Over the past few years, the ketogenic diet has seen a massive increase in popularity. It's been shown to help control epilepsy, increase weight loss, and improve brain function. It does all of this by causing the body to enter a state of ketosis. After finally achieving this state, many people wonder how long the body can safely remain there. Are there limits to how much ketosis the body can handle?
The following guide covers the basics of ketosis, its many benefits, how to achieve it, and how long you can safely maintain it. Use this information to decide if ketosis is right for you and whether you can stick with it for prolonged periods.
Most of us know that our bodies need food as a source of fuel. But it's important to understand that there are multiple fuel sources found in those foods. Furthermore, some of those fuel sources are much better than others. When a person relies heavily on one fuel source or another it tends to have an impact on their body. It can lead to weight gain, weight loss, increased muscle mass, or something else entirely. It all depends on the primary sources of energy in the diet and their ratio to other fuel sources.
At a cellular level, the cells in your body rely on one of two energy sources. The first is sugar and the second is ketones. Sugars are found in carbohydrates and ketones are found in fats. In its most basic sense, ketosis is a state in which the body is being fueled primarily by ketones.
It's interesting to note that ancient humans often lived in a state of constant ketosis simply because of the foods that were available to them. Later, as cooking evolved and humans began to understand food processing, diets were shifted to mostly sugar-based fuels. Many of the foods found in modern diets contain low amounts of fat and high amounts of sugar. Those changes led to humans shifting from a state of primarily ketosis to a state of primarily glycosis, which is where blood sugar provides most of the energy.
The body actually acts differently in many ways when in a state of metabolic ketosis. High levels of ketones in the bloodstream result in lowered blood sugar levels and increased fat burning. Inducing ketosis has also been one of the most effective tools for fighting epilepsy in children because of the effect it has on the brain and certain mental functions.
The ketogenic diet is what many physicians prescribe as a treatment for children who suffer from epilepsy. While studying that diet, some researchers discovered that it has many of the same metabolic benefits of fasting, but without the hardships of actually starving yourself. These benefits arise from the severe carbohydrate restriction.
The first major benefit that everyone loves is that it helps you lose weight. Many studies have shown that it can help burn fat while also preserve fat. The ketogenic diet is believed to be one of the best diets available when it comes to weight loss. It has been compared to low-fat diets on many occasions and proven to be a superior alternative. For example, one study revealed that the ketogenic diet led to significantly more weight lost as participants on a low-calorie diet.
The second major benefit of ketosis is the improved brain function. The ketogenic diet was originally formulated to help children suffering from epilepsy. However, the improved brain function has even been shown to help patients suffer from autism, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. And, of course, it can help those who aren't suffering from any of those conditions.
The ketones help the nervous system to become less excitable while also improving the efficiency of the brain cells. That is why patients with epilepsy suffer from fewer seizures. At the same time, it also means you can experience enhanced focus and memory recall.
A third interesting benefit is that ketones can act as antioxidants. Not directly, but simply because they produce fewer free radicals when being converted into an energy source. Sugars, on the other hand, result in more free radicals and thus lead to increased risk factors for certain diseases.
It's important to understand the differences between nutritional ketosis and starvation-induced ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is the healthy route to ketosis that you reach by following the ketogenic diet. Starvation-induced ketosis can occur if a person stops eating for a period of time. This can occur during long-term fasting. While both of these do have the same outcome in terms of ketosis, starvation is never a healthy way to achieve anything.
With starvation off of the table, the only healthy way to enter a state of ketosis is by eating a diet that is high in fats and low in carbohydrates. Of course, you can never fully eliminate carbs from your diet. Instead, think of them as a fast burning fuel. You add them in small amounts when you need to fuel your body. You rely on fats as the long-term fuel that will stick with you even after the sugars have worn off.
Entering a state of ketosis is not an immediate process. It can take the body up to 48 hours to enter into a state of ketosis after spending a full 48 hours eating low-carb, high-fat foods. This is because the body typically stores about a 2 day supply of glucose in the body known as glycogen. There are some supplements that can potentially help enter ketosis more quickly. Using such keto supplements can speed up the process of entering ketosis but in the long run you want your body to achieve ketosis by itself or only with minimal help of such supplements.
The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to force the body to produce ketones. As you may remember, ketones are the alternative fuel source that the body can use throughout the day. And when the body produces a surplus of ketones it enters a unique metabolic state known as ketosis. Therefore, the ketogenic diet is the key to safely induces ketosis in the body.
The ketogenic diet is not intended to starve the body. It's often used as a weight loss diet, but weight loss is meaningless if not achieved in a way that is healthy. The ketogenic diet is meant to be entirely safe and healthy. However, some do question whether the body can withstand a state of ketosis for long periods of time. That topic will be covered later in the guide.
Rather than completely starving the body of all nutrients, the ketogenic diet simply starves the body of carbohydrates. By tipping the internal scales away from carbs and towards fats, ketosis can be achieved. But why is that the case? What is the relationship between fats and ketones?
The transition happens during a process known as ketogenesis. Your body naturally breaks down foods into fatty acids and glycerol that are used as fuel. The problem is that fatty acids are not a sufficient fuel source for the brain. They take too long to convert and work too slowly to help the fast-acting brain. But that doesn't mean the brain can only rely on sugar.
The liver initiates the processes of ketogenesis and gluconeogenesis. During the former, fatty acids are converted into ketones. During the latter, glycerol is converted into sugar. Ketogenesis creates a ketone specifically referred to as acetoacetate. It also produces acetone as a waste product. You may already be familiar with acetone because it is a commonly used solvent and cleaning product.
But don't worry about that acetone sticking around for too long. In time, the body will enter a new state known as ketone adapted. In this state, the majority of fatty acids are converted to energy with very little acetone byproduct. And the energy ketone itself changes from acetoacetate to beta-hydroxybutyrate(BHB).
Becoming ketone adapted is a big goal for a lot of people who begin the ketogenic diet. It means their body is working more efficiently, they are receiving more benefits from their diet, and they can exercise more efficiently. It's possible to receive 50 percent of their basal energy and up to 70 percent of their brain's energy from ketones alone.
The formation of BHB in the body is another strong benefit as well. BHB is much more efficient than acetoacetate alone. BHB takes part in additional chemical reactions which allow it to provide even more energy to starving cells. The brain prefers BHB over acetoacetate and glucose as well. It's possible for it to derive between 50 and 70 percent more energy from BHB than from glucose alone.
Reaching a state of keto-adaptation can take anywhere from one to two weeks to reach. The process itself can begin after about two days of sticking with the ketogenic diet. Those are the days that many newcomers report unpleasant side effects as their bodies aren't used to the low carb lifestyle. But after a week or two, they reach keto-adaptation and can enjoy all of the positive benefits of ketosis. And by week three their body is working more efficiently than it ever has before.
Most people who stick with the ketogenic want to maintain ketosis for prolonged periods. That's entirely possible by sticking with the low-carb, high-fat diet mentioned previously. However, that doesn't mean that ketones alone can sustain the body. Gluconeogenesis and the sugars it produces are still very important for our bodies.
Many of the cells in the body still require some amount of glucose to meet their high energy demands. This includes the brain as well. That is why the liver relies on gluconeogenesis to produce the sugars needed. Much of the sugar produced by gluconeogenesis comes from amino acids, lactate, and glycerol. Interestingly enough, these can all be achieved without eating significant carbohydrates.
There are a lot of differing opinions when it comes to ketosis and how long it can be sustained. Ketosis can certainly be difficult to deal with at first, but after reaching a state of keto-adaptation it rarely produces any harmful side effects on the body. Some people have maintained a state of ketosis for years without interruption.
The Inuit are a great example of this possibility. They were the first people to live in the Canadian Arctic and consumed very strict diets. It is believed that they lived in ketosis for most of their lives before European foods arrived on the scene. They are a shining example of an entire civilization that survived on diets high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
There are many people around the world who have stuck with the ketogenic diet and lived in a state of ketosis for a decade or more. Children who suffer from severe epilepsy are often put on the ketogenic diet to treat the symptoms. They may go for more than a decade in a state of ketosis and they suffer from far fewer seizures because of it.
Of course, everyone worries whether or not it is safe to stay in a state of ketosis for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, there are some potential side effects associated with living in ketosis for too longs. For example, ketoacidosis is a condition where the blood becomes highly acidic because of ketone levels. This can result in a variety of serious health conditions. The people who most offer suffer from ketoacidosis are those who have problems with alcoholism or diabetes.
A few other potential side effects include high cholesterol levels and kidney stone formation. Both of these are fairly rare and only appear in patients who have spent a decade or more in this state. With that being said, it's generally a good idea to limit ketosis to a period less than ten years. That will give you enough time to lose weight and enjoy the health benefits without putting the body at any serious risk.