The Benefits of Ketosis


Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body begins to break down stored fat and to burn it for energy. As part of this process, your blood level of ketones -- byproducts of fatty acids that have been broken down -- rises sharply. Diets that are extremely low in carbohydrates often induce a state of ketosis. While extreme and prolonged ketosis can be dangerous, mild or moderate ketosis produces some health benefits. Consult your doctor before beginning any ketogenic diet.

Weight Loss

Ketogenic diets, popularized by New York City cardiologist Robert C. Atkins in the early 1970s, promise quick weight loss to those who steer clear of most carbohydrates in favor of more proteins and healthy fats. Variations on this low-carb diet plan have proliferated in the years since Atkins published his “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” in 1972. Adherents to these diets purposely induce a state of moderate ketosis in order to burn off some of their stored fat.

A team of U.K. obesity and metabolic health researchers compared the effectiveness of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet with that of a high-protein, medium-carbohydrate nonketogenic diet among a group of 17 obese men. In findings published in the January 2008 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” researchers reported that the ketogenic diet reduced hunger and lowered overall food intake significantly more than the nonketogenic diet.

Neuroprotective Properties

The use of ketogenic diets for the symptomatic treatment of epilepsy predates the use of these diets for weight loss, dating back to the early 20th century. Although researchers still don’t fully understand the mechanisms involved, scientists believe the ketones provide a more efficient fuel for the brain and offer an increased degree of protection against damage to brain cells. In a review of the literature on the relationship between ketogenesis and neuroprotection, a team of U.S. researchers urged clinical tests to see if ketogenic diets could be helpful in patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and traumatic brain injury. They published their review in the September 2006 issue of “Behavioural Pharmacology.”

Mood-Stabilizing Properties

In an article in the December 2001 issue of “Medical Hypotheses,” researchers in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine suggest that ketosis may prove useful as a mood stabilizer for patients with bipolar disorder. They cite the beneficial changes observed in the brain-energy profiles of those on ketogenic diets. They also note that some of the extracellular changes commonly observed in ketosis “would be expected to decrease intracellular sodium concentrations, a common property of all effective mood stabilizers.”

Improves Glucose Control in Diabetics

Researchers at Duke University compared the glucose control properties of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet with those of a low-glycemic, reduced-calorie diet among a group of obese male patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. After a study period of 24 weeks, patients on the ketogenic diet showed greater improvement in glycemic control and more medication reduction or elimination than patients who followed the low glycemic index diet. Researchers published their findings in a 2008 issue of “Nutrition & Metabolism.”