Ketosis is fast becoming a buzzword for health, and with good reason. When we explore the facts it can be seen why ketosis must be at the heart of a successful strategy for optimal health and the avoidance of chronic disease. If you are interested in the best health insurance policy money can’t buy, here are a few benefits of Nutritional Ketosis that show why it helps ensure not only a lengthy life span but also a long health span.
What is Nutritional Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply is derived from Ketone bodies (Ketones) in the blood, in contrast to a state of Glycolysis in which blood glucose (sugar) provides most of the energy. It is a state in which the body is effectively burning fat for fuel with typical ketone levels are in the order of O.5 to 3.0 mM/l accompanied by low blood sugar levels. The body naturally switches into nutritional ketosis if you eat a reduced amount of net carbs (that is carbs less the fibre) while increasing fat intake and limiting protein to a moderate level. It is important to note that any dietary protein over and above the bodies needs is broken down into sugar.
There are 3 different types of Ketones: Acetoacetate, which is excreted in the urine, Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and Acetone. Acetoacetate is the precursor to the other two and Beta-hydroxybutyrate is the main ketone used by the body as fuel.
Nutritional Ketosis kicks in when blood sugar levels drop and the body has insufficient glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. Fat is then broken down into ketones that are used by the mitochondria in the body cells as fuel. Mitochondria are the tiny little organelles that generate energy in almost every cell of the your body. Some cells have many more than others. The health of these mitochondria is absolutely fundamental to the health of the body. To follow any kind of strategy for optimal health and the avoidance of disease, the well being of our mitochondria must be the focus of our efforts. These mitochondria burn ketones derived from dietary fats far more efficiently than sugar. In a nutshell, your body runs better on fat than it does on sugar.
Adapting into Ketosis
The typical western diet is high in sugar as well refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and pastries, which also break down into sugar. Our bodies have the capacity to burn fat as well as sugar but because it burns sugar preferentially if it is available, most people are metabolically locked into burning sugar due to their dietary habits.
It can take anything between 3 days to 2 months to become fully adapted to burning fat in nutritional ketosis. For most people it will be a few weeks. During the transition there can be some discomfort with various symptoms that have been described as ‘keto-flu’ including; headaches, cold symptoms, nausea, cough, low energy, irritability, upset stomach, diarrhea, muscle cramps, dizziness, and mental fog. Some of these may be resulting from sugar withdrawal as well as the adaptation process to metabolizing a different fuel.
Temporarily lower blood plasma levels cause symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and faster heart rate. Others are due to the fact that we excrete more salt in ketosis because low insulin levels change the way the kidneys process sodium. The problem is easily solved by increasing dietary intake of (Himalayan crystal) salt, as well as magnesium and potassium in the form of avocados.
The Many Benefits of Nutritional Ketosis
1. Disease Avoidance
Being in nutritional ketosis means that your blood sugar level is necessarily lowered. This is good news for health for many reasons. Routinely high blood sugar levels and associated high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance that predisposes us to many diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and dementia. Cancer cells prefer sugar as a fuel. They cannot burn Ketones like our body cells can. So when we lower our blood sugar level by adjusting our diet accordingly we make our body into an unfriendly environment for cancer. This is one reason why burning fat for fuel is a huge step in the direction of cancer avoidance.
Proteins in the blood become bound to excess sugar in a process called glycation. This turns the protein into a useless waste product to be removed (Glycated End Products). Also, excess blood sugar is turned into fat in the form of triglycerides to be stored in the fat cells. A high triglyceride level is a key biomarker for increased risk for heart disease and increasing arterial damage. Triglyceride levels typically peak 2 -3 hours after a high carb meal.
Our bodies can utilise two fuels to generate energy, fat, or sugar in the form of glycogen. Sugar burns as a ‘dirtier’ fuel, producing far more Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) than the ketones produced by broken down fats. The increased numbers of ROS or ‘free radicals’ as they are also known, puts extra load on the immune system to ‘clean up’ the metabolic waste. Chronic inflammation is greatly enhanced by a high sugar diet and it is one of the root causes of almost all modern diseases. All these factors and more mean that when we burn fat as fuel in ketosis our bodies are far less susceptible to disease.
2. Mental Clarity
The brain is 60% fat, and in order for it to function properly we need healthy fats to build the biologically responsive cell membranes that it needs. One of the most noticeable effects of reducing refined carbs in the diet is a huge increase in mental clarity, a lifting of what some have called ‘brain fog’. From an evolutionary perspective this would have sharpened the thinking of anyone who had not eaten for a while and needed to find food or catch something to eat.
Because the brain requires a certain small amount of glucose, this has lead many health care practitioners to incorrectly conclude that carbs and sugar are an essential component of a healthy diet. This remains the conventional view held by almost all doctors, but it is not true. The liver can and does produce glucose (in a process called gluconeogenesis) in sufficient quantity, and on demand, to meet this meagre requirement. It is easy to verify the fact that the brain functions much better when it is able to metabolise ketones as its primary energy source by changing your diet appropriately and observe the result.
My own mental clarity increased considerably when I began to eat a low net carb, high fat diet 5 years ago. Initially I focused on reducing carbs and increasing healthy dietary fat intake. I subsequently learned of the importance of restricting proteins as well, if one is at a post reproductive age and wishes to increase longevity. More on this below…
3. Increased energy
At the cellular level our mitochondria inside the cells produce our energy by metabolising either sugar or ketones (derived from healthy dietary fats) into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). In nutritional ketosis they are able to make ATP much more efficiently by using ketones than sugar. This has the effect of making more energy available to each cell and therefore to our body as a whole. At the same time the mitochondria are also stimulated to increase in numbers as well as improve their functionality. Remember also that burning this cleaner fuel produces far fewer ROS (also known as free radicals) so less energy is spent mopping up the metabolic waste products of energy production. Therefore, as a result of being in nutritional ketosis a significant increase in energy levels is noticed.
4. Improved gut health
When we adjust our diet to achieve nutritional ketosis, we must reduce our sugar intake. This affects the kinds of bacteria that will flourish in our gut and promotes and overall increase in diversity of species. The bacteria that benefit us more tend to proliferate when sugar consumption is reduced. Conversely, so-called pathogenic bacteria tend to proliferate with a high sugar diet. A healthy microbiome is the foundation of bodily health and it requires a diversity of species of healthy bacteria. Nutritional ketosis is a significant step towards supporting gut health, and when combined with other dietary practices such as avoiding processed foods and other toxins such as glyphosate, paves the way to optimal health.
5. No more food cravings
When our bodies are in nutritional ketosis and burning fat as the primary source of fuel we enjoy freedom from food cravings and no longer experience the roller coaster ride of energy crashes associated with a sugary diet. After a meal high in starchy carbohydrates our blood sugar level quickly rises. The pancreas then releases insulin in order to drive blood sugar down to a safe level. An energy crash and associated craving occurs because the blood sugar level invariably goes below optimum as it seeks to stabilize at a lower safe level. This typically occurs 1-3 hours after a high carb meal. Avoiding the sugar in our diet in the form of carbohydrates means breaking this familiar cycle.
Food cravings can also be caused by proteins such as gliadin in wheat and other known chemicals that bind with opiate receptors in the brain, along with various flavourings and additives found in highly processed foods. Cutting out these ‘foods’ is a necessary part of achieving nutritional ketosis and so we stabilise the levels of insulin and other important hormones such as Leptin. The increased dietary intake of healthy dietary fats necessary to replace the calories previously obtained from sugar helps to promote satiety. In combination these factors add up to reconnecting with our hunger mechanism in a meaningful way and to rely on it to accurately let us know when we need to eat.
6. Long Range fuel tanks
When burning sugar as the bodies primary fuel source it is the metabolic equivalent of burning paper on a real fire – it burns fast and easily. Fat on the other hand is the metabolic equivalent of burning logs – which burn hotter and longer, releasing more energy. This is why people reliant on sugar as a primary fuel source often find it difficult to last more than a few hours without contemplating their next meal. The day necessarily becomes dominated by meal times, in the same way that a car journey would be dominated by fuel stops if the vehicle had a small fuel tank and poor mileage per gallon. A gram of Carbohydrate contains about 4 calories, whereas a gram of fat has about 9. Fat gives you much better mpg!
Once we are burning fat as our primary fuel in Ketosis we have access to the entire sum of our stored energy in the form of body fat. Even the skinniest people have significant stores of body fat, and most have several months supply of energy locked up in their adipose tissue (fat cells). It takes some time for the human body to fully adapt to burning fat and to acquire the resulting metabolic flexibility, but once this has happened it is easy to spend a whole day without thinking about food or needing to eat. The hunger mechanism becomes your friend again and gives you accurate information on your caloric need. It is truly liberating to be able to travel or plan activities free from the need to factor in meal times. It is also worth noting that through ketosis and being adapted to burning fat, the considerable benefits of fasting become all the more easily attainable as yet another key factor in achieving optimal health.
7. Increased muscle mass – Better power to weight ratio
When the body is adapted to burning fat and has made the shift away from glucose as a primary fuel there is a protein sparing effect. This means that muscle mass is not broken down to make glucose for fuel, as some still suggest. Protein can indeed be turned into fuel and when the body is in starvation mode or severe caloric restriction this does happen. However, when there is an abundance of dietary fats, particularly saturated fats that the body prefers to burn for fuel, there is no need for protein in the form of skeletal muscles to be used, and it is not used. The body happily metabolises the dietary fats and lean muscle mass is preserved. Not only is this consistent with the evolutionary imperative for having ones hunting ability preserved when the food has run out, it is also bourn out by the research.
8. A reduction in the rate of ageing
We have already seen that burning fat for fuel in nutritional ketosis reduces oxidative stress by producing 30-40% fewer reactive oxygen species than burning sugar. We have also discussed how mitochondrial health is crucial for bodily health. Research has shown that our life span is directly linked to the numbers of mitochondria we have in our cells and that their numbers decline over the years. The more we have the longer we are likely to live as they typically decrease by 1% a year. It is also known that a shift to burning fat as a primary fuel stimulates the generation of new mitochondria in a process called mitochondrial biogensesis. This is just one of the reasons why longevity is enhanced by burning fat for fuel in nutritional ketosis.
The glycation of proteins in the blood by excess sugar is another key factor in the ageing process that is accelerated by high levels of sugar and carbs at every meal. Conversely, a lower fasting blood sugar level means less ageing effect. In nutritional ketosis the body maintains a lower blood sugar level and the glycation of proteins is reduced a result. This in turn reduces the rate of ageing.
In Ketosis the amount of ketones in the blood is increased, the most abundant of which is Beta-Hydroxybutyrate. This ketone is known to be involved in epigenetic signalling that up regulates many biological repair functions. But it goes deeper that this…
A little deeper down the rabbit hole
Insulin is an important hormone that tells the body to store nutrients. When high amounts of net carbs are eaten (sugar) it signals the body to store glucose as fat. At the same time it signals that food is in plentiful supply and it is time to reproduce. This triggers growth and reproduction pathways at a cellular level and downgrades repair and maintenance functions.
Excess protein in the diet stimulates production of another hormone called ‘Insulin–Like Growth Factor 1’ or IGF-1 for short. IGF-1 also tells your body to grow and reproduce and builds strength and muscle. This is good news for the young and those at reproductive age, but it comes at the price of increased ageing. Studies have shown that animals producing less IGF-1 live longer and more disease-free lives.
It has been known for some time that restricting calorie intake reduces ageing, but recent scientific discoveries show that it is more to do with restricting protein intake than total calories – specifically, restricting the amino acid methionine found in meats. We all need some of this amino acid to make glutathione, an essential antioxidant, but we do not need it in excess.
There is another important signalling pathway called mTOR (mechanistic Target Of Rapamycin) triggered by a specific protein. When more dietary protein is consumed than is required for ‘routine’ body maintenance and structural rebuilding purposes this pathway is triggered to produce muscle building by telling cells to proliferate and reproduce. When it is not triggered cellular repair and maintenance process are up regulated. These include autophagy (cleaning out debris and damaged cells), DNA repair, releasing intracellular anti oxidants, and other essential processes for the preservation of the body. So when we eat fewer net carbs and less protein and therefore maintain lower levels of Insulin, IGF-1, and avoid excess levels of amino acids, we inhibit mTOR and as a result trigger gene expression that promotes mitochondrial repair and maintenance. This is why being in Ketosis through conscious food choices can have a profound effect upon our rate of ageing as well as the number of years we enjoy good health.
9. Improved Athletic Performance
Scientists Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney have been studying the effects of Ketogenic diets and ketosis for more than 15 years and with a particular interest in the effects on athletic performance. They have shown that increased fat burning ability has given many athletes an advantage over their high carb competitors with increases VO2 max and endurance capabilities. Tim Olsen repeatedly winning long endurance runs in the United States, and Zach Bitter achieving outstanding success such as running 175 miles in a 24-hour endurance run.
The conventional view that physical performance is compromised by a reduction of carbohydrate intake has been shown to be a myth. The Idea of carb loading, or eating pasta the night before a marathon run, is contradicted and shown to be false and unnecessary by the scientific evidence.
10. Therapeutic Effects
There are specific therapeutic benefits to being in Ketosis, particularly for treating type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease. Long-term low carb intake is known to reduce triglycerides in the blood, increase beneficial HDL levels and improve the quality of LDL particles to the larger fluffy kind that do not damage arterial walls. Also Insulin and Leptin sensitivity are improved through ketosis.
11. Improved dental health
Eliminating sugar in the diet, both in the form of sweets, juices, cakes and biscuits, as well as starchy carbs such as potatoes and pasta and pizza, has a massivley beneficial effect upon your teeth and gums. The residual food particles of these sugary things we put in our mouths stick around the neck of our teeth and prvide food for kinds of bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay. Even if you are super disciplined at brushing your teeth twice a day, your mouth will benefit enormously from the huge reduction in the presence of sugar. Modern tooth decay is just another symptom of disease resulting from eating a diet to which the human genome is not adapted – specifically the sugar component of this diet.
12. Effortless Weight Loss
And lastly, in a state of nutritional ketosis we naturally and effortlessly arrive at our ideal body weight without all the unnecessary focus on weight loss as a primary goal in itself. Weight gain is the result of eating the wrong kinds of food and of being permanently locked into burning sugar as a primary fuel. Being fat adapted using ketones as fuel in a state of nutritional ketosis is the answer to weight gain because it simply removes the cause – too many refined carbs, too much sugar and an excess of protein.
Hands up for health and longevity!
The science is clear. Nutritional ketosis is an essential component of any strategy to achieve health and longevity. If any one consciously wishes to avoid disease and ensure that they enjoy a long and healthy life all the information is available for them to make this choice. There is no need to fear cancer or dementia or to end up in a hospital bed as we grow old. But it does require some thinking and it requires consciously being willing to challenge the assumptions that still prevail in the mainstream view.
I submit to you that evolution will favour those who are prepared to think for themselves and grasp the advantages of consciously redesigning a diet and lifestyle accordingly. Why wait? Don’t be the last to catch on to an empowering strategy to liberate us from disease.
It must be noted that nutritional Ketosis in itself is not a magic bullet and is only one component of an overall strategy for health. For example, it is also very important to eat the right kinds of dietary fats, to avoid the toxicity of non-organic and processed foods, and to preserve the integrity of the gut lining by using products such as ‘Restore’.
Check out the next post here at lawfulrebel.com which will detail how to achieve ketosis.
I hope you get some value from this post. I positively encourage you all to consider this strategy for your own longevity and improved health.
Please join the conversation and comment below.
Nigel Howitt, June 2017
“Fat for fuel” – Dr Joseph Mercola
“The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” – Dr S. Phinney and Dr J. Volek
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