A lot of diets claim to have antiaging benefits without a lot of proof. The ketogenic diet is one that has seen a spike in popularity and actually does have a basis in medicine. But can it help keep you feeling young as you age?
Diets considered yo-yo diets, or diets that cause drastic fluctuations in weight loss and gain have actually been associated with higher morbidity rates, leading many experts to agree that the most suitable diets for antiaging are ones that facilitate sustainable consumption of fish, lean meats and lots of fruits and vegetables. While the ketogenic is not inherently a yo-yo diet, it does tend to be a tough diet to follow and may have long term effects that many who start it are not prepared for.
What is the Keto Diet?
Focused on bringing the body into a state of ketosis, or the process of the body using fat to create ketones to use for energy rather than sugars from carbohydrates, the keto diet mostly consists of low carb, high fat foods such as meats, avocado and nuts. This type of diet was originally created in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. Later, it was the basis for the Atkins diet.
Is Keto Good for Aging?
The drawback of this type of diet is that it often includes a heavy dose of red meat and other processed, salty foods that are unhealthy. Long-term, effects of the diet are still somewhat unknown as few people stick with it for long periods of time, however, nutritionists do see potential problems with how limiting it is.
For one thing, the reduction of carbs sometimes causes people to have too little fiber in their diets. This has consequences for the digestive system, frequently leading to constipation. Additionally, the restrictive nature of keto can lead to eating habits that more closely resemble an eating disorder. For this reason, it isn’t recommended for people who have experienced eating disorders in the past.
From a nutritional perspective, keto isn’t necessarily ideal. The fat-forward approach of the diet may mislead some people into believing they have permission to eat all the processed food they like — a choice that has serious implications for overall health.
That said, keto has been shown to have positive effects for diabetics as it helps improve insulin sensitivity. But the diet should be done under the supervision of your doctor, with one expert describing it to the American Association of Retired Persons as “a prescription strength diet.”
There is also some promising evidence to suggest that a ketogenic diet can help treat cancers by essentially starving cancer cells, which feed off sugars in the body. Some types of cancer cells are unable to process ketones and research suggests that carbohydrate restriction can actually halt the growth of tumors, leading some to believe that keto may be a good supplement to radiation therapy.
When it comes to whether or not keto is a good fit for older adults, the answers are unclear and require more research. There is valid concern regarding the development of kidney stones, renal damage and higher LDL cholesterol as well as the “keto flu” — an electrolyte imbalance that commonly impacts people who try the diet.
For older adults, one of the most concerning risks of the diet is being deprived of the protein your body requires to build and maintain muscle mass as this may contribute to fragility.
Keto for the Brain
Research into the effect of keto on the aging brain is in its infancy, though some animal models do show potential.
A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience looked at the effect of ketone metabolization in young mice, finding that the diet can slow down some of the natural processes associated with aging and help maintain blood flow to the brain. It is believed that this research could influence treatments for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Another study published in Scientific Reports looked at keto’s effect on the gut microbiome, the blood brain barrier and cerebral blood flow in mice. It concluded that keto has the potential to alter gut microbiome diversity and increase beneficial microbiota. It also suggests that keto improves neurovascular function and improved blood brain barrier function by “increasing protein expression and transport activity.”