Since the 1920s, very-low-carbohydrate diets or ketogenic diets have been used as a therapy for epilepsy and can, in some cases, completely remove the need for medication. Beginning in the 1960s onwards ketogenic diets became widely known as a common treatment for obesity.
A ketogenic diet isn’t just beneficial for weight loss. A high-fat, low-carb diet reduces body fat percentage and improves numerous health markers. In the last decade, research has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many conditions, such as: diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, acne, neurological diseases, cancer and the improvement of respiratory and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
In one study on the long-term benefits of a ketogenic diet, researchers observed 83 obese patients with high glucose and cholesterol levels, after 24 weeks on a ketogenic diet, LDL decreased, HDL increased, level of trigylcerides (fat found in the blood) decreased and blood glucose levels significantly decreased.
Here are some of the proven health benefits of a ketogenic diet:
Reduces dangerous belly fat. Not all fat is the same. Visceral fat in the abdominal cavity tends to lodge around the organs and can cause inflammation, insulin resistance and may be a driver of metabolic dysfunction. A ketogenic diet is effective at reducing harmful abdominal fat, drastically reducing risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Lowers triglycerides. Triglycerides are fat molecules found in the blood. Fasting triglycerides — a test of how many triglycerides are in the blood after an overnight fast — is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Elevated triglyceride levels are caused by carbohydrate and fructose consumption. By cutting carbs, you can dramatically reduce blood triglycerides.
Increases HDL. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as the “good” cholesterol. HDL carries LDL (“bad” cholesterol) away from the body to the liver where it can be reused and excreted. The higher your levels of HDL, the lower your risk of heart disease. Eating healthy fats is one of the best ways to increase HDL levels. A low-carb diet effectively lowers triglycerides while raising HDL levels, improving the triglycerides:HDL ratio, which is a strong predictor of heart disease.
Changes pattern of LDL cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. People who have high LDL levels are more likely to suffer a heart attack. Not only is the amount of LDL in the blood important, scientists have found that the size of LDL particles also matters in assessing one’s risk of heart disease. People who have mostly small LDL particles have a higher risk of heart disease. Low-carb diets such as a ketogenic diet turn the LDL particles from small to large, whole reducing LDL cholesterol in the blood stream.
Reduces blood sugar and insulin levels. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars (mostly glucose) in the digestive tract. Once they enter the bloodstream, they cause blood sugar levels to increase. Insulin is produced by the body to minimize blood sugar spikes, but people who are overweight or obese often experience insulin resistance, which means the body is less effective at managing blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. Reducing carbohydrate consumption is a very effective way to treat and possibly even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Lowers blood pressure. Increased body fat forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, resulting in elevated blood pressure levels. Elevated blood pressure (hypertension) is a risk factor for a number of health concerns, including heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Because a low-carb diet reduces body fat, it can lead to a reduction in blood pressure, therefore reducing risk of many common diseases.
Treats metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition associated with the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It is a collection of symptoms including: abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, high triglycerides and low HDL levels. A ketogenic diet reduces each of these symptoms individually, thereby treating metabolic syndrome as a whole.
Read more about the basics of the ketogenic diet here.
Learn more about how ketosis can help you lose weight here.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss. You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.
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