Keto and Longevity
With 2021 around the corner New Year is often an opportune time to springboard into a new ‘diet’. However, the adherence to new diets from January 1st rarely last through till February. There are host of reasons for this drop-off but being armed with the right information can most certainly help us to stick to a ‘diet’. Ultimately the diet should be sustainable in the sense you can apply it today, tomorrow, next month and so on. What is sustainable for you is by definition the best diet for you. Do not attempt to mimic a health ‘guru’s’ diet and/or lifestyle – do what works for you!
I want to unpack the keto diet and how it can help with potentially improving our health-span and so reduce the effects of aging from poor diet choices.
What is Ketosis?
A metabolic state whereby elevated ketones levels are present in the blood. Ketones are produced during total calorie restriction (fasting) and/or carbohydrate restriction. A ketogenic diet is characterised by a high fat intake, around 60%+ daily calories from fat, moderate protein intake around 25% daily intake and low carb, generally around 10-15% daily calorie intake. The reduction of dietary carbohydrates will result in the endogenous production of ketones from the metabolism of fat in the liver. Low insulin will drive the liberation of stored lipids and consequently the mobilisation and metabolism – in other words using stored fat as a fuel source. This is somewhat based on being in a calorie deficient otherwise dietary fats are available for fuel.
What happens then?
Being in ketosis and using ketones (metabolised fat) as your primary fuel source means ketones are now readily available as a fuel to every cell in the body. Unlike lipids, ketones are more successful at crossing the blood brain barrier and don’t create hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions within the brain that lipids can. Any physiological requirements for carbohydrate such as the regions of the brain or red blood cells can be supplied by endogenous production of glucose from the breakdown of proteins through gluconeogensis.
Ketosis is a powerful signaling state – a strong message is sent to your physiology which in turn promotes a raft of health-boosting processes. Ketosis initiates a cascade of beneficial processes.
Autophagy or cellular cleansing is a natural process occurring all the time within our bodies, but gets up-regulated when in ketosis or fasted (also gets up-regulated during exercise). During autophagy dead cell components are expelled or dysfunctional cells or mitochondria get cleansed out of the production.
Neurobiogenesis is up-regulated when in a ketogenic state which is great news for any wanting to slow or fight ageing. The conventional thinking has been that beyond adult maturation there is a slow and steady decline in neurons and their function. However, evidence now strongly supports the notion that diet and lifestyle can actually promote the growth of new neurons and improved function of exisiting neurons, helping us retard the natural decline as we age.
At the centre of all energy production in the human body are mitochondria which are organelles within a cells and are the cellular power stations – responsible for the creation of energy. Given their role in the body, it is preferential to have lots of these and for them to be highly functioning. Being in ketosis will drive the proliferation of mitochondria and therefore promote health and performance.
Reduction in inflammation
As I’ve touted for a long time, inflammation is the cornerstone to ill-health and disease. I’m referring here to systemic inflammation and not acute inflammation which occurs when you stub your toe, get a mozzie bite or get sunburnt. Systemic inflammation is a mechanism driven largely by our own ecosystems – our diet, lifestyle, environment, pollution and stress. If left unchecked it can lead to a menagerie of health complications such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Inflammation underpins ill-health, which is why it’s imperative to keep it in check. Let me backtrack a little here, I’m not suggesting that we seek a life devoid of stress and inflammation as some is beneficial (see my video on this HERE) – but too much and for too long will see cracks appear in your armour. Ketosis will reduce the production of inflammasomes which trigger pro-inflammatory agents which drive inflammation.
Glycation is not a word you probably hear every day but it’s a good one to know! Glycation is a process whereby glucose in the blood binds to protein or fat to form a sluggish, sticky, sub-optimal version of that molecule. It disables the function and role of that molecule and when this occurs systemically it’s problematic. Even during carbohydrate restrictive dietary states like low carb, ketosis or fasting (abstaining from all calories) the blood pumping around your body contains glucose.
If it didn’t we would die.
Our body can manufacture its own glucose from the breakdown of protein and glycerol (the backbone of fat) even when there is no carbs/sugar in the diet. However, when excessive sugar exists in the diet, such as the typically western diet, glycation can ramp up and beyond healthy limits.
Glycation is the cellular equivalent of walking in oversized gumboots in cement – performance and function is impaired!
It can occur to DNA also, stimulating apoptosis or cell death which throws a giant monkey wrench in the machinery driving health and longevity. Glycation of cellular and extracellular proteins produces loss of function essentially reducing the capacity for that protein to serve out its function well.
When the concentrations of glycated cells hits a critical mass, there is a shift in a certain cell receptor which can be the slippery slope towards oxidative stress, cell death, inflammation and the development of diabetic complications and atherosclerosis…amongst other things.
Studies also revealed that with elevated blood sugar or Type 2 Diabetics there is a correlation with increased protein glycation – glucose ‘sticking’ to protein. Glycated cells can get sucked up by immune cells in arterial walls causing inflammation and damage – one of the locations in the body you want to avoid such events. Research has also shown that glycated cells inhibit the activity of nitric oxide which is important in maintaining elasticity in vessel walls. Interestingly, since the middle of the 20th century the finger of blame has been pointed at fat and dietary cholesterol for cardiovascular disease (CVD), yet this is largely inaccurate, the villain is sugar and its inflammatory effects.
Given that CVD was the underlying cause of death for nearly 42,000 Australian deaths in 2018 (26% of all deaths) and that an estimated 59,100 people aged 25 and over had an acute coronary event (162 events every single day) it could be time to truely identify the villain and culprit lurking behind this.
Collagen, which is an extracellular (outside the cell) protein and found in connective tissues throughout the body including the heart seems to be a likely target for Glycation given its widespread nature and the long life that these types of proteins have. Collagen gives our joints and soft tissues their flexibility and suppleness but due to their susceptibility they can succumb to increased stiffness and pain as a result of glycation due to sugar intake. Studies show that individuals with metabolic disorder such as Type 1 Diabetes have impaired collagen function. The degree of impairment was comparable to individuals twice their age, confirming that the development of some common consequences of normal ageing is accelerated in individuals with long-term diabete. Collagen is a major element in skin and gives us our youthful exterior, however Glycation can accelerate the ageing process – this in itself is reason enough to reduce sugar intake.
Anything that accelerates ageing is no ally of mine!
Consuming a low-carb / high-fat diet will naturally reduce the potential for glycation by simply reducing the prevalence of glucose in the bloodstream at any given moment.
Ketosis is not to be viewed as the dietary answer to everyone’s health needs/problems but simply an effective and strong signaling metabolic state that can help to promote health and longevity. All the above to hinged on achieving nutritional ketosis consuming natural and unprocessed foods – this caveat is underwritten as it very possible to achieve ketosis via highly processed unnatural foods which in mind is counter-intuitive but nevertheless it’s possible.
Much has been said about the keto diet – good, bad and indifferent, but if done right it carries a raft of benefits. It’s even been heralded as anti-ageing which may be stretching the truth a little but it’s certainly promotes health and decreases the risks associated with a western diet which I guess is a roundabout way of saying it’s anti-aging.
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