A new study in Frontiers in Nutrition finds ketogenic diets put pregnant women and kidney disease patients at risk.
In the most comprehensive analysis yet of ketogenic (keto) diets, a review published in Frontiers in Nutrition warns keto diets puts pregnant women and kidney disease patients at risk of adverse health effects.
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The study, Ketogenic Diets and Chronic Disease: Weighing the Benefits Against the Risks, also discovered that the keto diet’s potential long-term risks, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, outweigh its potential benefits for most people.
“The typical keto diet is a disease-promoting disaster,” warns Lee Crosby, lead review author and nutrition education program manager at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
“Loading up on red meat, processed meat, and saturated fat and restricting carbohydrate-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains is a recipe for bad health.”
The following are five key findings from the Frontiers in Nutrition review paper:
- Keto diets may be especially unsafe for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant—low-carb diets are linked to a higher risk of neural tube defects in the baby, even when women take folic acid.
- Higher-protein keto diets could hasten kidney failure in those with kidney disease.
- Keto diets raise “bad cholesterol” levels for many patients.
- Keto diets are presented as a panacea, but they are not likely to be safe long term.
- Restricting carbohydrate skews the diet toward cancer-causing foods. In fact, typical keto foods have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s—often the very diseases they are touted to help.
The term “ketogenic diet” refers to a diet that is low in carbohydrates, high in fat, and low in protein. This combination of fuels is designed to cause ketosis, or the production of ketone bodies, which serve as an alternative energy source for neurons and other cell types that can’t metabolise fatty acids directly.
Ketogenic diets have been promoted for weight loss and, less commonly, for other health reasons, including seizure disorders, obesity and weight management, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, kidney health, and prepregnancy and pregnancy. It also looked at long-term health implications.
“In addition to the significant risks to kidney disease patients and pregnant women, keto diets are risky for others, too, as these diets can increase LDL cholesterol levels and may increase overall chronic disease risk,” Crosby explains.
“While keto can reduce body weight short term, this approach is not more effective than other weight-loss diets.”
The only well-supported use for this dietary approach, according to researchers, is to reduce seizure frequency in some people with drug-resistant epilepsy.
Crosby collaborated on the study with colleagues from the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University, the New York City Health and Hospital at Bellevue, the University of Pennsylvania, Loma Linda University, and the George Washington University School of Medicine.
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