Excellent piece in Scientific American about Ketosis — it’s not just for weight loss


The ketogenic dieter's staple: a bunless double cheeseburger.
The ketogenic dieter’s staple: a bunless double cheeseburger.

I read this incredible piece, “The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous?” today by Shelly Fan in Scientific American. From her bio:

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she studies protein degradation in neurodegenerative diseases. She is an aspiring science writer with an insatiable obsession with the brain. She mulls over neuroscience, microbiomes and nutrition over at Neurorexia. Follow on Twitter @ShellyFan.

It’s great to read about the science of ketosis as so many people think of it as a ‘fad’ diet or that it has no basis in fact. I prefer to see it as a hack we can employ, an evolutionary trick that can be exploited for not just weight loss but also, and in my case primarily, for mood enhancing. I find I think more clearly, am more positive, have more energy, and don’t suffer lulls or troughs during the day. Sure, it was great to lose 15 kilos in a couple months and be able to keep it off. But as someone who’s been adapted to the lifestyle for 18 months or so, the real benefit to me is mental.

Shelly summarizes the reaction those of us who have adapted to ketones rather than carbs nicely:

BaconHigh in saturated fat and VERY low in carbohydrates, “keto” is adopted by a growing population to paradoxically promote weight loss and mental well-being. Drinking coffee with butter? Eating a block of cream cheese? Little to no fruit? To the uninitiated, keto defies all common sense, inviting skeptics to wave it off as an unnatural “bacon-and-steak” fad diet.

For the record, I do not promote or evangelize the diet. In fact, I won’t talk about it unless someone not only asks me but seems genuinely interested. The only thing less interesting about hearing about someone’s diet is hearing about the ‘crazy dream’ they had.  I often point out to the curious that the diet was first used medically in the early 20th century to  help control childhood epilepsy. It did this by depleting the body’s glycogen stores to the point that the starvation reactions were induced. However, the body began using fat for its primary fuel source, which it would turn into ketones. The body in starvation mode, in some patients, didn’t suffer seizures.

According to the Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne:

A recent (2008) randomised controlled trial from the United Kingdom found that 38% of children had a substantial (>50%) reduction in seizures and 9% had a >90% reduction in seizures (Neale et al). An analysis of studies describing use of the Diet from 1990 until 2005 found that approximately 15% of children became seizure free and 33% had more than 50% reduction in seizures.

Ketosis starves the body of carbohydrates and provides fat. The liver turns that fat into fuel, or ketones.
Ketosis starves the body of carbohydrates and provides fat. The liver turns that fat into fuel, or ketones.

In her article, Shelly points out that, “clinical trials suggest keto may be therapeutically used in many other neurological disorders, including head ache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and brain cancer. With no apparent side effects.

I strongly suggest you read the piece on the SA Blog as well as read Shelly’s blog Neuroexia. She goes into a nice level of detail that’s not too overwhelming. I’ll leave the biochemistry in her capable hands.

The reason I post this is just that it’s comforting to see a level-headed, scientific approach to describing ketosis and a ketogenic diet. It’s not for everyone but it works for me. I find it fascinating to read why that is.