It has always been interesting to me how diets come and diets go. Most of the dietary trends we experience these days have their roots in our past, sometimes our distant past.
The Ketogenic diet was around as a therapeutic tool for epilepsy and other maladies since the 1920’s. Its forefather, extended fasting, has been around since as long as mankind. Extended fasting was no doubt practiced by our Paleolithic ancestors out of necessity- they simply lacked food sources from time to time. Somewhere after the agrarian age took hold and we began to cultivate grains some 10,000 years ago fasting took on religious connotations which are still practiced today.
Without launching into my usual diatribe about how I never liked all the stuff that gets hung onto certain practices by crazy people I will simply say I never understood the need for extended fasting other than for religious purposes in today’s society.
It has only been recently that there has been enough science to make me curious about the health benefits of this practice. It always seemed that the wack jobs were the ones telling you how great it was too fast for long periods of time. That said, there are still plenty of wacky people who claim all kinds of non religious but “spiritual” purification effects of fasting.
If that is a wholisticky way of saying you recycle your mitochondria and get rid of sick cells then I get it.
As an objective science guy I can sorta kinda see why now that I have experienced what ketosis does to your mind and your thinking first hand, but my own personal reasons were scientific curiosity and of course my typical “I wanted to see if I could do it!” mentality.
OK, now some nuts and bolts.
In its simplest form the ketogenic diet is a diet that forces your body to use fat breakdown products known as ketone bodies as its primary fuel instead of carbohydrate derived sugars. It is by needs a very low carb diet because your body is super efficient at using even the teeny tiniest amounts of carbohydrates as its preferred fuel.
Important fact: Excess calories are stored as fat, no matter what food group they come from (carbs proteins or fats).
By getting rid of carbs as an easy source of energy and keeping your calories at least under control in terms of what your body actually needs to maintain its metabolism you will be able to dig into your fat stores. Thus the Ketogenic Diet has often been referred to as the “Fat Burning Diet”.
In its most famous form it became known as the “Atkin’s Diet” though the “classic” ketogenic diet is significantly different from Atkins.
So let’s talk about those classifications and how they apply. By playing with the mix and sources of fats and proteins you get the various types of Ketogenic Diets- classic, Atkin’s modified Atkins and MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride) diets.
I am not going to dwell on any of these finer points because the Ketogenic Diet I chose was not any of them. But all Ketogenic Diets have a few things in common: they are relatively low in carbs and they all force your body to run on ketone bodies.
Starvation by Any Other Name!
I chose to do a severely Calorie Restricted Ketogenic diet. Some would call it a “modified starvation diet” which in point of fact is what it was. Starvation in this case means that if I would have stayed on that particular diet I would have starved. Modified, to me anyway means, I did it by personal choice and I chose the sources for the paltry amounts of calories I was taking in.
You could call it Taking one on the chin (or in the Gut!) for Science
OK if you’ve gotten this far I am guessing you might be wondering why I would choose this most difficult of diets other than mild insanity.
Blame it all on Thomas Seyfried!
Thomas Seyfried has recently written a very compelling book on the origins of Cancer called “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease” in which he suggests a very low calorie Ketogenic Diet as therapy and here is the key word- prevention*- for cancer.
I loved this book on many levels. The biggest one is that it actually gave fairly specific “cancer prevention” recommendations* I read it once. Pulled a ton of reference articles and am reading it in detail. Now here’s the thing. YOU need a strong and fairly recent background in biochemistry or this book will be above your pay grade. Not trying to insult you just being honest.
Also like most hard core science books it’s not inexpensive retailing for around $150 bucks. So be honest with yourself and your level of interest and specific education before you pony up here. For me personally it was probably the most impactful science book I have read in the past 12 months and I read a lot! Let me also say that I am not 100% convinced of everything said in this book but I am convinced it is of great merit for anyone interested in avoiding cancer and staying young as long as possible!
OK on to the meat of the matter.
Dr Seyfried basically revisits the work of German Scientist Otto Warburg as it relates to cancer metabolism. Dr Seyfried not only believes Warburg was correct but has spent a significant amount of his career trying to prove it and improve upon Warburg’s theories. As such he flies directly in the face of the past 50 years of cancer research by stating that the genetic basis for cancer is misplaced and has wasted years and billions of dollars looking for a cure where one does not exist.*
I am just an anti-aging and regenerative medicine guy- not a cancer expert. But if Seyfried is correct then everything I’ve ever read and been taught about cancer is at best only partially correct. I thought it might be prudent to find out more about this before I spend another bunch of money on cancer books!
The basic premise is that cancer need glucose to thrive and grow. Because of defects in its mitochondrial power houses, cancer cannot survive well or at all on ketone bodies. The combination of low calories and ketone bodies for a period of time should starve cancer cells while allowing normal healthy cells to do just fine.
On a cellular level it should also help select out sick mitochondrial power houses that were heading toward non cancerous fates as well. The actual diseases associated with that situation are things like Chronic Fatigue, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Parkinson and Alzheimer Disease. This by the way is only briefly alluded to in Dr Siegfried’s book. Another book which is different in that it is awfully written and one I cannot recommend for anyone but the most hard core gluttons for punishment called “Acquired Mitochondropathy etc” delves into this.
OK I admit it. I read stuff like this. I pull hundreds of references from the bibliography sections of these and other books and read them down to the minutest details. Then and only then do I try them on myself. After that I tell you about it if it seems relevant to staying young and healthy.
Stem cells anyone!
After 270 plus pages of arguments, pathways, scientific dissertations, Dr Seyfried’s book meanders a bit to the topic of what he would recommend you and I do for “cancer prevention”.
My take on it was going on a water only diet for 7 days.
That will be the topic of the rest of this blog series including numbers, triumphs and failures.
To whet your appetite I will tell you this: yes I did lose some weight, and the rest of it was completely different than I would have anticipated. I will also tell you I was completely wrong about something.
I should also tell you I did the unthinkable: I reduced my Fish Oil dose!!!! Can you figure out why?
Stay tuned more to come! (Continued with: The thinking behind the Ketogenic Diet)
*This blog and Dr Seyfried’s book are not to be interpreted as cures, mitigations or treatments for anything. Always consult your own personal physician for medical advice including dietary recommendations. That said I would personally recommend you buy all the physicians you like a copy of “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease” especially if you know any oncologists!!!!
I also want to thank Dr Seyfried for having the balls to not mince words and say it like he sees it. Right or wrong a man of conviction is worth a listen!