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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.
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 . Ketoacidosis is a risk for those who have type I diabetes.
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:
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 .
Ketone bodies decrease your appetite as they suppress ghrelin - the hunger hormone . Reducing your carbohydrate intake also prevents blood sugar spikes, which in turn, keeps your cravings at bay .
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 .
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].
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 .
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 .
Ketone metabolism produces fewer free radicals, which explains the anti-inflammatory potential of the keto diet and its ability to decrease visceral adipose tissue .
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 .
There isn’t enough data to support this. Furthermore, the last cited study only analyzed the impact of supplementation timing, not composition .
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 .
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 .
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.
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 . Consuming a high-sugar diet within just a few weeks leads to elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein ( LDL or “bad cholesterol”) .
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 .
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 .
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.
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.
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 . 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 :
2. Enhanced memory
Memory loss is one of the common complaints among older people. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases . While there are many factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s, the two most important risk factors are high insulin and high glucose levels .
Ketone bodies improve memory and learning by suppressing mitochondrial damage . 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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
Studies show that ketosis (through ketone supplementation, a very low-carb diet, or fasting) improves cellular metabolism in the brain .
Rodents used in TBI research showed reduced cerebral edema, improved cerebral metabolism, and positive behavioral outcomes after being fed with a ketogenic diet .
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.