The concept of a Ketogenic diet has been around for decades and was historically recommended to treat intractable seizures. The initial iteration was yukky! All cream, butter, margarine, corn oil, mayonnaise and nothing tasty, interesting or very healthy. Ketogenic diets have come a long way, and the concept of eating low carbohydrates and higher fat is on a roll and gaining speed.
The term “ketogenic” means the body is using ketone bodies (produced from fatty acids) for cellular fuel (atp production), in place of glucose.
Under normal circumstances, your body maintains a glucose level; which hovers around 80-90. Glucose is extracted from carbohydrates and can be created from proteins via a process known as gluconeogenesis, which takes place in the liver. This is an important piece of information as many patients think protein is a “free” food, meaning unlimited quantity. Many think they are adopting a ketogenic diet, but don’t understand why they either don’t lose weight, improve their lipid profiles or drop their elevated blood glucose levels. In actuality, they are eating too much protein and converting the excess to glucose.
I was introduced to ketogenic diets as a way to shrink tumor burden (cancer cells need 19 times the amount of glucose for fuel production, as normal cells), while studying for my master’s degree in medical science. I used the research of Dr. Thomas Seyfrid, as a basis for my mathematical model. While scouring the research, I found, repeatedly in the literature, how cognition improved, in many patients, as well as some neurological disorders. It seems, ketogenic diets are neuroprotective.
Over time, I began to read about insulin resistance of the brain and how patients with cognitive decline improve with this type of diet. Insulin resistance of the brain is equivalent to diabetes type 2 of the brain. If glucose can’t get into brain cells, the cells can’t produce energy or function properly. If you switch your fuel supply from glucose to fatty acids, brain cells can now function normally again. And research indicates that brain cells prefer fatty acids for energy production.
Under normal glucose predominant fuel, brains require 20% of the total body’s glucose while contributing a smaller percentage of the total body weight. And, if brain cells, like liver and muscle cells, can become insulin resistant too, cognition could decline due to lack of fuel for brain cells. This brings us to the national SNIFF trials. The SNIFF trials involve intranasal insulin vs. intranasal saline placebo for those with early onset Altzheimer’s. Interesting, right? On one hand, we have the medical community giving virtually little to no nutritional information to their patients with Alzheimer’s or to their caretakers. And, on the other hand, we have numerous medical centers partaking in the trial on intranasal insulin as treatment.
I initially began using keto diets for my patients with cancers. Many of the cancer patients I see, have decided, for various reasons, to opt out of chemo. And, for those who have chosen chemo, they often seek nutritional advice for their remission phase. I have expanded my use of the keto concept to include many patients for various reasons. A very important reason has to do with stress resilience. As we age, many changes take place and one is our resilience to stress decreases, this goes hand in hand to our resistance to insulin increasing.
To put into layman’s terms: as we age, any stress, even working out, can stimulate stress hormone production past the point of being beneficial. Stress hormones, specifically, cortisol, increases gluconeogenesis (glucose production from proteins) in the liver and the result is an increase in blood glucose levels.So, if you are eating carbs or lots of proteins, your liver is using the protein to make more sugar, not muscle and the result is muscle mass wasting and increasing glucose levels.
If you switch your fuel from glucose predominance to fat predominance, you can eliminate or improve this “ageing” process. This ability to easily switch and use ketone bodies in place of glucose is termed keto-adaptive. Many people are not keto-adaptive and the results are the tendency for the liver to take proteins and create sugar and without dietary proteins, the body will actually muscle waste.
Part of the reason the body wants to waste muscle is in order to create glucose is due to the preponderance of stress hormones. There is somewhat of a feedback loop. If your autonomic nervous system is under the impression you are stressed, it signals for more glucose to be produced so you have ample energy to flee, if necessary.
And, it seems, the brain is an organ very susceptible to this “stress” process. In addition to using alternate fuel for brain cells, it seems our neurochemistry improves. Ketone bodies promote GABA production, a brain chemical which promotes a sense of calmness over stress. If the autonomic nervous system is out of the “stress” response, the body won’t try to muscle waste or use dietary proteins to make sugar. In addition, using ketones for fuel is more efficient than using glucose, therefore there are less free radicals produced in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells. Less free radicals is a good thing.
To recap, stress and insulin resistance both lead to a feedback loop which promotes muscle wasting, poor cognition and elevated glucose levels. Keto-adaptation restores our bodies and brains to a healthier and more youthful state enabling us to build muscle, stamina and brain power.
For information on a ketogenic diet workshop, please call the office at 847-8697740 One is happening October 15 7-9 pm 2014