Researchers fear diet produces 'untoward effects on the heart'

The keto diet, lauded for its purported fat-burning capabilities, could be bad for your heart, according to new research.

The keto – or ketogenic – diet was originally developed to treat severe epilepsy in infants and children. It is a low carb, high fat diet, explains Healthline that involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat.

“[That] puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy,” says Healthline.

Australian and international researchers say ketone bodies – formed when there is not enough sugar or glucose to supply the body’s fuel needs, such as during dieting or fasting – could be useful in fighting heart disease. However, in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, they warn that the keto diet is not an effective way to administer them.

The diet could actually increase the risk of heart disease due to its lack of ‘heart-healthy’ fats, the research found.

Read more: Does dieting wreck your metabolism?

The diet is almost a century old but has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years due to celebrity endorsements.

The New Daily reports that critics of the diet point out that it means consuming high levels of unhealthy fats with “little evidence of long-term effectiveness as a weight-management tool”.

On the positive side, the researchers found emerging evidence that boosting ketones may help reduce risk factors of heart disease including blood pressure, body weight, blood glucose or blood sugar, and cholesterol.

“We found that data from experimental and human studies suggest ketone bodies exert protective effects on patients with heart disease,” said the study senior author B. Daan Westenbrink, a cardiologist and translational scientist at University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands.

Read more: 10 myths about diets and how they affect your teeth

However, they also found some worrying side-effects.

Dr Westenbrink said the study found “untoward effects on the heart” and that “other therapeutic methods are therefore preferable to the keto diet”.

“Administration of ketones may be an alternative to a keto diet as a means of elevating ketone bodies for their protective effects,” he said, but added that more research into ketosis was needed.

“With numerous pathways to achieve ketosis, ketone bodies have potential clinical implications that require further study,” Dr Westenbrink said.

“Further exploration of therapeutic approaches to harness the beneficial effects of ketosis are necessary.

“I believe in the coming years we will have a much better grasp on whether ketone bodies can be optimised and used in the treatment and prevention of heart disease.”

Research published in January in the journal Nature Medicine found that study participants needed more calories to satisfy hunger when following a keto diet than they did when following a plant-based, low-fat diet. 

“The study did show that the keto diet was better for reducing blood sugar and insulin, which is consistent with previous studies. What research has not demonstrated in humans is that it reduces risk of the things we really care about – heart attacks, heart disease and type 2 diabetes – or helps us live longer.”

Do you follow a particular diet or the ‘everything in moderation’ formula? Have you taken an interest in the keto diet?

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Written by Janelle Ward



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