How the Keto diet—even without exercise—slays the opposition

An American research team wanted to know which combination of diet and exercise has the most beneficial results on metabolic syndrome in 10 weeks.


Myths die hard—especially bad ones, it seems. In the last few months I’ve attended fitness classes in which the instructor told us that if we finish the upcoming workout, we’re allowed to eat whatever we want that night; that this class will take care of the holiday weekend; that this exercise will eradicate flabby arms and tummies. Some were expressed jokingly, yet the verbiage still points to an overarching misunderstanding about our bodies: that exercise cures the ravages of bad dietary habits. 

This is especially true in terms of obesity. There are very fit people who appear to be carrying a few extra pounds, while there are tons of trim people who are hardly healthy at all. Weight is generally a terrible marker for fitness—no excuse for not staying in shape, however. Humans are biologically designed for movement. When we don’t meet a basic threshold, we suffer. 

How exercise and nutrition fit into the jigsaw puzzle called health is debatable. I’ve heard it expressed as 75 percent nutrition, 25 percent exercise, a vague statistic I’ve used myself when students ask my opinion. It’s not necessarily a precise number, but it does give more weight to the food side, which is the point. My forty-five minute kettlebell class is not going to “erase” the pizza and six-pack you consumed last night. 

Which is why researchers need to better understand ratios, such as an upcoming study—'Induced and Controlled Dietary Ketosis as a Regulator of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome Pathologies'—to be pushed in the journal, Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews. The results are fascinating. 

Ketogenic diets are all the rage right now. The onslaught of ketone-fueled protein powders and exogenous ketones has begun, which might prove to be more marketing hype than credible science. (Nutritional ketosis is the gold standard. Pills and powder might help jumpstart the process, but they are no excuse for overloading on carbs.) 

Taking advantage of our evolving knowledge of carbohydrate restriction, the research team, led by Madeline Gibas, an assistant professor at Bethel University focused on Human Bioenergetics and Applied Health Science, wanted to know if a ketogenic diet with no exercise was more beneficial to diabetics and sufferers of metabolic syndrome than the standard American diet with exercise. 

Three groups were assembled, comprised of women and men between the ages of 18 and 65. All had previously been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, or Type II diabetes. Their body mass index (BMI) was greater than or equal to 25 (or waist circumference above 37 for men and 31.5 for women) and body fat percentage above 30 percent. 

Participants were randomly assigned to three groups, in the order they signed up for the study. For ten weeks the first group consumed a diet of less than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day and did not exercise; the second ate their normal diet and also did not exercise; the third ate their normal diet but exercised for three to five days per week for 30 minutes a session. 

Gibas and her research partner, Kelly J. Gibas, Doctor of Clinical Behavior Sciences at Bristlecone Behavior Health in Maple Grove, Minnesota, focused on five biomarkers of metabolic syndrome, including “elevated triglycerides with excess muscle fat accumulation (IMTG), impaired maximal aerobic capacity (VO2), declined resting metabolic rate (RMR) and elevated body mass index (BMI) along with elevated hemoglobin.”

After ten weeks the data were clear: 

The results show that while ample evidence indicates that exercise is beneficial, unlike a sustained ketogenic diet it did not have the ability to significantly alter the metabolic imbalance that accompanies metabolic syndrome over the course of the ten-week study.

Following a ketogenic diet, even with no exercise, proved statistically significant for weight, body fat percentage, BMI, A1C (glycated hemoglobin), and ketones. Some of the results were dramatic: 

The resting metabolic rate in the ketogenic group also produced sizable change in the magnitude of the slope, more than ten times the other two groups.


Fig.1. Illustrates data for all individuals, and groups. Individual data is represented by thin lines; group averages are demonstrated by thick lines. The ketogenic group reflects greater reductions than the exercise and non-exercise groups in weight, BFM, BMI, HgA1c, triglycerides and greater increases in the RMR and ketones, as predicted. (Source: Madeline K. Gibas, Kelly J. Gibas, Bethel University, MN, United States)

 

The drastic influx of carbohydrates and sugar in the American diet has created innumerable physical and mental diseases that are easily prevented when an addiction to certain foods is curbed. We know overcoming any addiction is challenging, but until the medical industry treats our obesity epidemic as such, we’re unlikely to make major advances. 

So it remains the work of researchers like the Gibases to present such data. In their study they point to 2015 research from 26 MDs and PhDs explaining our evolved awareness of nutrition, facts that still have not been implemented in many doctors’ offices around the nation: 

 1. Carbohydrate restriction has the greatest impact on decreasing blood glucose levels.
2. The benefits of carbohydrate restriction do not require weight loss.
3. Dietary total and saturated fat do not correlate with risk for cardiovascular disease.
4. Dietary carbohydrate restriction is the most effective method (other than starvation) of reducing serum triglycerides and increasing HDL.

Carbohydrate restriction—often in combination with fasting, though the science on how long is up for debate—is a non-pharmaceutical response that could help alter the fact that some 70 percent of our national medical costs could be avoided through better diet. (And yes, exercise does matter.) As the authors conclude:

Physiological ketosis has clinical utility for prevention, reduction and reversal of metabolic syndrome and its progression into obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes and is therefore a noteworthy modality of alternative care.

--

Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
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