Like all diets, the ketogenic diet isn’t for everyone. It’s low in carbs and protein, but high in fat. Its purpose? Originally, the ketogenic diet was created in 1921 to stop seizures in epileptic children. Now, it is also used to make the body use fat instead of glucose for energy. While this sounds ideal, there’s potential for weakness and heart problems.
The ratio of macro nutrients in this diet can change the way the brain uses energy. It’s very useful, considering 20 to 30 percent of epileptic children are resistant to anti-epileptic drugs. The diet only lasts 1 or 2 years until the child is seizure-free.1
The ketogenic diet has caught the attention of people trying to lose weight as it’s designed to make the body burn fat. Additional benefits include improved hyperlipidemia and heart disease risks. While it has short-term success, some experts are wary of the side effects.2 The high-fat intake might be too much for the heart, while the lack of carbs can cause weakness. So, if you’re considering the ketogenic diet, look at the bigger picture first.
How Does The Ketogenic Diet Work?
When you eat little to no carbs, fat cells release fat. The liver breaks it down and makes ketones. The brain, which usually runs on glucose, can use ketones instead. It essentially mimics the fasting state. During this time, you’re considered to be in ketosis.
The Ketogenic Diet And Energy Levels
The low-carboydrate intake can change your energy levels. Remember, it’s a major macro nutrient! Even your emotions will take a hit. Here’s how.
1. Low Glucose Due To Low Carbs
Carbohydrates are your body’s first source of energy. It’s always used before protein and fat. Most cells, including the brain cells, utilize glucose.3 By cutting out carbs, you’re depriving the body of its main source of fuel. It isn’t necessarily made to run on protein and fat. Therefore, weakness and fatigue are likely.
2. Low Vitamin And Mineral Intake
Fruits, vegetables, and legumes all have carbohydrates. In a ketogenic diet, you can only eat very little. This poses the risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Normal nerve function depends on vitamins and minerals.4 This includes your brain! For instance, bananas and legumes are rich in vitamin B6. If you don’t get enough of these, you’ll be prone to confusion and irritability.5
3. Low Carbs Means Reduced Serotonin
Serotonin is a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and low levels are linked to sadness and depression. In fact, depressive disorders are often treated with drugs that boost serotonin. Here, carbohydrates actually play a role. They increase tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make serotonin.6 Unfortunately, the low-carb intake of a ketogenic diet boosts the risk for decreased levels.
The Ketogenic Diet And Heart Failure
Here’s where it gets tricky. While the ketogenic diet can ward off heart disease, it might be bad news for heart failure. It depends on the patient. Ketogenic diets increase the size of “bad” LDL cholesterol particles. This prevents atherosclerosis as smaller particles are more likely to form fatty plaques. Cholesterol, triglycerides, and “good” HDL cholesterol will also improve.7 However, it’s a different story for children. High-fat, low-carb diets can significantly raise their cholesterol and lipids.
But will it increase the risk for heart disease later on in life? Researchers don’t think so. The ketogenic diet is temporary and only lasts for 1 or 2 years.8 For a child with heart failure or another heart condition, the ketogenic diet might not be a smart choice. Here, other anti-seizure treatments may be the best bet.
|↑1||Ketogenic Diet. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.|
|↑2, ↑7||Paoli, Antonio. “Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe?.” International journal of environmental research and public health 11, no. 2 (2014): 2092-2107.|
|↑3||Blood sugar test – blood. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑4||Vitamins & Minerals. National Institute on Aging.|
|↑5||Vitamin B6. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑6||Wurtman, Richard J., Judith J. Wurtman, Meredith M. Regan, Janine M. McDermott, Rita H. Tsay, and Jeff J. Breu. “Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 77, no. 1 (2003): 128-132.|
|↑8||Kwiterovich Jr, Peter O., Eileen PG Vining, Paula Pyzik, Richard Skolasky Jr, and John M. Freeman. “Effect of a high-fat ketogenic diet on plasma levels of lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins in children.” Jama 290, no. 7 (2003): 912-920.|