The ketogenic diet: a weapon against chronic fatigue?

Keto diet - comic

The ketogenic diet, or just “keto diet”, goes completely the opposite direction of our food habits. And still, like many studies may demonstrate (see further), it seems efficient on many levels: health, well-being, weight loss and physical performance. Lets examine what it’s all about.

The diet is named after the ketone bodies, that become the main source of energy for the brain.

The principle of the keto diet

The idea is simple. Our food habits are mainly based on carbs. Here, you have to completely forget about carbs and replace all of them by fats. No more carbs of any kind, no more sugar at all! The protein amount has to remain low. This latter point is fundamental too.

  • carbs 5-10%
  • lipids 70-80%
  • proteins 15-20%

keto diet chart

Technically, we come up with a value of 20 carbs per day, which is crazily low. You may go up to 50 if you really do intensive sport. In order to show you how hard it can be:

  • 1 banana = 23g of carbs
  • 1 apple = 1 orange = 13g of carbs
  • 1 croissant = 22g of carbs
  • 1 slice of soft bread = 46g of carbs

So, we need to choose between a banana and a croissant, right? Absolutely not: you can’t afford neither of them. Nope. Actually, you’re gonna choose food with high fats and low carbs. And while you pick very low carbs stuff, you still quickly come up with your quota of 20 grams.

We will therefore look for:

  • the good fats: olive oil, coconut oil, cacao butter
  • avocados
  • some butter and cream (organic if possible)
  • some cheese: lipids and proteins, but not too much because it has lactose, which is a carb (no milk, it has too much lactose)
  • eggs: half lipids, half proteins
  • seeds and nuts: lipids with a bit a proteins, but also contains a few carbs (no grains!)
  • if you’re not vegetarian, in a small amount: meats (organic if possible), fish and seafood
  • green vegetables: not only do they fill up some space in the stomach, but they also bring very few carbs, along with a lot of good nutrients (potassium) and are an absolut necessity

That’s basically it. You may forget about all the rest.

avocado guy - comic

Note: if you are vegetarian or vegan, it’s OK to lower the protein ratio and replace it with fats. Your body can easily handle it (and I guess you already know about it).

So, supposing that didn’t run away yet, I’m gonna try to convince you that it’s not just pure insanity!

Overcoming the myths we learnt

We’ve been influenced all our life by the messages of the food industry, that is trying to make us believe that sugar is a necessary fuel source for the body and the brain. Strangely enough, the number of diseases keeps raising (physical inactivity and other stuff also play a role). In order to maintain that lucrative business, they decided to blame it on fats.

It has now become very hard to reverse that idea. On one side it is deeply settled in our brains, and on the other side, sugar is everywhere and it’s extremely hard to go without it. Luckily enough, we now (for those who are ready to hear it) that sugar is the main culprit, and that we need to give back the fats the role they deserve.

Don’t be confused: as opposed to what most people may think, we now know that saturated fats do not clog the arteries1.

Well, enough with the controversy, let’s head back to that keto diet thing!

The benefits

Regulation of glycemia and insulin levels

Insulin resistance is the phenomenon that triggers type 2 diabetes. This disruption is the result of an excess of carbs intake, over a long period of time. It therefore seems quite logical that, inversely, a carbs shortage shall regulate that mechanism2.

From that point of vue, the benefits of a keto diet look quite similar to those of alow carbs diet.
Still, the effets are even more efficients because the protein intake remains low. Indeed, a high proteins intake triggers insulin production, which minimise the regulation effect and prevent the body from switching into an efficient ketogenic mode (fat burning mode). That’s one of the main reasons you should keep your protein intake low

Weight loss

That is the reason why this diet is famous. Despite all the fats you may eat, the lack of sugar makes your body switch into fat burning mode. At first it may sound crazy to feed from fats in order to loose some, but it’s amazingly efficient. If you don’t wan’t to loose weight, you can still add up some olive oil to make sure that you have enough calories to burn. But be careful, the raising of lipids intake has to be progressive over time because your body is not ready to process big amounts of fat yet. Otherwise you will put too much pressure on your gall bladder.

Loosing weight selfies - comic
Before / after selfie

Helps fighting against cancer

One of the fuel sources of cancer cells is glucose (there might be others). Transition from glucose to ketone bodies as a main fuel source is an adaptation to food shortage that we kept from our evolution. That enables the healthy cells of the body to survive during the extreme changes of food environments. Besides, the ketone bodies may have an inhibitor effect on cancer cells growth3.

  • Brain cancer4
  • Lung cancer5
  • Stomach cancer6
  • Prostate cancer7
  • Breast cancer8
  • Colon cancer9

Other benefits

  • Epilepsy10
  • Alzheimer disease11 (cette maladie est notamment liée à la résistance à l’insuline)
  • Parkinson disease12
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis13
  • Limit neuronal dysfunction from traumatic brain injury and stroke14
  • Autism15
  • Bipolar disorder16
  • Schizophrenia17
  • Cardio vascular diseases18 (sur le long terme)
  • Improves Cholesterol Levels19
  • Mental Focus
  • Increased Physical Endurance
  • Normalize Blood Pressure
  • Less Acne
  • Less Heartburn
  • Less Sugar Cravings
  • Fewer Migraine Attacks20

The diversity of the studies and the benefits that they claim is very impressing! So, even when you don’t really know what you suffer from, you still might want to try.

ketogenic diet calling doctor - comic

Starting

If your habits are the very opposite of the keto diet, do not head for disaster. Before you begin, it is wiser to go for a healthy food intake for at least one to two weeks. What I mean by that is lots of vegetables and few carbs. That should make the transition softer.

The first few days

Like for fasting, the first few days are hard. The brain does not have its usual amount of glucose and that mais strongly swing your moods. The hard part should be over within 4 or 5 days. Then, you should start feeling good. Hang on!

The first two weeks

Among the main advices, it is often recommended to ensure that the first 2 weeks shall have no interruptions. This enables to switch into a “keto-adapted” state where the body can burn fat in an optimal way. Choose properly the day you start in order to be sure that there will be no cheating. After those two weeks, if you have to interrupt with a few carbs, the switch back into keto mode should be faster (but still long)

Sodium and potassium

During the two first days, the body is going to empty its glycogen reserves. Those are store using water molecules. Using the whole glycogen without renewing it can therefore make you loose up to 2 litters of water The first two kilos that you loose are nothing but water. No muscle, no fat, don’t get scared or excited. Just water.

Fluid management is made possible thanks to the electrolytes sodium and potassium.

Flushing 2 litters of water will consequently make you loose a lot of sodium. So make sure you take enough salt during the first few days. You can sometimes even feel that craving for salt.

Another reason is that there is also a link between insulin and sodium retentino. The keto diet will lower the insulin blood level and make you flush some sodium.

Since sodium and potassium work together (for fluid retention, but also in other mechanisms like nerve impulses generation), you also need to maintain a certain amount of potassium. It is mostly found in green leaves vegetables (spinach), but also in avocado or lemon. Cacao also has some, but beware of the sugar inside chocolate! I eat raw cacao beans or 100% chocolate but most people don’t like that. Almonds, nuts, mushrooms, meat and fish also have some. Eventually, if you just go for a variant healthy diet, you should be fine

Exercising

Like with any diet, exercising always stimulates the metabolism. So, don’t hesitate to exerciser, or just even walk. Don’t over practice during the first transition phase because your body may not be ready to deliver such a big quantity of energy.

running - comic

After a few days (or weeks, depending on your metabolism), you’ll start experiencing a lot of energy. It is even likely that your performances go beyond your habits. In that case, just go fully for it.

Energy

After the 4th or 5th day, you may experience a flow of physical and mental energy. This energy will keep raising for something like ten days. It is important to handle it properly. If you do not change your habits, this excess of energy may become inconvenient. You need to increase your physical activity in order to canalise all that energy. The same way, if you feel that your brain becomes more efficient, just head into some creative hobbies in order to take advantage of it.

energy stock option - comic

Adding some intermittent fasting

We’ve seen intermittent fasting in the previous article. This one lets you on one hand speed up the transition process towards the ketogenic mode. On the other hand, it may also increase the weight loss if that is also your goal.

You must see carbs as an obstacle

Your body operates 100% of the time with carbs. It needs time to learn again the survival ketogenic mechanism. Every time that you intake too many carbs, you tell your body that the carbs shortage is over and you restart from scratch. That’s why rigor during the first two weeks is so important.

Once your body is trained to that mechanism, you can go for a small cheat, but you must know that it might take up to a few days to kick back into the most efficient mode.

A very special kind of carbs: fibers

Fibers belong to the carbs family. Still, our digestive system is not capable of using that source of energy. So they go along the small intestine without being digested. Consequently, fibers have absolutely no effet on glycemia and insulin levels.

Actually, very few people are capable such a distinction when looking at the carbs quantities of an aliment. Still, it is fundamental. Let’s consider the example of half an avocado, which is about 100 grams:

  • carbs: 8,6 g (34%)
    • including fibers: 6,7 g (26%)
  • lipids: 14,7 g (58%)
  • proteins: 2,0 g (8%)

8 grams of glucose, for a keto diet, would be too much. But if you understand what you eat, then you should know that you can subtract the fibers: 8,6 – 6,7 = 1,9 grams of “effective” carbs (don’t look for that name, I just made it up)

  • effective carbs: 1,9 g (10%)
  • lipids: 14,7 g (79%)
  • proteins: 2,0 g (11%)

After that quick fix, the ratio is now perfect!

Just for nosy people, fibers are eventually consumed by the colon. This latter uses the fermenting process in order to transform them into nutrients that we can therefore absorb. Do not go and thing that fibers are useless, they do play a key role in our food – keto diet or not.

Coconut oil

Digesting lipids require the use of bile (released by the gall bladder) and the pancreatic lipase enzyme (released by the pancreas).

Coconut oil is an exception. It is partly made of MCT (Medium-Chain Triglycerides). The particularity of those is that they do NOT require bile or pancreatic lipase in order to be absorbed and used. That’s why they are very efficient.

These MCT can be turned into ketone bodies much easier and quicker that other lipids. You can therefore use coconut oil in order to ease the transition into the keto mode.

Can anyone do it?

This diet may seem like an aggression to the body. If you have organs disorders or any other kind of problem, I cannot but advise you to go check with your doctor that it will not be harmful.

It is also not recommended for pregnant women, because it signals the body that there is a food shortage, which means that it might not be the right moment to breed.

Also, it is not recommended for kids and teens that may need more energy to grow. Still, the amount of diabetic kids is raising every day and sugar still represents a real poison to them…

You may ask your doctor

I did ask my doctor what he though about it. As a reminder, my doctor is also my dad. He told me that it was very dangerous and that I really shouldn’t do that (true fact!). I consequently went fully for it!

ketogenic diet doctor advice - comic

Actually, traditional doctors don’t care much about food – if they do at all (maybe because they are over-solicited by the labs that promote the great benefits from their brand new miracle pills). Since a doctor has to know everything, they must keep you away from what they ignore. They cannot afford such risks and I respect that. These thoughs are just mine and I think I’m getting carried away so let’s head back to that keto thing…

Long term

The very long term effects are not so well known. It is not impossible that it may cause deficiencies. Especially, this food pattern may seem very extreme (it signals the body that there is a food shortage), so stay alert of any sign if you decide to go for it over several months.

Conclusion

The keto diet is some serious stuff and you must be well prepared and well documented before going for it. It might be closest diet from fasting, and that would be why it has so many benefits. It is very hard to perform because it goes against are believes, and carbs are everywhere. On the other side, the benefits are huge.

keto diet energy - comic

Like I did: before doing that diet, ask your doctor for his advise.

If you have any question, do not hesitate to post them in the comments. I’ll make sure to answer them.

  1. Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions
  2. Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.
  3. Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial
  4. Tumor Metabolism, the Ketogenic Diet and β-Hydroxybutyrate: Novel Approaches to Adjuvant Brain Tumor Therapy.
  5. Ketogenic diets enhance oxidative stress and radio-chemo-therapy responses in lung cancer xenografts.
  6. Growth of human gastric cancer cells in nude mice is delayed by a ketogenic diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides.
  7. Carbohydrate restriction, prostate cancer growth, and the insulin-like growth factor axis.
  8. Paclitaxel combined with inhibitors of glucose and hydroperoxide metabolism enhances breast cancer cell killing via H2O2-mediated oxidative stress.
  9. Effects of a ketogenic diet on the quality of life in 16 patients with advanced cancer: A pilot trial
  10. How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work? Four Potential Mechanisms
  11. THE NEUROPROTECTIVE PROPERTIES OF CALORIE RESTRICTION, THE KETOGENIC DIET, AND KETONE BODIES
  12. Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study.
  13. A ketogenic diet as a potential novel therapeutic intervention in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  14. How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work? Four Potential Mechanisms
  15. Application of a ketogenic diet in children with autistic behavior: pilot study.
  16. The ketogenic diet for type II bipolar disorder.
  17. Schizophrenia, gluten, and low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets: a case report and review of the literature
  18. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients
  19. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients.
  20. Diet transiently improves migraine in two twin sisters: possible role of ketogenesis?

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