Ketogenic Brain Bliss?

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you probably noticed that over the past few days I’ve been posting a few pictures of delicious and interesting looking food with the hashtag (#)keto. It occurred to me that some of you may be wondering what the heck that means. It also occurred to me that for those of you who do know what it means, there were some clarifying points that I wanted to make about the rapidly growing keto phenomenon.

Keto is the shortened version of the ketogenic diet, which in the medical world is also referred to as HFLC (High Fat, Low Carbohydrate). I have long been familiar with ketogenic diets with my first encounter being from my days of working with autistic adults suffering from extreme behaviors and/or seizures. The ketogenic diet was the rule of thumb for residents of our group homes and the effect it had on overall behavior and presence was always completely amazing to me.

I later ran across the ketogenic diet, or variations thereof, as a personal trainer in the wake of the Atkin’s Diet craze. It resurfaced again as a Food/Mood Doc as a pretty potent dietary intervention for quite a wide variety of ailments.

The ketogenic diet was first introduced to modern culture as a viable intervention for epilepsy in the 1920’s. It remained an intervention for specific health issues, both physical and mental until around the mid 2000’s. It has since that time experienced an explosion of interest in both the scientific world and the fitness world.

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Research suggests that drastically decreasing carbohydrate consumption and increasing fat consumption for extended periods of time forces the body into a state similar to fasting. The difference is, you are consuming calories and nutrients and not really fasting at all, so you can remain in this state for an extended time.

The benefits of this state seem to be plentiful. From a medical perspective, the ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy and other neurological issues. It has been used to decrease weight for patients with morbid obesity. More recently studies are demonstrating that keeping the body in a state of nutritional ketosis proves promising as a therapeutic intervention for a wide variety of diseases/ailments.

Type II diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, certain cancers, tumors, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular disease have all shown some benefit to participants in a wide variety of studies. Some patients have been able to eliminate pharmaceutical intervention altogether through following a ketogenic diet.

Basically, the therapeutic benefits of ketogenesis begin when the carbohydrate/fat/protein ratio are drastically altered and fat becomes the main component of dietary macronutrient. Studies show that carbohydrate consumption needs to remain at less than 50g a day. Protein consumption should be moderate as well, while fat consumption works best when kept around 70-80g a day.

Initially, if you are a slow oxidizer or someone who loves carbs, you will not feel so great for the first 3 or 4 days as your body switches from burning glucose to burning to burning acetyl coenzyme A (CoA). This will lead to an overproduction of ketone bodies in the system and pretty soon the body will find itself in a state of ketosis.
It’s important to note that ketosis is not the same as keto-acidosis, which is something that can happen to individuals with Type I diabetes resulting in diabetic coma or worse. Nutritional ketosis is a normal physiological process and when followed with appropriate attention and rigor can result in a number of increased physical and mental capacities.

This is one reason that following a ketogenic lifestyle has taken the fitness world by storm. People are experiencing an increase in weight loss, fat loss, structural definition, stamina, even mood and outlook. While those things are great, they’re not the reason I’m jumping on the ketogenic bandwagon for the moment.

I’ve become fascinated by a modified version of the ketogenic diet for entirely different reasons. As a Food/Mood Doc I’m well versed in how macronutrients influence your mental/emotional/physical well-being. I continue to be a complete research fiend because I am so very fascinated by biochemical individuality and all the ways to identify what works for one person and not for another when it comes to food as medicine or poison.

Many of you know that I’m in the midst of completing a book on individualize metabolic function, nutrition, and just general overall well-being (of course, it’s so much more than that but that’s a start). One very critical topic in Sacred Metabolism is the importance of ancestrally appropriate diets and what the really means in today’s modern world. It is a point of health intervention that has been sorely misinterpreted.

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In studying a combination of neurobiology, food science, and archeology, I came across a pretty interesting “ahha” with reference to fat consumption and altered states of consciousness. Turns out, for some people ketogenic states heighten the potential for achieving altered states of consciousness and trance. Personally, I find that fascinating...and therein lies my pursuit of perfect ketosis.

It has long been recognized that fasting enhances the body’s ability to reach heightened states of ‘other’ awareness. Ketogenic processing replicates fasting, for extended periods of time. One researcher even went so far as to suggest that “ketosis illustrates a striking convergence of religion and science”.

Now before you think I’m simply off the deep end attempting to remain in a 24/7 state of fat induced bliss, let me assure that isn’t exactly how it works. Nor is it the only reason I’m curious to replicate the process. Another factor that has generated a fascination with fat consumption and spiritual pursuits is coupled with my latest exploration in the British landscape in search of my own ancestral food heritage.

Fascinatingly, the latest discoveries surrounding Stonehenge and Bronze Age (and in some cases earlier) ritual gatherings have unearthed some pretty cool information about the potential dietary pursuits during the seasonal, ceremonial encampments. Without going into too much detail (Sacred Metabolism has that), guess what seemed to be the most consumed macronutrient during Winter Solstice celebrations??? If you guessed FAT then you’re right on the money.

So, here we are back to the beginning, the ketogenic diet. For me it wasn't too big of a leap from my daily dietary pattern. As a fast oxidizer, I tend to lean more towards fat and protien anyway. So a few modifications to my daily habits and now I’m on day 4. Here’s what I’m noticing and, I must admit, loving. Increased sensory perception, increased energy, deeper and more consistent and refreshing sleep, technicolor dreams, and yes, when I sit down to meditate, deepened states of meditation.

Macronutrient ranges and total grams for ketogenic diets
Macronutrient % of calories Total grams*
Dietary fat 70-85% 178 g
Protein 15-20% 75 g
Carbohydrate 5-10% 25 g

*Based on 2,000 calories/day with 80% fat, 15% protein, 5% carbohydrate

keto egg avoIf you have considered the ketogenic diet before there are a couple of precautions to be aware of: 1) it is not a dietary intervention that you can take lightly and do sometimes and then not sometimes when you are starting out. It will actually make you quite unhealthy to eat that much fat and increase your carb intake. Plus, it defeats the purpose. So, if you can’t commit to the whole thing, it’s not worth undertaking.

2) one huge mistake that people make is consuming too much protein. The Atkins Diet was actually developed as a type of ketogenic intervention, however, most people assumed that the food to focus on was protein and ended up with some pretty serious health issues. Too much protein can lead to mood swings, agitation and anxiety, cardiovascular issues, nutrient deficiency, kidney stress, and weight gain....it will also kick your body out of ketosis.

3) relying on vegetable oils rather than denser fats is a bad idea. If you undertake this process, you will be eating high amounts of saturated fats and foods with medium chain fatty acids. You’ll need to vary the type of fats as well. Just eating coconut oil and avocado won’t really do the trick.

4) you will need to drink plenty of water and forego beverages that have any sugar/carbs/alcohols other than the occasional dry red wine.

5) while I believe there are definitely benefits to inducing ketosis for most people, for a limited time, or for certain people, an extended time. I do think there are some individuals who would not benefit from this diet. It’s important to know your own body and understand the signs of health or the signs of distress.

6) if you are estrogen dominant you will want to follow a very specific pattern and avoid some of the suggested recipes, especially those that include flax and other estrogen boosting foods. Stick to basic, whole foods. 

7) if you are taking medication for a mood disorder, especially MAOI's it's best to consult with your physician before attempting a ketogenic shift. 

If you're interested in knowing more about nutritional individuality or whether or not the ketogenic diet might work for you, give me a shout. Or you can follow me on instagram or facebook. 

Your Sacred Metabolism is slated to be published at the end of September 2017. 

References:

Dashti, H.M., Al-Zaid, N.S., Mathew, T.C., Al-Mousawi, M. Talib, H., Asfar, S.K., Behbahani, A.I. (2006) "Long term effects of ketogenic diet in obese subjects with high cholesterol level." Mol. Cell Biochem. 286:1-9; http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11010-005-9001-x.

Elias, AN., Guich, S., & Wilson, AF. (2000) Ketosis with enhanced GABAergic tone promotes physiological changes in transcendental meditation, Medical Hypotheses, 54, Issue 4, 2000, Pages 660-662, ISSN 0306-9877, http://dx.doi.org/10.1054/mehy.1999.0921.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987799909210)

Krikorian, R., Shidler, M.D., Dangelo, K., Couch, S.C., Benoit, S.C., Clegg, D.J. (2012), Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiol. Aging 33:425 e19-425.e27; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2010.10.006.
Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J.S., & Grimaldi, K.A. (2013) Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67: 789–796. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.116

Shelburne, S. (2017). Your Sacred Metabolism. Stockbridge, MA: Talking Stick Books

Yaden, David Bryce, Jonathan Iwry, and Andrew B. Newberg. "Neuroscience and Religion: Surveying the Field." Clements NK. Religion: Mental Religion. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA (2017): 277-299.

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