Carb-laden foods, especially simple carbs like soda and packaged treats, spike your blood glucose and stimulate your brain to produce a “feel-good hormone” called serotonin. However, your blood sugar plummets quickly, making you experience a “sugar crash” that manifests as fatigue and decreased alertness [14].

Ketosis lowers your blood glucose naturally, and you’ll no longer experience dips in energy that make you crave for a sugary treat to feel better. This happens after you’ve overcome carb withdrawal symptoms, commonly known as keto flu.

Ketone bodies are also more energy-efficient than glucose and the major ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) provides more energy per oxygen used [15, 16].


4. Improved serum lipid profile

Ketosis can be a great tool for improving your cholesterol profile and heart health. The popular belief is that high-fat diets always increase cholesterol and one’s risk for developing atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This is a myth.

What drives heart disease is a high-sugar diet that elevates insulin levels, causes insulin resistance, and drives up inflammation [17]. Consuming a high-sugar diet within just a few weeks leads to elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein ( LDL or “bad cholesterol”) [18].

A study that examined the long-term effects of a 24-week keto diet on obese individuals showed that the participants had decreased total cholesterol, significantly increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”), significantly decreased triglycerides, and significantly decreased blood glucose [19].

People who are overweight, obese, or want to attain a moderate weight loss can metabolically benefit from a ketogenic diet and reduce their cardiovascular risk factors [19].


Woman-looking-in-the-mirror-checking-skin_health-benefits-of-ketosis

5. Better skin health

We often hear of people who share stories of how being in nutritional ketosis reduced their acne flare-ups and gave them clearer skin.

While researchers still argue as to whether or not diet is a factor in acne development, we can certainly say that food can help improve or worsen acne severity [20, 21].

The typical high-carb Western diet creates insulin resistance which can change sebum production, increase androgen production, and therefore lead to inflammation and acne. Conversely, low-carbohydrate foods decrease androgen hormones and lower acne severity [21, 22].

Studies also show that high consumption of sugar in the diet leads to the formation of harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are known to reduce skin elasticity, causing skin aging [23, 24]. This probably explains why people in nutritional ketosis notice their skin appearing younger.


man-working-on-laptop_focused_mental-clarity

Mental Benefits of Ketosis

While the brain uses glucose as its main source of energy, it’s also capable of utilizing ketone bodies as an alternative fuel during ketosis [25]. Here, we learn the impact of ketosis on your brain and mental performance:


1. Prevention of seizures

The ketogenic diet was recognized as an effective tool for the treatment of epilepsy during the 1920s.

Today, more interesting experimental studies that highlight the anti-seizure effects of ketones are being conducted. Here are some data-backed reasons why ketogenic therapies help control seizures [26]:


  • Ketogenic diets boost the growth and division of mitochondria, organelles which create energy-rich molecules for your cells.
  • Ketone bodies exhibit protective, anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Ketone bodies reduce the spontaneous firing rate of neurons in the substantia nigra pars reticulata, a structure in your midbrain that’s known for modulating seizures [27, 28].

2. Enhanced memory

Memory loss is one of the common complaints among older people. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases [29]. While there are many factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s, the two most important risk factors are high insulin and high glucose levels [30].

Ketone bodies improve memory and learning by suppressing mitochondrial damage [26]. During a study on 23 participants with age-related memory decline, data revealed that dietary ketosis through carbohydrate restriction offers neurocognitive benefits for older adults with early memory decline and who are at risk for neurodegeneration [31].


3. Mood stabilization

All effective mood stabilizers decrease intracellular sodium concentrations, and the same thing happens in ketosis. This is one of the reasons why ketosis is being introduced as a possible solution for mood improvement [32].

Also, it’s no secret that a Western dietary pattern, a diet that’s high in sugar-sweetened beverages, diet soft drinks, and refined grains, promote inflammation which increases one’s risk for depression [33].

avocado-and-nuts-and-seeds_healthy-sources-of-fatty-acids_ketosis

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), consumed on a keto diet, easily travel through the cell membrane and exert anti-inflammatory effects that help relieve depression. For many years, omega-3 PUFAs have been used as secondary prevention for various mental disorders [34, 35.]


4. Mental clarity

People who are in ketosis often report a boost in mental clarity. Mental clarity is the absence of troublesome thoughts and emotions that prevent you from focusing on a task at hand.

Being fat-adapted means that your brain can continuously derive energy from ketones and that you no longer have to experience sugar crashes that manifest as irritability and brain fog.


5. Improved recovery for traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is brain damage caused by a blow to the head. Common causes of TBI include falls, vehicular accidents, and assaults [36].

Studies show that ketosis (through ketone supplementation, a very low-carb diet, or fasting) improves cellular metabolism in the brain [37].

Rodents used in TBI research showed reduced cerebral edema, improved cerebral metabolism, and positive behavioral outcomes after being fed with a ketogenic diet [38].


Conclusion

All of these benefits show how impactful ketosis is on your health. Getting into ketosis through a low-carb and high-fat keto diet helps keep your blood glucose within normal levels and produce ketone bodies that fuel your tissues.

Results include weight loss, disease prevention or management, better skin health and other brain benefits. As you can see, nutritional ketosis is not just safe but good for your health. But even so, make sure to discuss it with your doctor especially if you have a medical condition or are taking any medication before commencing any new diet.


Takeaways

  • Ketosis is a normal metabolic process. Ketone levels rise but not enough to reach ketoacidosis.
  • Ketosis has become a popular goal for those who want to lose weight.
  • By limiting sugar in the diet, inflammation is significantly reduced.
  • The keto diet exerts its positive effects on the body through ketone body production, autophagy, improved insulin sensitivity and a boost in mitochondrial function.

References:

  1. Masood W, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. 2019 March 21 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
  2. Fernández-Elías VE et al. Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. 2015 April 25 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25911631
  3. Stubbs BJ et al.... View all references

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