In a new study, researchers found that a ketogenic diet produces health benefits in the short term, but negative effects after about a week.
Keto diet provides 99% of calories from fat and protein and only 1% from carbohydrates.
The results offer early indications that the keto diet could, over limited time periods, improve human health by lowering diabetes risk and inflammation.
The research was conducted by a team at Yale University.
The keto diet has become increasingly popular as celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Lebron James, and Kim Kardashian, have touted it as a weight-loss regimen.
A keto diet tricks the body into burning fat. When the body’s glucose level is reduced due to the diet’s low carbohydrate content, the body acts as if it is in a starvation state—although it is not—and begins burning fats instead of carbohydrates.
This process in turn yields chemicals called ketone bodies as an alternative source of fuel. When the body burns ketone bodies, tissue-protective gamma delta T-cells expand throughout the body.
This reduces diabetes risk and inflammation and improves the body’s metabolism.
In the study, the researchers found that the positive and negative effects of the diet both relate to immune cells called gamma delta T-cells, tissue-protective cells that lower diabetes risk and inflammation.
After a week on the keto diet, mice show a reduction in blood sugar levels and inflammation.
But when the body is in this “starving-not-starving” mode, fat storage is also happening simultaneously with fat breakdown.
When mice continue to eat the high-fat, low-carb diet beyond one week, they consume more fat than they can burn, and develop diabetes and obesity.
The team says the mice lost the protective gamma delta T-cells in the fat.
With the latest findings, the researchers now better understand the mechanisms at work in bodies sustained on the keto diet, and why the diet may bring health benefits over limited time periods.
Long-term clinical studies in humans are still necessary to validate the anecdotal claims of keto’s health benefits.
The lead author of the study is Vishwa Deep Dixit of the Yale School of Medicine.
The study is published in Nature Metabolism.
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