You may have heard the term ‘ketosis’, ‘keto’ or ‘ketogenic diet’ thrown about in various health, weight-loss and sports performance blogs. The ‘keto diet’ is growing in popularity – especially in the circles I just mentioned.
If you haven’t heard of these terms, or you’re still confused as to what exactly ‘ketosis’ is then have a listen to this podcast,
Otherwise in a nutshell ketosis can be defined as a “metabolic state that happens when you consume a very low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet (or fast for extended periods) that causes your body to switch from using glucose as it’s primary source of fuel, to running off ketones. Ketones themselves are produced when the body burns fat, and they’re primarily used as an alternative fuel source when glucose isn’t available.” (Keto Clarity)
In other words, you switch from being a sugar burner to being a fat burner. But I should point out that simply going on a low carb diet is often not enough to reach nutritional ketosis.
Why would one want to do this? Well there are a lot of reasons, and I’m going to share 24 of them below.
Note: If you already understand all the benefits of ketosis and want to delve into the nitty gritty of the how, why and what be sure to check out my article 'Everything You Ought To Know About Ketosis' and be sure to download my FREE one page Ketosis Cheat Sheet guide by clicking HERE.
Low carb, high fat diets have been used for centuries by doctors when working with obese patients. William Banting published the widely popular booklet titled ‘Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public’ in 1863. In this booklet he explained how he had slimmed down by eating a diet high in fat void of carbs. The Banting diet was used for decades by individuals looking to lose weight.
Though the banting diet may not be a true ketosis diet, it did bring about many traits that are present on a ketogenic diet. One huge benefit being suppressed appetite (1). Combine this with lowered insulin levels from lack of carbohydrates and you have a 1-2 combo in decreasing body fat levels.
Many people successfully use ketogenic diets today in their quest for decreased body fat levels for these exact reasons. By consuming a higher fat/lower carb diet you also retrain the body to use fat as an energy source. This allows the body to tap into its own fat reserves – burning it as energy.
If your body is used to burning carbohydrates for fuel, then when those carb sources run out or are not consumed, your body craves another ‘hit’. Despite there being a plentiful store of fat mass.
If you are seeking fat loss but do not want to follow a strict ketogenic diet, you will be pleased to know that this study found that the weight loss benefits came purely from a low carb diet – whether it was ketogenic or not. If you need help transiting to a lower carb diet, be sure to download my free diet plan or better yet, be sure to view the most effective way to lose fat and keep it off on this page.
Lowering oxidative stress in the body is one way to increase lifespan. It seems that by lowering insulin levels, oxidative stress in turn is decreased. A ketogenic diet decreases insulin levels – allowing the formation of ketones to be used as fuel.
Many experts are turning to ketogenic diets in a quest to slow down aging. This is an upcoming area of science, a subject you can find out more about here. Also, be sure to check out my article on Red Light Therapy for a revolutionary way to help with anti-aging.
Speaking of lowered insulin levels, a result of running off ketones allows an individual to control, and lower, their blood sugar levels. The ability to utilise fat and ketones as fuel for the body mean a pre-diabetic or even a type 2 diabetic, no longer has to worry about excess blood sugar levels and the need to source exogenous insulin.
Bistrian et al documented in the 1976 study how Type 2 Diabetic patients on a ketogenic diet no longer needed insulin and they lost a lot of body weight.
These findings were backed up in a 2012 study which had obese diabetics follow a ketogenic diet for 12 months. The researchers found lower fasting glucose levels, improved cholesterol markers and improved HA1c readings. Remember, carbs and glucose are not required when on a ketogenic diet, as stable, clean burning energy is sourced from fat. This makes controlling blood sugar levels near foolproof.
If you are still in the belief camp that fat courses cardiovascular disease you need to read this article - 9 Reasons Why Your Doctor is Wrong About Fat. In fact, by eating a diet rich in fat and void of carbohydrates, you may be able to reverse cardiovascular disease symptoms.
Research by Dr Jeff Volek & Dr Richard Feinman found that the contributors to heart disease (evaluated blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure etc) are improved when following a low carb, ketogenic type diet.
PCOS often occurs along with insulin resistance – causing a range of hormonal issues in woman – including infertility.
A ketogenic diet – due to its extremely low carb intake – can help address insulin resistance and in turn help with suffers of PCOS. In fact, a pilot study has concluded that a ketogenic diet led to a significant improvement in body weight, fasting insulin, testosterone markets and LH/FSH ratio in woman with PCOS. Two woman even became pregnant during the study.
Other than fat loss, a big reason why so many people rave about ketogenic diets is due to improved brain function, clarity of thought, memory recall, improved learning etc. etc.
And science backs up these claims. One study done on rats found that a ketogenic diet leads to cognitive performance in aged rats. Another rat study showed that the ketogenic study was protective against diet induced cognitive impairment (from eating a standard western diet).
A human study found that ketogenic diets, even in the short term, can improve memory function in older adults. Also, a ketogenic diet was shown to increase ATP concentrations and the number of hippocampal mitochondria in the brain of mice by up to 50%. The hippocampus is involved in memory, learning and emotion.
Dr Myhill states that the brain (and heart) run at least 25% more efficiently on ketones than blood sugar. A huge number when you remember that the brain uses up to 20% of the bodies total energy.
But the proof is in the pudding, anyone who has experienced a state of ketosis will be able to tell you first hand the beneficial effects on their cognitive function.
Many who suffer from IBS (chronic diarrhoea, stomach discomfort, bloating etc.) would probably shudder at the thought of eating a high fat low carb diet. Upping fat intake can lead to increased diarrhoea at first, but it’s the long term effects of a ketogenic diet that are appealing to those suffering from IBS.
Numerous studies have found that low sugar consumption can assist with IBS symptoms and one particular study found that a ketogenic diet provides adequate relief, and improves abdominal pain, stool habits, and quality of life in individuals suffering from IBS.
Mitochondria are our cells energy factories, without mitochondria in our cells we would be dead. A lot of our health, energy, sports performance, immune function etc is dependent upon how well our mitochondria are functioning.
Dr Gabriela Segura explains the connection between a ketogenic diet and increased mitochondria function in the article - Ketogenic Diet: A Connection Between Mitochondria and Diet.
In that article she explains how:
“the mitochondria – work much better on a ketogenic diet as they are able to increase energy levels in a stable, long-burning, efficient, and steady way. Not only that, a ketogenic diet induces epigenetic changes which increases the energetic output of our mitochondria, reduces the production of damaging free radicals, and favours the production of GABA”
“mitochondria are specifically designed to use fat for energy. When our mitochondria use fat as an energetic source, its toxic load is decreased, the expression of energy producing genes are increased, its energetic output is increased, and the load of inflammatory energetic-end-products is decreased.
The key of these miraculous healing effects relies on the fact that fat metabolism and its generation of ketone bodies (beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate) by the liver can only occur within the mitochondrion, leaving chemicals within the cell but outside the mitochondria readily available to stimulate powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidants. The status of our mitochondria is the ultimate key for optimal health and while it is true that some of us might need extra support in the form of nutritional supplementation to heal these much needed energy factories, the diet still remains the ultimate key for a proper balance.”
If you are an endurance athlete, and you haven’t looked into the benefits of ketosis and endurance performance you are potentially missing out on a massive edge over your competition.
The studies done on ketosis and endurance sports performance paint a pretty clear picture – it helps. One of the most detailed studies on fat utilisation and performance (compared to a standard carb diet) was named the FASTER study - the results found that those who were on a ketogenic type diet had more mitochondria than the control group, lower oxidative stress, lower lactate load and that the fat adapted and fuelled athletes could function off fat for a much higher intensity than the non-fat adapted counter parts.
Also, there are numerous studies showing how ketones in the blood lead to significant performance improvements. This paper showed increased power output over a 30minute period.
A study published in 2016 found supplemental ketone ester supplements “demonstrate that acute nutritional ketosis alters substrate utilization patterns during exercise, reduces lactate production, and improves time-trial performance in elite cyclists.”
And Patrick Arnold, creator of the KetoForce supplement claims that:
“Theoretically, ketones should reduce oxygen consumption because they are known to generate more cellular energy per unit oxygen burned compared to glucose and other energy sources."
All this points towards ketosis (whether it was brought on by dietary changes or supplemental changes) being a potentially huge performance enhancer for endurance athletes.
Ketosis has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties while also assisting with pain relief. Reducing glucose metabolism influences pain, so this could be one potential mechanism of action. In the review The Nervous System and Metabolic Dysregulation: Emerging Evidence Converges on Ketogenic Diet Therapy the authors look at numerous ways that a ketogenic diet can assist with pain and inflammation.
Anyone who has recently switched from a standard western diet to a ketogenic diet will soon notice how their energy levels are stable throughout the day. No mid-afternoon slumps, no cravings for instant sugar or caffeine hits.
Fat (and the ketones produced from fat) are a readily available source of fuel. Once someone is fat adapted and in ketosis, they will find they can easily go hours (even days) without food and not have drastic energy level swings. And if someone is looking for a non caffeine, non-sugar 'pick me up' while in a ketogenic state, then supplemental ketone salts are the perfect answer.
If you wish you had stable energy levels throughout the day, consider joining The Program here.
A study published in the Journal of Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that after after less than a week on a ketogenic diet, study participants with GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) all showed a reduction in acidity in the esophagus (linked to heart burn) and the participants reported less severity I their heart burn conditions.
All this simply from taking out carbohydrates and upping fat content.
As per heartburn, studies done have shown that a ketogenic diet can have beneficial effects for those who have Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. A 2006 paper published in the Journal of Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that ‘Six months of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet led to significant weight loss and histologic improvement of fatty liver disease’
This was only a pilot study with 5 individuals, but there have been bigger studies done since the 2006 paper that support its findings.
Jimmy Moore has been following a ketogenic diet for a number of years now, in this time he regularly tracks his blood markers. You can hear more of his findings here.
Many people who suffer from migraines have reported great results when switching from a conventional high carb diet to a ultra-low carb ketogenic diet. But it’s not just anecdotal evidence that shows the beneficial connection between ketosis and migraine treatment; a study published in the Journal of Headache Pain concluded:
Ketogenic diets (KD) ameliorates headache and reduces drug consumption in migraineurs, while the Standard diet is fully ineffective on migraine in a short term observation. Our findings support the role of KDs in migraine treatment.
Another paper looked at twin sisters who suffered from frequent migraines, when switched to a ketogenic diet the frequency and severity of their migraines decreased.
There is a reason why we store hundreds of thousands of calories in the form of fat in our body and only about 2000 calories in the form of glucose (with only a small amount of this useable by the brain). The reason is simple - The body prefers fat as its fuel source. Mark Sisson explains this in his article ‘A metabolic Paradigm Shift, or Why Fat is the Preferred Fuel for Human Consumption’.
When a cell breakdowns glucose for fuel, it generates more reactive oxygen species compared to fat. These free radicals are neutralised by antioxidants. So skip the supplements, restrict carbohydrates, eat more fat and operate off clean burning ketones instead!
A quick google search of autism + ketosis will bring up 100’s of articles where people share their tales of improving autism with a ketogenic diet. Why? Because it appears that ketosis is extremely effective for dealing with autism.
The research paper Potential Therapeutic Use of the Ketogenic Diet in Autism Spectrum Disorders remarked that ketogenic diets were seen to be beneficial when it came to dealing with autism, but that more research was needed.
One study was done on 30 Autistic children the ketogenic diet – with 30% of MCT oil – was a administered for 6 months. The children with the milder autistic behaviors showed the most improvement, while the rest displayed mild to moderate improvements.
A fascinating find from this study was that the beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet continued even after the trial ended. For more on ketogenic therapies for autism check out the Charlie Foundation.
There are also numerous reports of ketosis helping with mood stabilization in individuals suffering from bipolar.
One of the best ways to get into a state of ketosis is through fasting. However, anyone who is eating a standard high carb diet will shudder at the thought of going 12 hours or longer without food.
Yet once you are fat adapted and you are in a state of nutritional ketosis, fasting becomes extremely easy. In fact, as I write this I have haven’t eaten for nearly 16 hours, during that time I rowed for an hour and have been operating at my usual level of productivity.
My blood ketone level is 1.5mmol. I can smell dinner cooking so I am definitely looking forward to food, but I could easily go without should I have to (you can read more about my experiences with extended fasting here)
Ketosis has also been shown to help those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. 5 individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease followed a ketogenic diet for 28 days, after the 4 week period, all reported improved ratings in the unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale (2).
The ketogenic diet has long been successfully used with those suffering from epilepsy. In fact, the ketogenic diet was first developed in 1921 to treat drug resistant epilepsy in children. Since then, numerous studies have been done showing how ketosis can help with epilepsy.
Like the autism study listed above, there is even evidence that epileptic children continued to be seizure free long after they stopped their ketogenic trials.
A lot of scientists are starting to believe that Alzheimer’s should be considered ‘type 3’ diabetes – as the brain becomes unable to utilise glucose (insulin resistant) leading to high levels of inflammation (3 & 4).
If the brain cannot utilise glucose and we know that under the right circumstances the brain can operate off ketones, then it would lead you to believe that a ketogenic diet may assist with Alzheimer’s. There are now studies being published that support this link.
One paper concluded that “a significant clinical improvement was observed in Alzheimer's patients fed a ketogenic diet”
Ketosis as a form of cancer treatment (and prevention) is rapidly growing in popularity. Why is that? Because so many cancer patients are reporting huge benefits when following a ketogenic diet. And why may that be? Many cancer cells can only survive with glucose as a fuel source.
By depriving a cancer cell of glucose by eating a ketogenic diet, we may be able to starve the cancer resulting in its death.
If you’re thinking this all sounds too good to be true, then you may want to check out this paper - Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer? While also reading the book - Cancer as a Metabolic Disease by Thomas Seyfried.
In this book, Seyfried expands upon Otto Warburgs theory that all cancer is a disease of energy metabolism.
And science is now catching up, this review paper on ketogenic diets as a form of cancer therapy concluded: “Although the mechanism by which ketogenic diets demonstrate anticancer effects … has not been fully elucidated, preclinical results have demonstrated the safety and potential efficacy of using ketogenic diets.. improve responses in murine cancer models”
While a mouse study found that ketone supplementation decreased tumour cell viability and extended survival rates in mice with cancer.
Finally, a feasibility study was done on 10 cancer patients in 2012. All patients followed a ketogenic diet for 28 days after exhausting every other cancer treatment option. The results of the study found that 1 had a partial remission of their cancer, 5 stabilized and 4 continued progressing. It’s important to remember that these individuals had tried all other forms of cancer treatment. 60% of these individuals then stalled or improved their cancer rates by following a ketogenic diet for 4 weeks.
Perhaps the biggest anecdotal evidence on ketosis slowing down MS is the story of Dr. Terry Wahls. Dr. Wahls overcame being wheelchair bound after trying various drugs and conventional therapies without success. Eventually, she turned to dietary changes – including following a ketogenic diet – and a lot of her symptoms disappeared. She now lives an active life, riding horses and going on long treks. She shares her story and the protocol she developed in the book The Whals Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles.
Dr Wahls is leading the charge into MS treatment using a ketogenic diet, but until some of her studies are published, we can look at mice studies that also show the benefits of ketosis with mice with MS.
There is a lot of emerging evidence that ketosis can help clear acne. It has been shown that high glycemic foods can stimulate acne outbreaks and as the ketogenic diet goes without such foods it makes sense that acne should improve.
Some studies have shown a positive connection between ketosis and lower levels of ketosis, but as Paoli et all conclude in their paper Beyond Weight Loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets, there is persuasive, although not yet conclusive, clinical and physiological evidence that the ketogenic diet could be effective in reducing the severity and progression of acne and randomized clinical trials will be required to resolve the issue.
Another great way to reduce Acne is with red light therapy. You can learn more about that in my article The Fascinating Healing Properties of Red Light Therapy: Rapid Healing, Reduce Wrinkles & Rejuvenate Health
We have already looked at the links between ketosis and diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and fatty liver disease, amongst others. But studies have also shown that following a ketogenic diet lead to:
Most importantly, there were no side effects as a result of following this diet for long peroids (6 months+) which cannot be said about other treatments (drugs) to help achieve similar results.
As you can see there is definitely a ton of evidence to prove that ketosis can have a drastic benefit on one’s health.
If you are tempted to try a ketogenic diet after reading this, be sure check out the webs my comprehensive resource on all things ketosis - my article ' What Everybody Ought to Know About Ketosis'.
If you don't want to read all of that article (it is long) then I have condensed the core information into a handy one page Ketosis Cheat Sheet Guide which can be downloaded HERE.
Alternatively, leave a question below and I’ll do my best to answer it. If you liked this article and would like to receive more content like this, be sure to sign up to my weekly newsletter.
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is an ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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