Mito: Keto and IF
Keto (the Ketogentic diet) and IF (Intermittent Fasting) have become mainstream, so I am sharing my experiences having implemented them both for a decade+. I want to help explain why they both work, and with enough detail to help others understand how these two techniques are not just a fad-thing that will die out...but how mitochondrial dynamics are involved in ways you may not expect. It is now approaching "Keto season" for me, as to why I am posting today on Oct. 14th 2020.
Ketogenic diets first came around 100 years ago to help control seizures and also those with epilepsy, so Keto is nothing new if mainstream publications paint Keto as the latest and greatest. It's hard to escape seeing something Keto at the supermarket. Companies are slapping the Keto label on everything for profit and hype because many people are seeing it working. However, at the end of the day, it's up to the individual to know the pitfalls, problems, tweaks and how Keto actually works if any longer-term successes are to be gained including improved health benefits. At its core, the knowledge of "Mito" is needed for "Keto" success and I'll summarize some key points below.
In looking at "Keto ratios" for the breakdown of Carb/Protein/Fat, Keto is normally implemented 10/10/80 or 80% from Fats, although there are many variants with increasing proteins a bit more that work out harder and some people will reduce carbs even lower down to 5%. So yes, Keto is a very, very low-carb regimen, typically eating 30 to 60 total carbs daily and also reducing the sugars far more within the total daily carb load. The person that is "on Keto" is therefore looking for higher FIBER and nutrient-dense carb sources like speciific types of veges to help balance out the fats and keep the gut moving at normal speeds.
So why are some people also failing on Keto, if it actually works so well? Many Keto-based resources in the wild are only telling people a few slices of the whole story and not enough science. Keto is a HUGE mitochondrial story. The general public is overly relying on magazines and other publications (for their profit) instead of learning enough of the actual biology and science. Granted, many people don't have a ton of time and just want enough to know why it may be something to consider. That's why I'm posting... to provide a wider picture closer to the "whole pie overview." Here we go. Get ready.
The WHEN TO EAT, how much food volume, quality of sleep, general stress levels and exercise matter a lot more than you think when implementing Keto. Even in my own experiences, if I cannot get into a deeper parasympathetic state, I won't be losing much fat from the body. Was I staying up too late watching TV or fiddling on the computer? Did my brain tell me it was noon when it was actually sleep-time? Yes it did. Did I miss making Vitamin D because I missed the sun? Hormone pathways do matter, but it's just one of many factors to consider with Keto.
Lifestyle timings: the way we live is critical to the equation to lose body fat. When we place blame on Keto or any diet for being a failure, maybe it's time to start looking in the mirror at the behaviors we have. And I too have failed at times with Keto, but not because of Keto itself. Life happens. But like the old phrase, we must be willing to get back on the wagon again and again and again after we fall off--whether it's one day, week or month of failure. I've gotten to the point where it's super-easy to get back on the Keto-wagon every time this year, and maintain myself in the wagon. There is a bit of discipline, but it's a combination of many factors. "Just eating Keto" is maybe about 30% of the whole equation.
I'm entering my Keto-phase of the year from now until about next March. This is my own choice to implement Keto for half of the year so I can also enjoy the fruits and veges when they are available in the spring and summer for nutrient content. I focus more on fasting and intermittent fasting in the summer. Ironically, because of Halloween junkfoods, Thanksgiving pies, holiday season desserts and nogs, New Year's midnight meals and Valentine's Choco-Fest, society in the Northern Hemisphere is gorging on a ton of sugars and Frankenstein ingredients at exactly the wrong time of the year when fruiting plants are in hibernation.
"'When to eat what'... is yet again another very important factor. "And it's vitally important on a daily basis," says all of our mitochondria. Did you know that we are more than 20% mitochondria by body weight alone, and maybe even as much as 30%. Were you aware that your heart and many of your brain cells have thousands of mitochondrion per cell to generate the energy your body needs to live? What fuel we give our mitochondria does matter if attempting to lose body fat, as I'll discuss below.
But yes, if we are attempting to lose fat, we must also understand the hormone cascade with the body's reaction to sugar and fuels: It typically takes 4 to 8 hours for insulin levels to drop off and baseline after a meal (and even longer with other factors such as a fatty liver, pancreatic issues, insulin resistance problems, etc.). What is often discussed little is Leptin itself and it's importance. It also takes 8 to 12 hours for leptin levels to baseline again after a meal, if our biochemistry desires to turn on the hormone cascade to burn body fat. Also, if there is fuel still left in the gut and glycogen reserves left in our cells, why would the body desire to break-down fat from the body? We are starting to see a wider and deeper picture about when and why the mitochondria might desire to shift to start breaking down stored body fats for fuel.
Let's now look at the similarities between Keto and IF (Intermittent Fasting). If we are feeding the body with a lot of fats by ratio (80%) and little sugar sources and cell glucose stores are also low, Mitochondrial Complex 2 is ramped up to be used for fatty acid oxidation to make energy from fats, while Complex 1 is not being used much because there's not much glucose around anymore..(Note: when there are high protein sources, there is a potential pathway to breakdown to glucose via gluconeogenesis, as to why the Keto ratios are also not too high in protein % if you remember the Atkins days).
When we feed the body fats, I'm also talking about our own stored body fat. In a food shortage, the body typically likes to use stored fat-reserves in the first 12 to 48 hours during a fast -- after the last meal's energy is exhausted. This is how IF (Intermittent fasting) has become popular as well, because the sweet-spot we experience is often 16 to 24 hours into a fast, which helps drain glycogen in cells and then starts tapping fat from the body thereafter.
When a fast goes on for too long, more autophagy could be activated and we'll start breaking down cell-components too rapidly, and could experience muscle loss and other problems. Autophagy is a term for the destruction and recycling of cell components to help purge out broken parts and salvage other parts to be used again. Although normal autophagy can be beneficial to purge out and rebuild cells, prolonged autophagy with starvation/fasting can carry additional risks, as to why each individual needs to work with his or her doctor, due to the individual variations, history, etc.
So how can activating Mito Complex 2 with fats (compared to activating Complex 1 with carbs) be a health boon for many people? This is a much deeper question to answer, but I'll just start by saying many people have issues with Complex 1 when using glucose as our main fuel source; there are many common genetic variants that are in the population, which can contribute to faulty operating Complex 1s. But even more interesting, it's known that Complex 1 is far more "free radical leaky" compared to Complex 2.
It's at Complex 2 where fats are broken down to produce energy. In other words, if you feel you need to take a lot of antioxidants because you want better health, the problem may have more to do with the two engines your mitochondria have within them and the quality they are in: the Complex 1 engine that generates more free radicals by default... versus the Complex 2 engine that generates less free radicals.
Unlike Complex 1's DNA that is coded for in the mitochondria (as mtDNA), much of Complex 2's DNA is nuclear DNA and is therefore more protected by histone bundling and has less mutation capability over time as a result. But next is where we start to see the magic of Complex 2 and the Ketogenetic diet. The byproduct of breaking down fat by Mito Complex 2 is CO2 and water. This is exactly how polar bears can go 6 months of the year or more without needing to drink water, because they survive on high-fatty foods like fish and seal blubber--generating a lot of internal water from the fat-breakdown.
Ready for the magic bullet? Food timing matters greatly. Anyone that has done both Keto and IF at the same time understands this magic. If there is not much sugary fuel around AND we happen to stop eating early for the day, we might go a good 12+ hour fast before breakFAST the next day. For instance, if I stop eating at 5pm and the last thing I had was a super low-sugar meal, ...maybe only 10 grams of sugar and also had an overall lower-carb day, I will have to survive until breakfast with lower blood sugars. Again, working with a doctor is key because this also can carry risks. Once 5am rolls around (12 hours later), if my mitochondria shift over to generating more energy from Complex 2 because I'm fat-adapted enough, and there's little food in the gut, then I'll be tapping more fat from my body. I'll start making more water and CO2 (in Mito Complex 4 later in the chain).
If you followed why I gave you a story about eating an early dinner, it's because sleep and energy reserves are important to the mitochondrial systems. This isn't the only strategy, but it's an easy one to show. If we eat during the day, we'll have enough fuel around even when we are exercising, that even though the exercise is burning off calories, it is probably not burning the fat from the body at all, but instead, your more recent snack, breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Most athletes know about "the afterburn" from a hard workout that can prolong benefits for a few days after the workout itself; these benefits also extend into the sleeping windows. What many people fail to understand is that the awesome magic happens when we sleep well. It's when the most fat-burning takes place. Chemically, our body fat breaks down to 83% CO2 and 17% water. In other words, a person breaking down body fat is breathing out the fat from the lungs as 83% CO2 exhaust and the rest of the water is in the body to be pee'd or sweated out later. If we cannot oxygenate very well during sleep, our sleep and health suffers. We also need to exhale the CO2 we generate. Again, this is common sense. Now that we realize that we breathe out most of our stored body fat via CO2, and it generally happens when we are sleeping, our lung-health and sleep quality greatly play into these biological processes.
Maintaining good overall movement, both cardio and anaerobic workouts, helps all mitochondria throughout the organs in the body. I've always questioned gym rats that take sides: I never bought into the strange idea that cardio and anaerobic workouts have to be at competition with the other: one being better than the other. All one needs to do is look at what exercise is benefitting what organs and parts of the body, and then shoot to workout the whole body from time to time for well-rounded movement. Maintain the whole body when possible, rather than an over-focus on just a single part, neglecting other parts. I believe this is why yoga and similar full-body-activation exercise regimens continue to grow in popularity because of the results experienced.
Another basic note: If I were to gorge on Keto, I will not expect to lose any fat from the body, and possibly even gain more fat on the body. Luckily most people won't gorge unless there are other underlying issues, because the diet really does help to quash hunger. I've seen many people use the Keto diet as an excuse to overeat every day. We have to use common sense. Also, can fats become rancid? Oh yes. Because of the 80% fats on Keto, we must choose healthy, non-rancid fats. Some of my choices are fish, organic butters, avocado, specific nuts (in moderation), fatty meats, healthy oils and uncooked egg yolk. I.e., if an egg yolk is cooked to hardness, I don't consider it healthy anymore. Over-easy is easy. For veges, celery and salads are staples. I like to eat sauerkraut and pickled foods for additional reasons. Asparagus, broccoli and brussel sprouts in moderation are fine. I have a complete list of foods and veges I allow, allow only a number of times per week, or reject while on Keto straight out...some veges or the way they are prepared you may not expect.
Now that I have written this WALL-O-TEXT (and I thank you for having read to this point), here are some last points. What I have learned over the past decade is that it takes a few weeks to "Keto-adapt" and feel stable on a daily Keto diet; it can be a process and also easy to fail. The body needs to recognize fats as fuels (eaten or my own stored fats) instead of a heavy reliance on carbohydrates. I've found it often takes a week or more to drain off my glycogen reserves, but varies per person and many subtle tweaks may be necessary to change over the biochemistry for the use of fats. For some, it's very hard to convert to Keto because of additional lifestyle issues I've uncovered.
I typically get 12+ hours of fasting each day with my Keto regimen in the winter if I don't eat past dusk, but I also have many tweaks needed to be adjusted based on many conditions. For instance, if I am exercising too hard with Keto, at times it can be both risky and stressful to the body because electrolytes can crash. This is another reason why I don't continue Keto all-year around as my own personal preference, but there are strategies if I were to do it all year long. I switch over to more Intermittent Fasting in the summer (bumping it up into the 16 to 18 hour non-eating window several times per week), so I can still benefit from a more well-rounded diet with higher nutrient density because of my overall body composition and what fuels I need when I need them.
If I have excess stress or cannot sleep well, I'll typically get more cravings for sweets--imagine that, the body calling for insta-fuel as glucose. This is why it's so important to chill out in the evening, disconnect from the chaosity of the day and get to sleep earlier if possible, so it's just easier to maintain Keto. The huge benefit of Keto once adapted onto it is the lack of hunger pangs and cravings. Eating fats is very satisfying. After a heavy meal, it's easy to go without snacking until the next meal. After dinner, it's easy to go to sleep without needing anything else. The way I like to eat is a very large breakfast, normal lunch and a lite dinner, but there are many more adjustments that can work to suit an individual's need.
What I wrote above is the tip of the iceberg. Keto and IF are often a "way of life" for many now and realize how good they feel on it.If you'd like to discuss specifics with me about your situation you have or be struggling with, let me know. I own the company Lifestyle Hygiene (www.lifestylehygiene.com) and offer health-coaching consultations if you are looking for someone that can help you with your specific goals and conditions. I have many additional strategies that can be woven in with Keto that enhance its effectiveness and streamline this way of life.
Scott J. Compton