Ketogenic Diets – A New Frontier

by | Jul 27, 2020

Diseases can cause a malfunction in how cells metabolise energy, and this effectively causes a breakdown in the ordinary and healthy functioning of cells. Ketogenic diets have now become quite popular, particularly concerning weight loss. However, there is much interest in ketogenic diets from a biological perspective and how they can help in the management of various health issues.

Ketogenic diets are increasingly being researched and clinically trialled for a variety of health issues. Ketogenic diets provide the body with another means of obtaining energy other than glucose, in the form of ketone bodies produced when the body breaks down fat.

Therapeutic ketogenic diets are an exciting area in nutritional medicine research.  The prospect of being able to modify a person’s diet to provide symptomatic relief or even influence disease progress provides people with options regarding their health management.

What is a Ketogenic Diet?

At a basic level, a ketogenic diet aims to utilise the body’s natural physiological mechanisms by using ketones instead of glucose for energy production. Ketones are by-products of fat breakdown, and we have evolved with this natural process to ensures our cells always have an energy source.

A ketogenic diet usually involves modifying the diet. Changing the diet is done by reducing the dietary intake of foods that contain carbohydrates while increasing whole foods higher in protein and natural fats.

What are the Biological Mechanisms of the Ketogenic Diet?

Beyond the ketogenic diets already known ability to provide an alternative energy source via ketones. Some other suggested ways a ketogenic diet may help include:

  • Increasing the size of the mitochondria, which are the energy producers within cells, therefore effectively allowing a higher production of energy.
  • Increasing GABA production. GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that helps reduce neuron excitability in the brain. In other words, it may have a calming influence on the brain.
  • Ketogenic diets may help enhance cells antioxidant mechanisms protecting brain cells from free radical damage.
  • Ketogenic diets may help reduce pain by activating mechanisms that reduce inflammation.
  • Protection against premature programmed cell death of brain neurons induced by overactivation/production of chemicals that signal cells to die.

What is the Current Research for Ketogenic diets?

Ketogenic diets were first used from a clinical perspective around the 1920s to treat epilepsy successfully, and also weight management. However, further research tells us the potential of ketogenic diets appears to extend beyond seizure control or weight management. The current areas of research and investigation for the therapeutic use of ketogenic diets include:

  • Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries and ALS.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Certain cancers
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
  • Acne

There is a significant body of research evidence to support the therapeutic use of ketogenic diets.  Many clinics will use a ketogenic diet to help with the management of:

  • Epilepsy
  • Weight Reduction.
  • Type 2 Diabetes (Note: Ketogenic diets are generally not recommended for type 1 diabetics).

What You Can Do Now

Keep it simple. Nutritious food doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy.

In the short term, without needing to use a ketogenic diet, there is some basic advice for people wanting to improve their health through nutrition by firstly focus on the following:

  • Make your meals focused on a good quality high protein sources so think eggs, meat or lentils.
  • Avoid low-fat foods, as they can be high in sugar and contain many different chemical additives to try and make the food more palatable.
  • Focus on healthy natural fats found in real foods so think full-fat milk, avocado, olive oil and fats naturally found in meats, nuts and seeds.
  • Nutrition is about getting back to the basics of eating whole real food. Focus on meat, salads, pulses, beans, vegetables and some low sugar fruits such as berries. Keep foods that breakdown into glucose easily such as bread, pasta and rice as a limited proportion to your meal.
  • Look after your gut health. Avoid highly processed junk foods and try incorporating some homemade traditional fermented foods in your diets such as sauerkraut, milk kefir or water kefir.

Changes to your diet or nutrition to manage a health condition should only be undertaken with advice from a suitably qualified nutritional health professional.

This factsheet is for general information only.

Please contact me to discuss your individual needs.