A new twist on extreme weight loss is catching on in some parts of the United States. It’s called the « keto diet. »
People promoting the diet say it uses the body’s own fat burning system to help people lose significant weight in as little as 10 days.
It has also been known to help moderate the symptoms of children with epilepsy, although experts are not quite sure why it works.
Proponents say the diet can produce quick weight loss and provide a person with more energy.
However, critics say the diet is an unhealthy way to lose weight and in some instances it can be downright dangerous.
Read More: What is the “Caveman Diet?” »
What is ketosis?
The “keto” diet is any extremely low- or no-carbohydrate diet that forces the body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis occurs when people eat a low- or no-carb diet and molecules called ketones build up in their bloodstream.
Low carbohydrate levels cause blood sugar levels to drop and the body begins breaking down fat to use as energy.
Ketosis is actually a mild form of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis mostly affects people with type 1 diabetes. In fact, it is the leading cause of death of people with diabetes who are under 24 years of age.
However, many experts say ketosis itself is not necessarily harmful.
Some studies, in fact, suggest that a ketogenic diet is safe for significantly overweight or obese people.
However, other clinical reviews point out that patients on low-carbohydrate diets regain some of their lost weight within a year.
Read More: How Exercise Helps You Lose Weight »
Where it’s helpful
The keto diet was created by Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, an associate professor of surgery at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy.
He claims great success among thousands of users. In his study, more than 19,000 dieters experienced significant, rapid weight loss, few side effects, and most kept the weight off after a year.
According to the reported results, patients lost an average of 10.2 kilograms, or about 22 pounds, after 2.5 cycles of the keto diet. Cappello concluded that the diet was a successful way for overweight and obese people to lose weight, and the few side effects, such as fatigue, are easily managed.
Bette Klein, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, has used the keto diet for years to help ease the symptoms of children with epilepsy.
She told Healthline it is particularly effective with children with refractory epilepsy who have not responded well to at least two different drug treatments.
Klein said about half of these children who go on the diet see a reduction in the number of seizures they have.
The dietitian said, however, that medical professionals are not sure why the diet works in these cases.
“There is not a clear definition of what is happening,” she said.
Rudy Mawer, a sports nutritionist, has also found some success with the keto type of diet.
He said he uses this low-carb approach with some people who have trouble losing weight. He also has high performing athletes on the plan.
Mawer told Healthline there are a number of benefits to the program.
One benefit is its quick results. People can lose some initial weight rapidly and that, in turn, helps encourage them.
“You can get motivated by this weight loss,” he said.
He added the keto diet is simple in concept. It eliminates a food group, making it easier for people to follow.
He said the diet also makes people feel full despite having fewer calories and it gives them more energy. That’s because, he said, people are giving up their sluggish diet of processed foods. He added the keto diet keeps blood sugar levels stable, which produces a more stable flow of energy.
Mawer notes there are some drawbacks.
He said the diet would not necessarily improve athletic performance, a fact that may discourage some athletes.
He added people need to adhere closely to the program or it will not work.
“It is a very strict diet,” said Mawer. “You have to do everything right.”
Every individual, he notes, is different and will react differently to such a program.
“What’s great for one person can be horrible for another person,” he said.
Read More: Experts Say Obesity is “Stamped In” »
When it’s unhealthy
Critics say the keto-type diets usually work only in the short term and can be unhealthy.
For starters, most of the lost weight is water weight, according to Lisa Cimperman, R.D.N., a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Once your body enters ketosis, you also begin to lose muscle, become extremely fatigued, and eventually enter starvation mode. Then it actually becomes even harder to lose weight,” Cimperman told Healthline.
Mawer said he doesn’t believe the keto diet causes muscle loss. He did caution it’s not optimal for someone trying to gain muscle.
Other experts interviewed by Healthline had stronger words of caution.
“Keto diets should only be used under clinical supervision and only for brief periods,” Francine Blinten, R.D., a certified clinical nutritionist and public health consultant in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, told Healthline. “They have worked successfully on some cancer patients in conjunction with chemotherapy to shrink tumors and to reduce seizures among people suffering from epilepsy.”
In the general population, Blinten said a keto diet should only be considered in extreme cases.
“It can do more harm than good. It can damage the…