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Of keto and coronavirus

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Don’t trust the mainstream media’s reporting on keto diets, says Rob Verkerk.

Uncertainty is a strange thing. Take the latest coronavirus disease, COVID-19. We can’t be sure what’s going to happen next. Yes, transmission continued at an ever-increasing rate around the world. But was its virulence increasing or subsiding? Are the new mutations going to wipe us out, or will they be smoke without a fire?

Despite all this uncertainty, the way the media reports on COVID-19 is very consistent—certain, even. The mainstream media maintains its view that the virus represents a very real threat we must take very seriously. Our immune systems are ill-adapted to such threats, we must rely on our trusted medics to save our lives, and we need a vaccine. 

Whether the worst is over or yet to come, we must be united in our stand against this viral threat and do what it takes to reduce transmission risk.

What about ketogenic diets? Obesity and obesity-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease are among the greatest threats to our health. That’s a certainty no one disputes. There are no effective drug cures (also a certainty).

Diet and lifestyle are the main causes, and excessive, chronic consumption of refined carbohydrates in particular is one of the single biggest triggers of the hormonal disturbances that end up tipping the body into this complex disease state, which affects energy storage, appetite control and associated behaviors.

Ketogenic diets are among the most widely studied therapeutic diets. Invented in the 1920s at Johns Hopkins University to help children overcome epilepsy when drugs and even brain surgery had failed, they have now been successfully applied to many more diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, brain tumors, autism, dementia, Parkinson’s and ALS.    

But have you noticed how uncertain the media reporting is on this subject? Conflicting stories abound.

There was a swathe of publicity last November following publication of a peer-reviewed article by the Dixit lab at Yale Medical School, showing that mice fed a low-carb, high-fat (aka ‘keto’) diet increased their numbers of fast-acting T cells, known as “delta gamma” type.1

These T cells, which act as sentinels and intermediaries between the two sides of our incredibly sophisticated immune system, namely the innate and adaptive sides, are key players determining just how successfully we get on top of infections.

Some media outlets hailed the research as a sign that keto could protect us against the flu.

Then, in February of this year, the media reported that keto diets don’t work on weight loss or obesity.

Remember: people’s positive experiences of weight loss using ketogenic diets, often in modified forms with a few more non-starchy carbs (but still zero refined carbs), has been one of the big drivers behind the recent popularity of keto diets. But looking deeper, you find the bad press is triggered by another mouse study.2

Not only that, it comes from the very same lab—the Dixit lab at Yale—that published the earlier research. Their new study found that obese mice did very well on their ketogenic diet, but only for a week.

After that, their health went downhill. So much so that, within two or three months, they had gotten fatter and more diseased than before they started.

The media gulped this up. Stories with headlines like “Yale researchers find keto diet can be healthful or harmful, depending on the timing,” and “Keto diet works best in small doses, researchers find” abounded. I particularly loved the Gladstone Observer  “Real reason keto diet doesn’t work” title from Queensland, Australia.

Now the media had moved from uncertainty about a drug-free, dietary approach that might or might not be helpful for some of the most troublesome diseases faced by humanity, to certainty that it wouldn’t work.  All based on a few mice, ignoring the wealth of human studies and the tens of thousands who have personally experienced profound benefits.

There was no discussion or balanced reporting of the study’s limitations, such as the fact it involved mice, not humans, or that their ketogenic diet was so extreme (just 0.1 percent energy from carbs), it would make any mammal sick if taken long-term, being entirely deficient in fiber or plant nutrients.

Or that the mice were given the diet ad libitum, so they could eat all the time, whenever they wanted—meaning they couldn’t benefit from fasting, a critical process for the metabolic reset necessary to normalize the hormone dysregulation associated with obesity.

The common thread here is that when you have a nondrug-based approach that doesn’t have a multibillion-dollar industry behind it, don’t trust what the media says about it.

Equally, if it does have a multibillion-dollar industry behind it, don’t trust what the media says about it.

It’s just one more reminder of why magazines like this one, and nonprofits like the one I head up, are so important as communicators of evidence-based, life-saving, health-promoting information.

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Article Topics: ketogenic diet
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