The ketogenic diet is the trendiest diet plan of 2018, but a preliminary study in mice suggests going keto may put you on the path toward type 2 diabetes.
New research published Wednesday in Journal of Physiology found that in a study done on mice, those that were fed a high-fat, low-carb diet-also known as the keto diet-had worse control of their blood sugar and developed higher levels of insulin resistance, which is known to lead to type 2 diabetes.
During the study researchers fed one group of mice a regular Western diet of high-carb and high-fat food (which has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes), and they fed another group of mice with high-fat, low-carb food that one would eat on the keto diet (which some studies have shown to be effective for weight loss). While the carbs-and-fat mice experienced some worsened blood sugar control and insulin resistance (as expected), the keto mice actually experienced these conditions to an even greater extent.
...What does that mean?
When you cut carbs from your diet, your blood sugar and insulin levels sink. That can help people who already are overweight and have diabetes lose weight, and is generally a good thing for anyone, diabetic or not, Dr Gerald Grandl, who co-authored the study, told Prevention. Grandl and his fellow researchers found that when mice fed a keto diet were given a glucose challenge-which measures the body's response to sugar-their bodies were less equipped to handle it, and their bodies became resistant to insulin, which normally helps glucose enter the blood cells to be used for energy. People with type 2 diabetes have often built up a resistance to insulin-their bodies stop using it properly.
"Liver insulin resistance is the key driver of type 2 diabetes, occurring long before overt type 2 diabetes, so that explains the link to the type 2 diabetes risk," says Grandl. "Whether or not this risk goes away if one switches from keto, we don't know at this point."
Does that mean I'll get diabetes if I try the keto diet?
It's way too early to say either way. The study's finding are very preliminary; the research was conducted on mice (and mouse conditions don't always reflect human conditions), and it took place over just a three-day period (better studies last much longer than that). More research is certainly needed before any firm conclusions are drawn. It's also important to note that this study did not study the effects of the keto diet on weight loss, which has been studied in the past, but rather its effects on blood sugar control and insulin resistance. And, the long term effects of the keto diet are still unknown.
The keto diet has been shown to help some people who already have type 2 diabetes, like Halle Berry, manage the disease by improving glycemic control and reducing their need for insulin. But even diabetics on keto should be aware of their unique risks, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, along with the long list of other risks and side effects that come with going keto, like the keto flu.
"I don’t think there is a need for worry, but the uncritical use of a ketogenic diet without careful monitoring is not advisable in my opinion,” Christian Wolfrum, PhD, another study author, told Gizmodo. “In any case, any diet which restricts certain foods can be prone to cause malnutrition so I am personally in favour of more balanced diets."