The ketosis diet plan is often referred to as the ketogenic diet or just plainly a very low-carb diet. Ketosis is the name of a biochemical phenomenon that happens during extreme carbohydrate restriction or prolonged starvation.
The term ketosis is not to be confused with ketoacidosis, which is what eventually happens to diabetics if their insulin becomes too low and their blood sugar goes completely out of whack. This is very dangerous, but it is something that only happens to diabetics (mainly type I), and there is absolutely no risk whatsoever of this happening with a ketogenic diet.
In the past, the ketogenic diet has mainly been used as a therapeutic method for controlling epileptic seizures in children who don’t respond to medication, and its use was widespread for this purpose early in the 20th century. New research has established interest in this diet plan for treating diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and many more.
When I refer to the ketosis/ketogenic diet, I am referring to a diet that is high in fat and restricted in carbohydrates to the point of blood ketone levels becoming elevated, not necessarily the “classic ketogenic diet” used to treat epileptic children. A lot of these study results should also apply to a diet that is very low in carbohydrate, without emphasis on ketone levels.
Ketosis Diet Plan and Diabetes
Eating a very low-carb, ketogenic diet can have a really good influence on both type I and type II diabetics. Less carbs mean less blood sugar and therefore less need for insulin, plus lower chances of developing some of the awful complications like diabetic neuropathy or nephropathy. Following a ketosis diet may actually be able to completely reverse type II diabetes, and drastically reduce or eliminate the need for medication (1).
The Ketosis Diet and obesity
Low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets have been well researched with regards to obesity, and appetite suppressant effects are usually noted. In fact, when researchers are comparing low-carb to low-fat diets, they need to actively restrict calories in the low-fat or standard diet groups in order for the results to be comparable, while the low-carb group usually eats as many calories as desired (2).
Low-carbohydrate diets, despite being high in saturated fat, can improve health biomarkers such as insulin resistance, glycemic control, HDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels and change LDL pattern from small, dense type (bad) to large, fluffy type (good). No serious adverse effects have been associated with this type of diet (2).
Some like to claim that low-carb diets are restrictive and people have a hard time sticking to them, but in fact most research studies show a higher percentage of people in the low-carb groups actually completing the studies. To me this is very understandable, since the calorie restricted control group is likely to be hungry (3).
Benefits for epilepsy
Most studies on the benefit of ketogenic diets for epileptic children show a massive improvement, and this type of diet is often prescribed for kids who have been unsuccessful with two or more anticonvulsant medications. In one study, 38% of children following the diet had more than a 50% reduction in seizures, and 7% of them had a reduction greater than 90% (4).
With a modified Atkins diet, which is much less restrictive and less controlled than the classical ketogenic diet (basically the Atkins induction phase), 36% of kids had more than a 50% reduction in seizure frequency, while 21% became seizure free (5). This suggests that a conventional very low carb diet may be as effective as the classical ketogenic diet in treating epilepsy in children.
Effects on cancer progression
Cancer tumors utilize glucose as their main fuel, this fact has spiked an interest in using ketosis diets for treatment of cancer, since tumors do not readily utilize ketones. In a mouse study, a ketogenic diet was found to slow down growth of brain tumors by 35% to 65% (6, PDF).
Brain cancer patients following a low-carbohydrate, ketosis diet plan manage to consistently change the metabolic environment of the tumor, and therefore disrupt tumor metabolism by lowering glucose levels and raising ketone body levels (7).
These were some of the diseases that ketogenic diets have been shown to have a massive benefit for, other diseases that may benefit from a ketosis diet plan include ADHD, depression, Alzheimers, narcolepsy, heart disease, Parkinsons disease and many, many more. It is beyond the scope of a blog post to go into detail on all of these, an entire book would be more appropriate.
I don’t think there is any need for healthy people to follow a ketogenic diet, although it may have substantial health benefits, but it seems obvious that it might turn out to be the best treatment option of all for some of these diseases, often showing far more benefits than medication.
There are often some mild side effects, such as constipation, insomnia or a lack of energy for the first few days, but when you consider the adverse effects of using pharmaceutical drugs for a lifetime, these minor side effects seem like a small sacrifice.