The ketogenic diet goes against conventional wisdom asserting that we should consume a diet that is high in carbohydrates, and instead recommends a system based on the idea of putting the body in a state of “ketosis”. Ketosis is defined as a state of elevated ketone bodies in the human body. Ketone bodies are defined as three different water-soluble, biochemicals that are produced as by products when fatty acids are broken down in the liver for energy. Ketosis is achieved by reducing the daily amount of carbs in one’s diet, to 50 grams or less of carbohydrates. The premise being that your body will use fat and ketone bodies for energy, rather than glucose. Glucose is one of the main forms of energy that the body uses, and when carbohydrates enter the body, they are converted into glucose. So with the ketogenic diet, the goal is to essentially switch the body from a carb burning machine to a fat burning machine.
The controversy has been around since physician and cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins(1930-2003) has been preaching a low carb diet. This kind of diet flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says that carbs are needed for energy, eating fat makes you fat, and weight loss is simply a calories in, calories out equation. As far back as 1973, the chair of Harvard’s nutritional department, went on record before a US Senate committee and denounced the Atkins diet. In 2003 the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, came out against the Atkins diet, claiming that high fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets lead to increased risk of chronic health diseases and health problems. These same claims have been made for decades, and numerous medical associates and groups have spoken out against the Atkins diet, including the American Medical Association, American Dietetics Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, The Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, The American Kidney Fund, American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Institute of health. Of course, there also exists plenty of evidence showing that a high carb diet can itself be harmful.
While the arguments for and against the low-carb, ketogenic diet are many, possibly the most common argument(and misconception) is in regards to what is referred to as ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a condition in which abnormal quantities of ketones are produced in an unregulated biochemical situation. The amount of ketones produced during a ketogenic diet are far lower than in ketoacidosis, which is something that mainly affects patients with type 1 diabetes. This simple similarity in terms has led to a confusion regarding a low carb diet being dangerous.
There has been research done in the topic of using a ketogenic diet to treat cancer. Dr. Thomas Seyfried has published a book called, “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer”, and in it he brings together methods and findings regarding the sources and prevention of cancer that he spent many years working on at Boston College and Yale University. In the book, he writes “Emerging evidence indicates that impaired cellular energy metabolism is the defining characteristic of nearly all cancers regardless of cellular or tissue origin.” The main idea behind using a ketogenic diet as a cancer treatment, is to deprive the cancer cells of the glucose and other fuels they need to survive, and to provide support for the mitochondrial respiration process in healthy tissues. The obvious advantage to using the diet as a treatment, is that there are no harmful side effects that are so commonplace in conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. The treatments have not always been successful, but newer research is showing that ketosis can be beneficial for many cancer cases.
Take the case of Dr. Fred Hatfield, a former power lifting champion, author of over a dozen books, and millionaire businessman. After being diagnosed with metastatic cancer in his skeletal system, he was given only three months to live by his doctors. He was preparing himself to die when he heard about an anti-cancer diet, so with nothing to lose he gave it a try. To his amazement, the diet worked, and his cancer is gone. “The cancer was gone! Completely. To this day there’s no trace of it, and it’s been over a year.” Important to note when undertaking this diet is that your body will need supplemental salt (NaCl) to offset the water retention lost during the change from a high carb to a low carb diet.
Another exciting development in the ketogenic diet it’s success at treating seizures of individuals with epilepsy. Several studies have shown the effects of the ketogenic diet with epileptic patients, and each study showed and massive improvement in most of the patients and even complete elimination of all seizures from some of them. Whether the ketone diet is always applicable or useful is a different question, but it seems clear that we can be healed or harmed through our nutrition.