Keto diet - for the military, aging and epilepsy

Military

Ketogenic diet or keto diet has been in the news as a trending diet option for weight watchers and those who wish to lose those extra pounds. A new study has shown that this diet could help those in the military at stages of recruitment as well as during service to keep extra weight away. The study titled, “Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel,” was published in the latest issue of the journal Military Medicine.

The study from researchers at the Ohio State University involved 29 participants who were mainly members of the campus ROTC. They were grouped into two and 15 of them were provided with keto diet for three months while the other 14 controls ate a normal diet.

A keto diet specifically is low on carbohydrates (30 to 50 grams per day) and moderate on protein and high on fat. This helps in the body burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates - a state of nutritional ketosis. It has been used in difficult to treat epilepsy, endurance sports and in management of type 2 diabetes.

The participants on keto diet have to undergo daily checks for blood ketone levels using a finger prick test. Ketosis was said to be present if the ketone levels were between 0.5 and 5.0 mM (millimolar). These levels of the participants determined the choices of foods and drinks for them said lead author Richard LaFountain, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State.

Results of the study showed that those on keto diet lost an average of around 17 pounds and were ketotic for up to 12 weeks. They lost over 5 percent of their body fat and 44 percent of their abdominal or visceral fat. This abdominal or belly fat is responsible for central obesity and insulin resistance that is linked to type 2 diabetes. There was a 48 percent improvement in insulin sensitivity among the keto diet participants. Improvement in insulin sensitivity helps prevent onset of type 2 diabetes. These benefits were not seen among those who consumed a normal diet with around 40 percent of carbohydrates.

Jeff Volek, lead author of the study and professor of Human Sciences said in a statement, “We showed that a group of people with military affiliation could accept a ketogenic diet and successfully lose weight, including visceral adipose tissue, a type of fat strongly associated with chronic disease. This could be the first step toward a bigger study looking at the potential benefits of ketogenic eating in the armed forces.”

Volek added that each of the participants also took part in regular resistance training and had a comparable physical performance. LaFountain said that seventy percent of those eligible for military service are declared unfit based on their body weight. This study shows that keto diet could help them achieve desired body weight along with adequate sustainable fitness and overall health. Volek said, “The military has called obesity a national security crisis. One of the potential benefits of this diet in the military is that you can lose weight without having to count calories, which could be difficult in training or while on active duty. In this study, they ate as much as they wanted – they just ate differently.”

Keto, ketogenic diet, low carb, high good fat. Image Credit: SewCream / Shutterstock
Keto, ketogenic diet, low carb, high good fat. Image Credit: SewCream / Shutterstock

Aging

Researchers from Gladstone Institute recently noted that the keto diet could reverse some of the effects of aging successfully.

The results published in the journal Science say that the keto diet could reduce the risk of age related heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and cancers. Dr Verdin, lead author and director of the Center for HIV and Aging at Gladstone in a statement said, “Over the years, studies have found that restricting calories slows aging and increases longevity, however the mechanism of this effect has remained elusive.”

This study shows that a chemical compound called β-hydroxybutyrate (βOHB) is released when a person starves. This is important for the aging process explain the researchers. When a person follows the keto diet there is increased production of βOHB. This may play a role in reversing the effects of aging and age related conditions. This could mean new therapies for age related diseases speculate the researchers. Dr Verdin said, “Here, we find that βOHB, the body's major source of energy during exercise or fasting, blocks a class of enzymes that would otherwise promote oxidative stress, thus protecting cells from aging.”

βOHB becomes the main source of energy when a person starves say the researchers. It can block some enzymes that can promote oxidative stress in the body. Lab experiements with mice showed benefits of the keto diet mediated by βOHB that blocked an enzyme histone deacetylases, or HDACs. HDACs can inhibit the actions of two genes called Foxo3a and Mt2. When HDACs are blocked, these two genes become activated. On activation they can protect the cells from oxidative stress and age related damage. Thus βOHB can mediate reversal of effects of aging related cellular damage explain researchers.

Dr Katerina Akassoglou, one of the study authors and Expert in Neurological Diseases at The Gladstone Institute said, “The findings could be relevant for a wide range of neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism and traumatic brain injury; diseases that afflict millions and for which there are few treatment options.”

Epilepsy

The keto diet’s popularity came after it was found to be effective in keeping seizures away in persons with refractory or difficult to treat epilepsy.

Researchers have found that this diet can increasing blood ketones can reduce the epileptic seizures. The study results were published in the journal Physiological Reports. The researchers found that seizures caused by high levels of oxygen could be prevented by the keto diet.

Lead author Csilla Ari D'Agostino, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Florida College of Arts and Sciences said, “Exposure to high-pressure oxygen is also a danger to recreational, technical and military scuba divers, including Navy SEAL divers, as a seizure manifesting underwater can be lethal. As a scuba diver, I am very excited about the implications of these findings, since during 20 years of diving I have heard many stories about the dangers of being exposed to high partial pressure of oxygen and it is something that always has to be considered when planning a dive.”

Their experiment on rats showed that when kept in a small hyperbaric environmental chamber they were prone to seizures. The rats were given normal diet. Some were given different ketogenic supplements one hour before being exposed to pure oxygen. A combination of ketone ester and medium-chain triglyceride oil was found to be most effective in preventing seizures they noted.

Background information on keto diet

A keto diet contains high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of proteins and low proportion of carbohydrates. This diet is termed ketogenic because it mimics the effects of fasting, which causes the body to produce ketones. This diet helps the body to burn fat as a main source of energy rather than carbohydrates. The diet contains the ratio of fats to carbohydrates and proteins combined at 4:1.

The ketogenic diet contains adequate amounts of protein for body growth and repair. The total calories in the diet are also sufficient to maintain a healthy weight for a given age and height.

Common short term side effects of the keto diet include hypoglycaemia or fall in blood sugar, constipation and low levels of acidosis. Long term side effects include kidney stones, stunted growth in children, disruption of the menstrual cycle in women and risk of bone fractures.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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