Ketogenic diets work in mice, well, sort of... But what about humans?

Too much fuss for something not practically applicable for most people

A lot of fuss has been made recently about two studies on ketogenic diets in  mice. A ketogenic diet is an almost zero carb / high fat diet that forces to liver to turn fats into ketones in order to feed the brain and other organs.

These studies investigated the theory that a ketogenic diet can mimic the effect of caloric restriction (basically partial starvation). Caloric restriction is actually proven to help prolong life and improve health in animals. 

These two mouse studies indeed reported increased lifespan and the media jumped to report the miraculous findings. However, what was not reported is the fact that mice which were left to eat a ketogenic diet at will (i.e without food quantity restrictions) eventually over-consumed fat and became pre-diabetic (glucose intolerant) and obese, leading to reduced life span.

 

Sounds good in theory, not so much in practice

So if you are a mouse in a cage fed specific amounts of high fat food you may, kinda*, live longer**.  But if you are an actual human being living in the real 21st-century world, who does not possess unlimited amounts of self-discipline or wants to be quite antisocial for life, I cannot see how such a diet can work.

See what the authors of these two papers have to say:

* "The ketogenic diet, however, also showed several differences from caloric restriction. Unlike CR, the KD mice in the present work were glucose intolerant compared to controls... Additionally, the level of intake of the KD in the present study did not produce the decrease in body weight observed with a CR diet."

** "When you do a ketogenic diet, you are essentially reorganizing all of metabolism", the authors state. "This shock to the system can come with health risks. For example, mice allowed to eat a ketogenic diet at will eventually become obese. To prevent this, we alternated between a ketogenic diet and a regular diet. Ramsey and colleagues limited the calories given to mice on ketogenic diets to maintain their weight. The difference in approach may explain why mice in one study, but not the other, retained physical capabilities in old age."

 

With self discipline all diets work - until discipline fades...

Ketogenic diets are indeed beneficial for epileptics and, if combined with self discipline, can also help you lose weight - temporarily. But like all diets based on self discipline, there comes the time of relaxing your discipline and gradually gaining back the weight.

In that respect the differentiating factor is not the type of diet but the amount of self discipline. But better still, the motivation to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle for ever, based on healthy food and lots of exercise, is more effective and more wholesome, both physically and socially.

And no, the ketogenic diet is not a miracle, unless you are a laboratory mouse under strict feeding control.

 

Sources

  • Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice
  • A Ketogenic Diet Extends Longevity and Healthspan in Adult Mice
  • Mice on ketogenic diets live longer and healthier in old age

 

About

Georgios Tzenichristos is the director of London's London-based LipoTherapeia clinic, which specialises in natural fat/cellulite reduction and skin tightening. Georgios daily follows all research on fat, metabolism, connective tissue and phytochemicals and regularly writes about those topics. To check all our recent articles visit lipotherapeia.com/metabolism.

 

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