Do Ketogenic Diets Trigger Aging?

A new study published in Science Advances has investigated the potential downsides of ketogenic diets. While keto diets are popular for weight loss and some health conditions, this research suggests they may also trigger cellular aging in vital organs.

Key findings of the study:

  • Cellular senescence in organs: Mice fed a ketogenic diet showed signs of cellular senescence in multiple organs, including the heart and kidneys. Cellular senescence is basically when cells stop dividing and can contribute to age-related decline.
  • Mechanism behind the effect: The study identifies a potential mechanism for this cellular aging. It involves a signalling pathway triggered by AMPK (an enzyme) and caspase-2 (a protein), ultimately leading to increased p53 and p21 proteins, which are linked to cellular senescence.
  • Potential implications: The build-up of senescent cells in organs like the heart and kidneys could contribute to inflammation and organ damage. This suggests potential long-term health risks associated with long-term ketogenic diets.
  • Possible solutions: The study also offered some hope. They found that interrupting the keto diet with periods of regular eating (intermittent keto) could prevent this cellular senescence. Additionally, there are drugs being developed that target and eliminate senescent cells, which could be a future avenue for mitigating the potential downsides of keto.

Overall, the study highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of the effects of ketogenic diets. While they may offer benefits, there could also be downsides, particularly with long-term use. As the study was conducted on mice, more research is needed to confirm these findings in humans and explore potential strategies to mitigate any risks.

Vegan Versus Ketogenic Diets

Imagine switching up your meals in a big way, ditching meat and dairy for a vegan lifestyle or diving deep into the world of low-carb keto. What happens to your body’s defences, your trusty immune system? A recent study published in Nature Medicine delves into this very question, comparing the impacts of these two popular diets.

Key findings:

  • Both vegan and keto diets cause noticeable shifts in the types of immune cells circulating in your blood.
  • Keto: Levels of specific cells involved in “adaptive immunity” (remembering past threats) like regulatory T cells and natural killers get a boost.
  • Vegan: Cells crucial for “innate immunity” (first-line defence) like activated T helper cells and natural killers see a rise.
  • Even the genes within these cells get jiggled around! Keto ramps up genes linked to T-cell activation, while vegan leans towards genes involved in other immune responses.

What does it mean?

This is the first research to show these distinct immune system responses to vegan and keto, potentially influencing our overall health. However, keep in mind:

  • The study was small, meaning more research is needed to solidify these findings.
  • Long-term effects weren’t explored, so the lasting impact remains unclear.

Low Carbohydrate Diets Are Bad For Health

Yesterday professor Banach, from the Medical University of Lodz in Poland, released the findings of his research at the European Society of Cardiology. The prospective study looked at the relationship between low carbohydrate diets, all-cause mortality and deaths specifically from coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. The study group consisted of almost 25,000 adults from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2010. Over an average 6.4-year follow-up, compared to the group with the highest consumption of carbohydrates, the group with the lowest consumption had an increased risk of all-cause mortality (32%) and an increased risk of death from coronary heart disease (51%), stroke (50%) and cancer (35%). These results were backed up by the findings of a meta-analysis of several studies involving close to 450,000 people.

Professor Banach said: “Low carbohydrate diets might be useful in the short term to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and improve blood glucose control, but our study suggests that in the long-term they are linked with an increased risk of death from any cause, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancerThe reduced intake of fibre and fruits and increased intake of animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat with these diets may play a role. Differences in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals might also be involved. Our study highlights an unfavourable association between low carbohydrate diets and total and cause-specific death, based on individual data and pooled results of previous studies. The findings suggest that low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should not be recommended.

Mechanisms of Intermittent Fasting Unveiled

Intermittent fasting (IF) is proven to have beneficial effects on aging, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. However, it isn’t known whether the benefits of IF are due to caloric restriction (CR), as with fasting, or whether they’re due to changes in eating pattern. Recent studies have discovered that the browning of white fat can improve insulin sensitivity and energy expenditure by producing heat. Both exercise and cold exposure have been shown to transform white fat into brown fat.

A recent study by Kim et al. from the University of Toronto looked into the mechanisms underlying intermittent fasting’s effects on health. They separated mice into 2 groups: an IF group and a control group. The IF group was not fed for 1 day and then fed for 2 days in a row whereas the control group was fed daily. This went on for 4 months. By the end of the study, both groups had been fed the same amount of calories. After 4 months, the IF mice weighed significantly less and had increased insulin sensitivity and a more stable glucose metabolism. Additionally, they had a lower proportion of white fat because it had been converted into brown fat. The IF mice had higher levels of adipose vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF helps form new blood vessels and activates adipose macrophages (white blood cells) which are critical for the browning of white fat and heat production. Interestingly, IF led to the browning of visceral white fat while cold exposure leads to the browning of subcutaneous white fat.

The authors note that health is not solely about “what and how much” we eat but also “when and how often”.


The Perfect Human Diet

Last week I came across a documentary entitled “The Perfect Human Diet”. It was released last year and directed and produced by C J Hunt. Hunt had serious health problems from an early age and experimented extensively with diets. At the age of 46 he decided to travel the world in search of the perfect diet. His findings  support the Paleo diet. Those that are unfamiliar with it will find the documentary fascinating. Here is a summary.

We’re in the midst of an obesity and diet-related chronic disease epidemic. The US alone accounts for 300,000 to 400,000 deaths a year! There’s a lot of confusion related to diet, it’s complicated, the recommendations change and seem to be based more on beliefs than science.

The nutritional pioneer Weston Price studied native diets among tribal populations and found that they had better teeth and better facial bone structure than westerners. More recently, Kerin O’Dea from the University of Southern Australia conducted an experiment with a group of overweight Aboriginals living in cities. She sent them for seven weeks in the outback where they lived a hunter-gather lifestyle with a diet that was 50% to 60% animal based. They all lost weight and improved their health. Jay Wortman has studied Inuit populations and found that today a lot of them suffer from obesity, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Traditionally they lived on low carbohydrate diets and so it’s hypothesised that the disease is linked to the modern high carbohydrate diets.

In 1863 a London undertaker named William Banting popularised a diet recommended to him by the famous physician Dr William Harvey. At the time Banting was 65 years old, overweight, had poor eyesight, poor hearing and joint pains. Two years later he had lost 50 pounds and regained his health. Dr Harvey had recommended that he stop eating bread, butter, sugar, potatoes and  stop drinking milk and beer. Instead he advised meat, fish, poultry, dried fruit, vegetables and wine.

From 1865 to 1965 the standard hospital treatment for obesity was to decrease carbohydrate intake. In the 1950s  the idea that fat causes heart disease, by it’s effect on cholesterol, began to spread. The fats were replaced by carbohydrates. They had suddenly become good! Today the US Diet Guidelines are to decrease portion size, decrease sugar, decrease salt, and decrease saturated fats.

Professor Loren Cordain is a leader in evolutionary diet and author of “The Paleo Diet”. In order to understand the Paleo Diet we need to go back in time…2 million years back in time! About 2 million years ago Homo Erectus appeared on the savannah of Africa. They were anatomically similar to us and evidence of hunting tools suggests that they consumed a lot of meat. This is backed up by recent analysis of Homo Erectus bone fragments. Their diet contained a huge diversity of food which differed from their predecessors’ diet which was mainly plant-based. The increased amounts of omega 3 fatty acids are thought to have been a precursor for brain growth and behavioural sophistication. Then, 230,000 years ago, Neanderthals appeared in Europe and 192,000 years ago modern humans appeared in Africa. They left Africa 75,000 years ago and entered Europe 45,000 years ago. Bone analysis suggests that the diet of Neanderthals and the first modern human was very similar to that of Homo Erectus.

Everything changed 10,000 years ago. Man decided to settle and use agriculture. Diets changed. Dairy and grains, like wheat, were included and the variety of food decreased. The period before 10,000 years ago is known as the Paleolithic era and the period after is known as the Neolithic era. In the 18th and 19th centuries the industrial revolution led to the refinement of sugars, grains and other foods. More recently processed foods have flooded the market and can constitute up to 70% of modern human diets.

The Paleo Diet theory is based on the fact that the Paleolithic era is much, much longer than the Neolithic era and it’s during the Paleolithic that modern humans evolved. Therefore, we have evolved to eat the diets of our Paleolithic ancestors which is why we struggle and have become unhealthy on modern diets. Voila!

Interesting though the documentary was, it didn’t give a full list of foods to eat and avoid, so I had a look on Wikipedia. The Paleo diets advocates: fish, meat (grass-fed), vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots and nuts. It suggests to avoid: grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar and processed oils (Wikipedia).

Although the arguments in favour of the Paleo diet are compelling, I’m not entirely convinced. If obesity and ill-health are the result of the change in diet 10,000 years ago, how come obesity has only become more prevalent in the last 150 years (see “The Obesity Paradox“)? Are grains and dairy really that bad for us? In my opinion there are 2 influential factors that have driven the obesity and diet-related illness epidemic. Our physical activity has gradually decreased since the industrial revolution. Mechanisation and lately the widespread use of computers has meant that most of us spend our working days sitting and a lot of us spend our leisure time sitting as well. During the same period our diets have changed drastically and now include a lot more refined and processed foods. These convenience foods as they are also known are high in sugars, salts and saturated fats.

I agree that variety is key to a balanced diet and the Paleo diet does put forth a solid case for eating meat…or against vegetarianism and veganism. That said, we should bear in mind that the meat our Paleolithic ancestors ate is very different to the meat we eat today. Theirs came from wild, lean animals whereas today’s commercial meat comes from sedentary fattened stock!

The search for the perfect human diet continues…




Exercise Encourages Healthy Eating

Researchers have recently postulated that exercise may help encourage healthy eating! How? By changing the structure and function of the brain! The result of which is an enhanced inhibitory control. What this means in layman’s terms is that we no longer have to succumb to the temptation or lack of restraint that causes our over indulgence in food.

So, in addition to increasing our metabolism and burning more calories, exercise also improves our diet. What are you waiting for?