Anyone who has attempted to lose weight, or simply done research on the subject, should certainly be familiar with the term ketosis. But what, exactly, does this mean? Ketosis is a metabolic state where higher levels of ketones are found in the tissues of the body. Ketones are byproducts of the breakdown of fat, which our bodies then use as a fuel source. The body is designed to use any available resources to produce energy, but its immediate go to source is sugar or glucose, which is produced by the intake of sugars or carbohydrates. If we cut back, or eliminate, such a source from our diet, the body will then live off the fats we have stored.
Ketosis has long been a benefit to our species. It’s the reason our ancient ancestors, living on a diet heavy in meat protein, were able to survive the lean periods they encountered. The Eskimo peoples of the far North were able to survive on stored fat through the famine of the long winters. Ketosis has other benefits, as well. The ketones produced provide a more stable and constant source of energy, with no inconsistent ups and downs, allowing us greater mental focus. And this more consistent fuel source also gives us greater physical endurance. As long ago as the 1920’s, a ketogenic diet was noted for being beneficial to those suffering from epilepsy, allowing them to thrive on a decreased amount of medication. And. of course, everybody recognizes the importance of burning fat when it comes to an efficient weight loss program.
But one of the primary benefits of a ketogenic diet may well be its benefits in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Studies have shown that sugar is the main source of fuel which feeds cancer cells. It also contributes to a generalized inflammatory environment, thereby increasing the risk of developing cancer and numerous other diseases. Otto Warburg was among the first cancer researchers to establish a connection between cancer cells and glucose. He discovered that cancer cells flourish in the presence of glucose fermentation. Cancer cells have since been found to differ from normal cells in many ways, but perhaps one of their most important differences is the number of glucose receptors on the surface of each cell, ten times the amount of a normal cells. These receptors allow the cancer cell to cull energy from glucose present in the bloodstream, growing and multiplying with abandon. You don’t need a medical degree to know this is not a good thing. And it should, therefore, come as no surprise that the lowest cancer survival rates are found among those with the highest blood sugar levels.
So, how do we achieve a state of ketosis, and how do we know we have done so? It may not be easy, especially if we are fond of grains and sweets, but it can be achieved with a bit of commitment and information. A ketogenic diet is one that is low, really very low, in carbs. Today’s modern diet is essentially rich in snacks, as we tend to eat about five times a day. This allows our bodies to remain a consistently high level of blood glucose. Insulin levels remain high, and any cancer cells are provided with a rich and ready source of nutrients. Cancer patients may benefit from a program of partial fasting, eating only during a four hour period each day. This will allow the body to produce ketones to fuel the entire body, excepting, of course, the cancer cells.
But, what, exactly, does a ketogenic diet consist of? Ths type of diet will be built around healthy fats, such as avocados, butter, coconut oil, raw seeds and nuts, and olive oil. And eggs, of course. Despite the fact that these little gems have for years received a bad rap for being high in cholesterol, the Mayo Clinic states that, though they may be high in cholesterol, this has but a minimal effect of levels of the substance in our blood stream. You can also use some low carb vegetables like celery, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, kale, and brussels sprouts. But your main course, your primary source of protein in the diet, should be grass fed beef, organic pastured poultry, wild game, as well as fish and seafood. Excellent protein sources in a ketogenic diet are also fermented dairy products such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk. Try kefir, the fermented milk from a cow, goat, or sheep, sometimes referred to as “drinkable yogurt.” If you prefer to use the unfermented variety of milk product, make sure it is the full fat variety from grass fed stock. There are many resources to be found online about ketogenic diets, detailing their benefits and how to embark on such a program.
But even if you’ve been following all the instructions, and adjusting your diet accordingly, you may be curious about how to measure your success. How do you tell if your body has entered that beneficial state of metabolism known as ketosis? There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you could try using urine test strips. These strips are cheap, and will easily show the number of ketones your body is shedding. The problem is that, as the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for.” These strips may not be completely accurate, and will probably vary according to the time of day. Because of this, they may not provide a reliable result to indicate that your body is in ketosis.
Another way to measure ketones is with a blood glucose meter, as used by many diabetic patients. This can be far more accurate, but also far more expensive, as testing strips may run from $5 to $10 each. The optimal level of ketones should be between 1.5 to 3 mmol/l. As with anything else, too much of a good thing is not beneficial. If your levels rise to 10 mmol/l you will enter a state called ketoacidosis, marked by nausea, stomach pain, and eventually a coma, and should seek immediate medical attention.
It has been said that ketosis is the state our bodies were designed for. Before the advent of our rich, modern diet, our ancestors lived in ketosis, and did quite well. People in underdeveloped countries to this day, do quite well in this state. And if we can be healthier, and more fit and alert, and prevent or even fight cancer to boot, should we be willing to give it a try?
- Natural vs. Man-made Sweeteners
- What is Nutrigenomics? DNA and Dieting.