To wrap up this year’s worth of Keto Causes, we’re highlighting all areas and the future areas of therapeutic research. We have undoubtedly shown that this lifestyle is more than just weight loss, it is about overall health and wellness. Below are some of the largest areas of keto research and researchers to follow for the latest studies.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
TBIs are caused by blunt force trauma to the head. These injuries cause impairment to blood glucose utilization in the brain, leading to neuronal starvation and death. Following a ketogenic diet may prevent this from occurring by providing an alternative fuel source (ketones) for the brain.
The term eating disorders is a broad classification including but not limited to anorexia nervosa, bulima nervosa, purging disorder, and body dysmorphia. These disorders are extremely deadly because they lead to electrolyte imbalances, muscle atrophy, infections, malnutrition, osteopenia, and ulcers. Since the ketogenic diet mimics a starvation response within the body (by producing ketones, similar to when fasting), it has been shown to improve eating disorders by providing that feeling of starving, without actually risking medical harm.
The kibble most commonly fed to animals is full of grains and fillers that starkly contrast their ancestral diet. In the wild, wolves and large cats consume primarily fat and protein-rich, meat-based meals. Cats, in fact, are obligate carnivores, meaning they do not consume any food products other than meat. Organizations like the Keto Pet Sanctuary have been using the ketogenic diet as nutritional therapy to treat canine cancer.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by three distinguishing features: impaired communication (verbal and/or non-verbal), repetitive patterns and/or behaviors, and difficulty with social interactions. While the exact cause of autism is unknown, research has linked development to mitochondrial and neurometabolic dysfunction. Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet may improve symptoms of autism through various mechanisms including an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis, inflammation reduction, and improvement in neurological functioning.
The term mental illness encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders that affect an individual’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. This includes, but is not limited to, anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and sleep-disordered. All of these psychological conditions have been linked to neurochemical imbalances. The ketogenic diet has been shown to influence neurotransmitter levels, more specifically it promotes a glutamate to GABA transition. Research has shown that individuals who have followed a ketogenic diet have shown tremendous improvements in mood stability and overall mental wellbeing.
The majority of women’s health issues stem from hormonal imbalances. Everything from PCOS to infertility, amenorrhea, and endometriosis are linked to hormonal abnormalities. The ketogenic diet has been shown to normalize the LH/FSH ratio, improve insulin levels, and decrease free testosterone levels and inflammatory markers in women, leading to improvements in these conditions.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease
The therapeutic benefits of a ketogenic diet on neurodegenerative disorders is probably one of the most promising areas of keto research. It has been shown that individuals with these disorders have impaired glucose uptake in the brain. This leads to insufficient fuel for neurons and can contribute to neuronal death. Since following a ketogenic diet causes your body to produce ketones, the brain begins to uptake ketones for fuel, instead of glucose. Since ketones use a different transport system, as compared to glucose, the brain is sufficiently fueled even when glucose uptake is impaired.
Epilepsy & Developmental Disabilities
Outside of improvements in body composition, one of the most well-known benefits of a ketogenic diet is for the treatment of epilepsy and seizures. The primary cause of seizures is high glutamate levels. Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter within the brain, whereas GABA is the primary inhibitory. Glutamate can be converted into GABA, which is a phenomenon that occurs on the ketogenic diet. Studies have shown this glutamate to GABA shift decrease seizure frequency.
Obesity has become a global epidemic that now affects 1 out of every 3 Americans. Obesity is more than just being overweight, it is a disease that can contribute to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and many other life-threatening disorders. The ketogenic diet has been shown to improve obesity by reducing body fat, preserving lean muscle mass, reducing inflammation, and normalizing hunger hormones (preserving leptin and decreasing ghrelin levels).
Cancer is defined as the unregulated growth of cells. These cells utilize glycolysis (the process of breaking down glucose) to fuel their growth. This upregulation of glucose, known as the Warburg effect, can be offset by the reduction in glucose (from carbohydrates) intake. Research suggests that a reduction in glucose intake, so low that an individual is in ketosis, can starve cancer cells of their primary fuel source. Since these cells can not use ketones for energy (but the rest of the body, including the brain, can), which has been demonstrated in numerous studies showing a reduction in tumor growth, but no changes in other organs or muscular health.
Type 2 diabetes is a disorder characterized by decreased insulin sensitivity. In order for many cells in our body to use glucose, insulin is required to act as a key to allow glucose to enter the cell. Over time, when the body is frequently overwhelmed by frequent insulin secretion (due to frequent glucose intake), receptors that insulin binds to (this is what sends the signal to allow glucose to enter the cell) become desensitized to insulin and do not function as well. As a result, glucose cannot enter cells as well and stays in the bloodstream (this is what causes high blood glucose levels when tested). The ketogenic diet reduces glucose consumption, thus reducing blood glucose levels, and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, thus improving type 2 diabetes.
The Future of Keto Research
While there are numerous areas of research we have showcased throughout the year, we’d also like to highlight recent research papers that were published during 2019 showing the latest therapeutic uses of a ketogenic diet.
We’d like to conclude this year of Keto Causes by highlighting some of the most influential scientists who have devoted their time to researching the benefits of a ketogenic diet and helped make this year of causes possible. These individuals have helped sculpt and change the way the world sees health and nutrition.