The ketogenic diet has become extremely popular over the last few years, with this low-carb diet also known as the keto diet, low carb diet, and low carb high fat (LCHF) diet among other names. While this diet is used in medicine primarily for the treatment of difficult-to-treat epilepsy in children, it has also become widely associated with weight loss and disease prevention. According to a new study published in the journal Science, the ketogenic diet could even be used to slow down the ageing process.
The ketogenic diet features high-fat and low-carb meal choices that force the body to burn fats instead of carbohydrates. When carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are consumed on a regular basis, the body uses glucose as its primary energy source and stores fats instead. When very small amounts of carbohydrates are consumed together with medium amounts of protein and high amounts of fats, the liver produces ketones and the body enters a state of ketosis. Instead of relying on carbohydrates for energy, the ketogenic diet enables people to alter their metabolism and burn ketones as their primary energy source.
According to diet proponents, optimal ketone levels can be obtained through the starvation of carbohydrates, which triggers the release of the chemical β-hydroxybutyrate (βOHB). Not only does this help people to lose weight, it also provides a number of physical and mental performance benefits. According to new research from the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology in San Francisco, published in the journal Science, the ketogenic diet could actually slow down the ageing process. In the study, researchers restricted the calorie intake of mice while blocking the effects of the enzyme histone deacetylases (HDACs). This lead to the activation of the genes Foxo3a and Mt2, which protect cells from internal stress.
According to the study’s co-author Dr Eric Verdin, “over the years, studies have found that restricting calories slows aging and increases longevity, however, the mechanism of this effect has remained elusive. Here, we find that βOHB, the body's major source of energy during exercise or fasting, blocks a class of enzymes that would otherwise promote stress, thus protecting cells from aging.” According to study co-author Dr Katerina Akassoglou, "The findings could be relevant for a wide range of neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism and traumatic brain injury... [These] diseases afflict millions and there are few treatment options."
Despite the positive findings of this study, the ketogenic diet has also been associated with a number of possible side-effects. Constipation from lack of fibre is the most common problem, with reduced fruit, vegetable, bean, and grain intake also known to increase the risk of heart disease and bowel cancer. Other possible side effects include raised cholesterol levels, renal stones, poor growth in children, altered liver function, altered immune function, and nutrient deficiencies. While the ketogenic diet has proven to be an effective weight loss tool and hunger suppressant on a short-term basis, it's always important to consult with your GP before embarking on a restrictive diet program so that you can be regularly monitored for side effects.