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Is the keto diet healthy? the effects of the keto diet on the body

The ketogenic diet has been breaking records in popularity recently. At the same time, it's stirred up a lot of controversy. Is the keto diet healthy? What are the potential risks and side effects of the keto diet and who should not put their body into ketosis?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate and normal-protein diet, mainly preferred by athletes and weight-loss individuals [1]. The aim of this specific diet is to achieve ketosis, a state in which the primary source of energy for all cells in the body is ketone bodies, which are products of fat metabolism, when there is no glucose in the body resulting from carbohydrate metabolism. It is worth knowing that in the state of ketosis, almost 90% of the energy necessary for the proper functioning of the body comes from ketone bodies, hence the name – ketogenic diet.

Ketogenic diet and health benefits

The shift to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate and normal-protein diet is not just a short-term dietary trend. Research on the ketogenic diet confirms its health benefits, which also benefit clinical medicine [2]. Currently, the keto diet is mainly followed by people who are losing weight and those struggling with, among other things, epilepsy.

In the classic model of the keto diet, the ratio of fats to carbohydrates and protein (combined) is 4:1 (for every 4g of fat, there is 1g of carbohydrate and protein) [3]. Maintaining a state of ketosis requires limiting carbohydrate intake to <50g per day. What health benefits can result from adhering to a keto diet consistent with the baseline model and achieving a state of ketosis?

Reduced appetite and visible fat reduction

Although the principles of the ketogenic diet deviate strongly from the traditional dietary model, the state of ketosis is a natural metabolic state of the body. The production of ketone bodies accompanies, among other things, starvation and intensive training. It is also a characteristic of intermittent fasting.

The effect of achieving a state of ketosis is active fat burning and dehydration – this is why following the ketogenic diet leads to weight loss. In addition, the effect of high fat intake is to reduce appetite. It should be mentioned that this process is not accompanied by a worsening of mood. This is because, among other reasons, the ketogenic diet does not require a calorie deficit. However, in order to accelerate the reduction process, it is worth controlling the energy balance.

Reducing and stabilising glucose and insulin levels

When following a ketogenic diet, certain changes take place in the body. One of these is the lowering and stabilisation of blood glucose and insulin levels. Previous research also confirms that the keto diet improves cell sensitivity to insulin. At the same time, an improvement in mood can be observed – people who have changed their eating style to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate and normal-protein diet and have carried out the adaptation to ketosis correctly have more energy.

Although the ketogenic diet may contribute to lower glucose and insulin levels, particular caution should be exercised when using it for people struggling with type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. According to studies conducted to date, the use of the keto diet in combination with the effects of diabetes medication may result in hypoglycaemic incidents.

Lowering triglyceride levels

A ketogenic diet, characterised by a correct fat composition, can have a positive effect on lowering and stabilising triglyceride levels. Regulation of lipid metabolism is possible by replacing animal fats and processed products with fresh fruit and vegetables and vegetable oils. The results of a change in dietary style are usually visible after about three months.

Increase in HDL cholesterol levels and possible reduction in LDL cholesterol levels
Although cholesterol is essential for the body to function properly (it enables the production of hormones, enzymes and vitamin D, among other things), excess cholesterol can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke or serious cardiac problems. The ketogenic diet does not seem to be conducive to the regulation of lipid metabolism; studies show that people who had high levels of total cholesterol and so-called bad LDL cholesterol had a significant decrease in values. At the same time, there was an increase in good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).

Regulation of blood pressure levels

Normal blood pressure values should settle at 120/80 mm Hg. If they are different, the result should be consulted with a doctor: high blood pressure is a serious factor for increased risk of heart or other diseases. In order to prevent abnormalities or to help regulate blood pressure levels, it is worth introducing a low-carbohydrate diet. Studies show that adherence to keto results in a marked reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This may also be due to the weight reduction achieved in a short period of time.

Minimising the risk of developing metabolic syndrome

Minimising the risk of developing metabolic syndrome requires focusing on several aspects: maintaining a normal body weight, normalising lipidogram and glycaemia, and increasing cellular sensitivity to insulin. A ketogenic diet, proposing a high-fat dietary model, can be helpful in this case. By limiting the amount of carbohydrates consumed, it not only keeps glycaemia in check, but also – increases cellular sensitivity to insulin. In addition, the keto diet reduces oxidative stress. It also shows anti-inflammatory potential.

Reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases

According to researchers, the brain in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease uses 45% less glucose, as a result of which its function is impaired [5]. Changing the main energy source (from glucose to fatty acids and ketone bodies) has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cognitive function and increase brain efficiency. Interestingly, the uptake and proper utilisation of ketone bodies in Alzheimer’s patients is not impaired in any way [4].

The keto diet in the treatment of disease

The ketogenic diet is effective in lowering high cholesterol, treating epilepsy, diabetes, obesity and also for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet has positive effects on motor function and neuroprotection in these conditions. In addition, the keto diet has been shown to help manage type 1 and type 2 diabetes by improving glycaemic control and reducing the insulin dose needed. In people with epilepsy, the diet significantly reduces the frequency and intensity of seizures. The use of a ketogenic diet in disease can also benefit the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), glycogen storage diseases (GSDs), multiple sclerosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cancer, traumatic brain injury, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), migraines and obesity, bringing improvements in many aspects of physical and mental health.

top reasons why you should be on keto

It improves brain function and mental performance, increases energy levels, reduces inflammation, regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Additionally, the ketogenic diet can help treat acne, bring hormonal balance and improve mental health. Although often seen as a fad diet, research supports its long-term benefits, particularly in terms of weight loss and improved overall health. We’ve included the top 10 benefits why you should be on keto in the post.

Effects of the keto diet on immunity

Additionally, the keto diet can have a positive impact on immunity, we detailed the issue in the entry keto diet and immunity.

Potential risks and possible adverse reactions of the body from following the keto diet

The ketogenic diet can in some cases be a source of adverse body reactions. Common complaints primarily associated with entering a state of ketosis include loss of energy and concentration, fatigue, and frequent urination. Less commonly, abdominal pain, vomiting or constipation and indigestion occur as a reaction to increased fat intake or a state of dehydration characteristic of high-fat diets. The syndrome of these symptoms is called keto flu. What other potential risks do long-term use of a ketogenic diet entail?

Following a ketogenic diet without consulting a dietician in the long term can result in loss of muscle mass, impairment of the kidneys and liver, and – an unbalanced hormonal balance. Furthermore, there is also a risk of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies.

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