The Ketogenic Diet and High Blood Pressure. Will It Lower It Safely?

Eli Ben-Yehuda

Written by Eli Ben-Yehuda

On October 30, 2019
What Is The Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates.

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets.

It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain.

Ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, has numerous health benefits.

How Does The Ketogenic Diet Work?

The aim of the keto diet is to put, and keep your body in a metabolic state called ketosis.
Our bodies normally burn carbohydrates for energy. When you restrict the amount of carbs, the body will break down stored fat, creating molecules called ketones to use as fuel. (Paleo diet is similar, but higher in protein and not as strict about certain foods and proportions.)

Ketosis is a normal physiological process. There’s nothing dangerous about it. “It’s just that this particular eating style is keeping your body in that state all the time,” says Mangieri.

What Is Ketosis?

Under normal circumstances, the body’s cells use glucose as their primary form of energy. Glucose is typically derived from dietary carbohydrates, including:

  • sugar – such as fruits and milk or yogurt
  • starchy foods – such as bread and pasta
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The body breaks these down into simple sugars. Glucose can either be used to fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, the body will adopt an alternative strategy in order to meet those needs. Specifically, the body begins to break down fat stores to provide glucose from triglycerides.

Ketones are a by-product of this process.

Ketones are acids that build up in the blood and are eliminated in urine. In small amounts, they serve to indicate that the body is breaking down fat, but high levels of ketones can poison the body, leading to a process called ketoacidosis.

Ketosis describes the metabolic state whereby the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones in the process.

According to some metabolic experts, you’re in the state of ketosis when your ketone levels measure 0.5-3.0 millimoles per liter. The keto diet is one way to get your body to make ketones. Other ways to run on ketones include intermittent fasting and using up your glucose reserves by exercising.

Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe?

According to the Harvard Medical School, “We have solid evidence showing that a ketogenic diet reduces seizures in children, sometimes as effectively as medication. Because of these neuroprotective effects, questions have been raised about the possible benefits for other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and even brain cancer. However, there are no human studies to support recommending ketosis to treat these conditions.”

“Weight loss is the primary reason my patients use the ketogenic diet. Previous research shows good evidence of a faster weight loss when patients go on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet compared to participants on a more traditional low-fat diet, or even a Mediterranean diet. However, that difference in weight loss seems to disappear over time.”

“A ketogenic diet also has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. There is even more controversy when we consider the effect on cholesterol levels. A few studies show some patients have increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning, only to see cholesterol fall a few months later. However, there is no long-term research analyzing its effects over time on diabetes and high cholesterol.”

What Can You Eat On The Ketogenic Diet?

The keto diet is all about increasing calories from fat and going very low carb. That means following a restrictive, keto-friendly food list.

Here are some of the foods you may eat on keto:
  • Oils (like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil)
  • Avocado
  • Heavy cream
  • Butter
  • Cream cheese
  • Cheese
  • Coconut (unsweetened)
  • Nuts (almonds, macadamia) and seeds (chia seeds, flaxseed, sunflower seeds)
  • Leafy green vegetables (romaine, spinach, kale, collards)
  • Non-Starchy vegetables, zucchini, asparagus, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers
  • Meats (chicken, beef, pork, lamb)
  • Eggs
  • Fish (particularly fatty fish like salmon and sardines)
How Long Can You Do The Diet?

How long the keto diet is safe for weight loss is still under study. Early research found that overweight individuals who followed it for 24 weeks had positive results. Another study recommends people follow the diet for no more than 12 months. Even during that time, say the authors, “close monitoring of [kidney] functions while on a ketogenic diet is imperative.” In other words, let your doctor know what you’re up to, and keep an eye on your kidney health. Beyond a year, no one’s really sure how safe the diet is.

“My professional recommended period of following the keto diet is about six months maximum, and that will also depend on how much the person weighed prior to starting the diet and the state of his or her overall health within those six months,” says Nikola Djordjevic, MD, of MedAlertHelp.org.

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Ketogenics For High Blood Pressure

Ketotarian is the answer to how to do keto with high blood pressure. But, what is Ketotarian? According to Dr. Cole’s book, Ketotarian is a mostly plant-based diet that can change your body from sugar-burning to fat-burning and, as a result, boost energy, nix cravings, and combat inflammation. Not to mention: Many of the foods (aka veggies) in the Ketotarian diet are known to help lower high blood pressure among other ailments.

The key to any keto diet is low carb, high fat. And while both the traditional ketogenic and Ketotarian diets achieve this mission, the side effects of eating highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners (allowed in the conventional diet) can have a detrimental impact on your health over time. Ketotarian is a way to put the body into ketosis without exposing it to foods that cause high blood pressure. And, instead, nourishing it with foods that can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and other heart-threatening ailments.

Ketogenic Risks

Cardiac Problems:

Losing heart muscle may not be the only heart-associated dangers of the keto diet, Derocha says. “If you have high blood pressure and are taking medication, the prescription mixed with the diet may cause abnormally low blood pressure test results,” she explains. Before you start the keto diet, she suggests you talk with your doctor to avoid low blood pressure. This condition can be dangerous, even deadly.

Ketosis Affect On Your Kidneys:

Very high levels of ketones make your blood more acidic and overburden your kidneys. “Medical News Today” reports that one of the side effects of a ketogenic diet is the formation of kidney stones. In processing higher amounts of protein, your kidneys work hard and are forced to excrete more sodium, calcium and potassium, as well as filter more of the byproducts of protein metabolism. This extra fluid and electrolyte loss can cause low blood pressure, another function mediated by your kidneys. Ketosis in the presence of diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis and coma, and can be life threatening.

The Big Keto Controversy

A National Institutes of Health researcher, Richard Veech, argues that what’s being reported about ketosis is all wrong. He told the “New York Times” in 2002 that ketosis is a normal metabolic state, and arguably the “natural state of man.” He and others say that the media and some medical authorities have confused the public about ketosis, partially out of the real threat it poses to diabetics. But for the rest of us, says Veech, ketosis is simply an evolution-driven response to the need to survive on stored fat.

Veech goes a step further saying ketones are a more preferred fuel source than carbohydrates. The Times reported in that article that previous research showed that the heart and brain run 25 percent more efficiently on ketones than blood sugar.

In 2004, a group of Kuwait University researchers reported in the journal “Experimental & Clinical Cardiology” that they found no adverse effects of using a ketogenic diet in a sample of obese people over six months. If you want to start a high-protein or otherwise ketogenic eating regimen, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider before doing so, and seek regular care to ensure adequate nutrition.

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