Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting

I recently learned about two approaches to nutrition that are moderately mind-blowing...not at first gander, but once you delve into the details and understand the research that's been done, as well as the myriad health benefits this research suggests.  

While not new, in some ways both of these nutritional patterns are new to least in how potentially game-changing they may be.

They are kind of related...and kind of not.  It was kind of a coincidence (and kind of not) that I learned about both in rapid succession.

I'm talking about The Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting.   Below I'll summarize each and provide links to sources (mainly podcasts and videos) that explain them better, for anyone who wants to delve into those delectable details.  

While some of the sources can be more easily understood with a background in nutrition, biochemistry, or medicine, I think they are also accessible enough for a motivated layperson to glean the key principles. 

The Ketogenic Diet

My recent binge-learning started with this video from Peter Attia, who is both a renowned physician and also an ultra-endurance athlete.  He reviews some nutritional biochemistry basics, and then explains his own journey with the ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic diet is kind of similar to other low-carb diets that we've all heard of, like Atkins.  But it differs in an important way:  Instead of just limiting carbohydrates,it also keeps protein at a moderate to low level.  The bulk of calories come from healthy fats.  

What does this accomplish?  It causes the body to convert to using ketones as the primary energy source.  Ketones are the energy molecules that our bodies make by breaking down fat, and they can replace glucose as an energy source for many of our organs, most notably the brain.  

When our bodies' "engines" run primarily on ketones instead of glucose, the body learns to burn fat much more aggressively, since that's where all the ketones come from.  It also gives the pancreas a break from pumping out loads of insulin all the time, so you're a lot less likely to get diabetes.  

As you can imagine, this type of diet spurs weight loss.  But it has a host of other documented health benefits, thanks at least in large part to avoidance of high blood sugar (glucose) and insulin spikes.  

What are some of these other benefits?  To name a few:
  • Improved insulin sensitivity 
  • More consistent energy levels  
  • Decreased need for sleep (anecdotally)
  • More consistent mental clarity 
  • Anti-cancer effects 
    • Tumors seem to mainly use glucose for energy, so having a consistently low blood glucose level can effectively "starve" many pre-cancers, and potentially shrink existing tumors.  
There are various other documented biochemical benefits, and for further details I'll refer you to the the podcast episodes below, featuring Peter Attia (whom I mentioned above) as well as Dom D'Agostino, who is a professor of physiology and pharmacology and an avid ketosis researcher.
I haven't tried out the ketogenic diet yet (though I absolutely will), mainly because I decided to try out this other thing first...

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is what is sounds like...having regular periods of time when you don't eat as much or don't eat at all.  It's classically done by severely restricting calories two days per week, or every other day, OR by having a shorter window of time (6-8 hours) for eating every day.

It doesn't sound like that big of an adjustment at first, until you realize that almost everyone in our modern society (who isn't living on the street) is basically stuffing food in their face during all waking hours.  We rarely go more than a few hours without eating something except when we sleep. 

Part of the theory behind intermittent fasting is that in most of human history people haven't had such ready access to food, so as a species we're not really adapted to that constant caloric intake we now typically practice.  While I take any evolutionary theory with a grain or two of salt, the preceding would be true even over the past few hundred years.  Food was never so consistently abundant before grocery stores came around.  

But more important than the theory...what benefits of intermittent fasting have been observed?

Intermittent Fasting Benefits Suggested by Research
  • Promotes a degree of ketogenesis (see above), if only temporarily.  
  • Appears to positively affect-
    • Insulin sensitivity
    • Neurogenesis (making more brain cells)
    • Neuron repair (fixing brain cells)
    • Mitochondrial repair (for energy production in cells)
    • Cognitive function
  • Lower chance of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s
  • Reduced cancer risk and tumor burden (size)
  • Improved longevity
  • Promotes weight loss (though that's not necessarily the primary goal)
That's kind of a "wow" list...but it's not fabricated (or even exaggerated) either.  A lot of credible research has been done on this topic, and for more info about that I refer you to the following from Mark Mattson (not to be confused with Mark Madsen), perhaps the foremost researcher on Intermittent Fasting, as a starting point to learn more:

What am I doing with this information?

I was intermittently fasting two days per week (restricting calories to about 600/day) for about two months from late August through late October of this year, and I noticed a variety of interesting effects.  Most notably, I was less food-obsessed on the days I fasted and had improved mental clarity those days as well.

I stopped for a few reasons...mainly because I was starting to feel increasingly binge-prone on the non-fasting days (after about 6 weeks).  So there are certainly some potential challenges with this type of eating pattern, but I think it's absolutely beneficial if you can pull it off.  

What's next?  I'm gearing up for a prolonged trial (3-6 months) with the ketogenic diet.  I wanna see how it affects me.  But even if I don't notice any benefits (which is unlikely) will probably purge some of those pre-cancers floating around inside of me, which I tend to view as a plus.  

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting Ben, i would love to join the trial. I recently had another baby and during the pregnancy had IUGR. In an attempt to increase the baby's weight I had to increase my caloric intake. I was asked to consume >80grams of protein a day. For most people that is easy but for me it was a challenge.
    In any case pre pregnancy weight was 120lbs, shortly before birth weight was 177lbs, currently I am 144lbs(4months post partem)
    I am eager to get back to the way i used to eat which was a combo of intermittent fasting and a working out. While the former is easy the later is probing harder with time availability.
    2 questions I would like to ask before proceeding.
    1. Will the new diet affect milk supply of baby?
    2. Would I need to supplement a multivitamin to my diet to keep up nutritional value for the baby.