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What is Keto Diet? Science Behind the Hype

November 14, 2016

The “keto” diet is any extremely low- or no-carbohydrate diet that forces the body into a state of ketosis. The keto diet was created by Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, an associate professor of surgery at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. However, some argue the true designer of this diet was really by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic in 1924. There are 5 different Keto diets. These include the classic or modified Keto diet, MCT Oil Keto Diet, Low Glycemic Index treatment, and the popular Modified Atkins Diet. For the purpose of this article, they are designed for the same results. So why has this form of dieting taking the fitness industry by storm?

The reason we all strive for a nutritional approach to bodybuilding, weight loss, and power lifting is greater muscularity involving the stimulation of the all-important energy-sensing molecule mTOR, Studies have confirmed mTOR increases muscle protein synthesis while reducing muscle protein breakdown, ultimately leading to enhanced muscle mass. Do to the phenom mTOR function has on muscle growth, people have tried to improve their physiques by implementing a ketogenic diet that is high in fat, low in protein and even lower in carbohydrate intake. The fundamental thought behind the ketogenic diet is to force the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrate or protein, due to the lack of carbohydrate and protein in the diet. The excessive fatty acid causes oxidation in the liver and leads to the inevitable conversion of accumulated fatty acid oxidation intermediates into ketone bodies, which are found to possess appetite-suppressant properties, which facilitates weight loss. There are good and bad that can happen with the Keto diet.

According to a article on the MD Forum it states, "ketogenic diets may actually mitigate certain cancers to a large degree, by inhibiting mTOR." This is because mTOR influences certain cellular processes that can promote uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. For instance, the ability of mTOR to control the cell’s protein synthesis machinery gives it the ability to trigger the production of certain proteins required for cell division which could result in unwanted cell division, supporting the progression of cancer.

Cancer cells rely heavily on glucose for energy, and mTOR inhibition by ketogenic diets reduces the production of several enzymes involved in the conversion of glucose into energy— decreasing the energy supply and thus, the viability of the cancer cell." However, where you see positives on this diet, there are some negative effects.

First, the positive effects or advantages are many with this diet in relation to weight loss. Superior fat loss, better appetite control, increased uncoupling proteins stimulated in muscle and fat, lowers cardiovascular risk by reducing insulin, triglycerides are just a few of the benefits. The disadvantages include the promotion of acidosis in muscle (reduced PH), which can increase muscle tissue proteolysis, reduced exercise intensity, and Lowers SHBG (i.e., lowers free testosterone). Those who are string to build muscle or in bulking stages often stay away from this diet for a great reason. Many studies over the years investigating Keto diet have found dehydration is a common adverse event occurring with low-carb diets. Cells that experience decreased hydration have impaired anabolic reactions. What’s this mean in lemans terms? The results indicate that cell volume is a highly important cellular signal for the control of protein synthesis in general. While on a ketogenic diet, this naturally disposes you to dehydration and as mentioned above, training in a dehydrated state also lowers testosterone levels.

Where does the Keto diet fall for those not really into building muscle, but want to loss body weight and fat? This is where Keto has tremendous results. In 2007, a team of eight research scientists compared the impact of the Atkins diet on body mass and body fat with three other diets in a 12-month controlled trial. The team recruited 311 overweight and obese, premenopausal women with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. The women had an average age of 41 years, BMI of 32, and body fat percentage of 40. They were then separated in four different brackets utilizing three other diets non-keto based. The first group of 76 were asked to consume the Ornish Diet which had 10% or less of its calories from any type of fat. The next group of 79 followed the “LEARN Diet” which contained less than 10% of its calories from saturated fats and 55% to 60% of its calories from carbohydrates. The third group of 79 subjects ate “The Zone Diet”, which had a 40%, 30%, and 30% distribution of calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fats respectively. The final group of 77 were instructed to eat a low-carbohydrate Atkins diet. At the conclusion of the trial, all subjects that successfully completed their assigned diet experienced notable reductions in weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, and waist-to-hip ratio. However, those in the high-fat Atkins group had the greatest declines in each of these categories. The average BMI in the Atkins group decreased by 1.65, by 0.92 in the LEARN group, by 0.77 in the Ornish group, and by 0.53 in the Zone group. [16] This means that the subjects who ate the Atkins diet decreased their BMI, on average, more than twice in the subjects from the high-carb diet Ornish group. The results in body fat percentage lost was even more striking. The average body mass percentage decreased by 2.9% in the Atkins diet group.

  1. Calle, Eugenia E., et al. “Body-mass index and mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults.” New England Journal of Medicine 341.15 (1999): 1097-1105.
  2. Gardner, Christopher D., et al. “Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial.” Jama 297.9 (2007): 969-977.

The study along with many others show the tremendous results that can come from utilizing keto diets for those wanting to experience weight loss. The keto diet is continuously being studied with supporters and those that argue the results of the keto diet. Each year at major conferences such as Experimental Biology, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and American College of Sports Medicine, scientists present research from their laboratories and at the end of each session, there are other scientists who question the validity of their ideas and research. In the scientific community, being skeptical stimulates thought and leads to other questions and keeps the scientific community pursuing more answers. This is a great thing. More and more is found in what this diet is or isn’t capable of.

In conclusion, there is no universal diet that works for everyone. Unfortunately, there will probably never be a study performed for bodybuilders dieting for competition and muscle growth. All we can do is make conclusions based on peer-reviewed research. Only through trial and error can you personally find out exactly how many carbs you need and how frequently they should be consumed. The keto diet along with many others is a pathway with a somewhat detailed road map to success in whatever area in the fitness industry a person wants to walk.

By Jeremy Bermel

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