The ketogenic diet has been around for a long time now. It was initially formulated for medical reasons: to help with the management of epilepsy and type II diabetes. However, it was soon observed that the ketogenic diet can also aid with weight loss. People see this as an effective weight loss program for those fighting obesity and being overweight. However, it has been hypothesized that the effects of the ketogenic diet have not been fully explored. In this article, we will explore how the ketogenic diet affects our digestive system. Specifically, our gut and the gut microbes.
First, let us define what the ketogenic diet is. What is the ketogenic diet? The ketogenic diet is also known as the keto diet. The keto diet is composed of a diet that is high in fat, with moderate protein, and low in carbohydrates. If you want to visualize it, the keto diet is composed of about 60% fat, 30-35% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. The normal diet is usually composed of majorly carbohydrate products and less fat. With the keto diet, the composition of meals is inverted. With this new composition, the keto diet forces the body to metabolize the fat and protein instead of the carbohydrates.
Normally, the body mainly gets its energy source from carbohydrates. However, with the body’s less intake of carbohydrates, the body shifts to a catabolic state. This state allows the body to break down larger molecules. In this case, the larger molecules are the protein and fat from the diet. The fat and protein stores of the body are broken down because there are no more carbohydrates to use. The fat being broken down produces ketone bodies, which is what the body metabolizes to generate energy for cells. The body undergoes a state of ketosis because of this. Unless more carbohydrate is generated, the fat would continually be broken down for energy for the body.
Originally, in the early 1900s, the ketogenic diet or very low carbohydrate diet was formulated for epileptic patients. The composition of the diet translated to less convulsions and seizures for the epileptic patients. This was especially effective for epileptic patients that were not responding well to their treatments. Through the years, researchers have also found more uses and benefits for the keto diet. They saw that it was effective for managing neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disease, and glucose transporter deficiency syndrome. The keto diet also helped manage autoimmune diseases.
So how, exactly, does the keto diet help with preventing seizures? A recent study conducted on mice showed that within days of being fed with the keto diet, the experimental mice already had significant changes in their gut microbiota. The bacteria with the species Parabacteriodes and Akkermansia also increased in number. These microbes were studies and they apparently had an anti-seizure effect. Particularly, these two species of bacteria led to a decreased production of an enzyme that is needed for glutamate to be made. There was also a decrease of ketogenic glutatamylated amino acids in the blood and the gut. With this, there is a decrease in the seizures of the experimental mice.
The keto diet is also proven to be quite effective in managing type II diabetes. In type II diabetes, there is already a certain degree of insulin resistance coupled with a high glucose level. With the keto diet, there is restriction in the intake of carbohydrates. The body’s glucose level will then decrease. The insulin resistance of the body also decreases, and for some, it even disappears entirely!
Short-tern studies have also shown that the keto diet can improve factors in the blood. This is from the restriction of too much carbohydrates being eaten. The risk of development of cardiovascular diseases for a person following the keto diet then decreases.
With the keto diet being shown to have benefits in different diseases, some researchers also looked into how the diet affected gut health and the gut’s microbes. In general, a few experimental studies on rats have shown that the keto diet helps with anti-inflammation, anti-oxidation, intestinal motility, intestinal barrier effectiveness, immune regulation, energy, cell growth, ion absorption, and prevention of gut diseases. This shows that the keto diet can affect the body in different ways, from the molecular and cell level to organs.
The keto diet produces different types of fatty acids, like monosaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and short fatty acids. The result is an improvement in the neurovascular health of experimental mice. This is then linked to the lowering of the chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also found that the keto diet promotes growth of some beneficial bacteria and limits the growth of pro-inflammatory microbes.
The keto diet has been regarded as an effective diet for those with digestive issues and those who want to cleanse their guts of bad bacteria. This is also called increased intestinal permeability. The leaky gut is a condition wherein the intestinal cells’ junctions widen. Because of this, a lot of stuff can go in and out of the gut even when they are not supposed to. For example, bad bacteria, food particles, or toxins can go into the bloodstream. Substances in the bloodstream could go inside the gut as well. If foreign material gets into the bloodstream, cells would be able to detect it. This would lead to an attack against the foreign material and possibly against the gut’s cells as well. This leads to intestinal problems like the inflammatory bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. This also leads to autoimmune problems, with the body attacking itself.
The leaky gut situation can happen when there is proliferation of bad bacteria. The keto diet helps rebalance the gut microbes and allows the proliferation of certain good bacteria. This helps combat the proliferation of bad bacteria and thus decreases intestinal permeability. The keto diet also reduces the inflammation in the gut through decreasing the number of pro-inflammatory bacteria. This helps the gut decrease the inflammation in the intestinal cells, addressing the issue of the leaky gut.