If you’ve been hearing about the ketogenic diet in relation to treating or eliminating inflammation in the body, there’s good reason: aside for being great for weight loss, the ketogenic diet is a naturally anti-inflammatory diet. When on a keto diet, you reduce your carbohydrate/sugar intake. When you do that, you are reducing foods that feed inflammation. In fact, one of the first things that happens when you get settled into a ketogenic diet is you drop some initial weight quickly. That’s you saying goodbye to the bloat that accompanies inflammation. But there’s more to keto and inflammation than that, and we explore it all here.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to respond to injury and infection. The body’s white blood cells and substances they produce are released into the body to combat organisms, bacteria, viruses, and anything foreign your body deems a threat. And while that is a very critical process to keeping us healthy, too much inflammation can cause issues in the body, including muscle and joint pain, redness, swelling, stiffness, fatigue, headaches, and more. Worse, more and more diseases and disorders are being associated with inflammation, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, autoimmune disorders, and Parkinson’s, to name a few.
When discussing inflammation, you can’t leave out NLRP3 inflammasomes. NLRP3 inflammasomes are a group of protein complexes that are formed to mediate immune responses to microbial infection and cellular damage. NLRP3s play a major role in innate immunity, which is our ability to fight off pathogens (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that we’ve never previously been exposed to. It’s our first line of defense for protecting our bodies from outside threats. And since its discovery in 2002, NLRP3 has become a prominent topic when addressing inflammation due to its suggested involvement in several autoimmune diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease). There is new and ongoing research around the process of activating and regulating NLRP3 inflammasomes through macrophage therapy (macrophage is a type of white blood cell that eats cancer and other unwanted cells) to help mitigate the dysregulation that leads to autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammation, and metabolic diseases. (Dysregulation generally causes an imbalance of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and the activated NLRP3 inflammasomes monitor and help regulate the pro-inflammatory cytokine levels.)
How Does the Ketogenic Diet Help with Inflammation?
As we mentioned before, the ketogenic diet is naturally high in many anti-inflammatory foods. It’s also void of foods known to cause inflammation. See for yourself with the two lists below which highlight many anti-inflammatory foods and foods that cause inflammation.
The following foods help to fight inflammatory responses in the body.
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, herring)
It’s not enough to just eat the good stuff. You also benefit by avoiding the bad stuff (hello starchy carbs), listed below. All of the items are excluded on a well-balanced ketogenic diet.
- Processed grains (wheat, rice, barley)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash)
- High fructose fruit (bananas, pineapple, oranges)
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Processed Foods
The Role Ketones Play in Fighting Inflammation
When you’re properly following a ketogenic diet, you’re in a constant state of ketosis. What that means is that your body is producing the ketone BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate), which has proven to be associated with activating genes that improve mitochondrial function and decrease oxidative stress. Ketosis also activates the AMPK pathway (activated protein kinase), which assists in regulating energy and inhibiting the inflammatory Nf-kB pathways. (Nf-kB stands for the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells; it’s a protein complex that controls transcription of DNA, cytokine production, and cell survival, so inhibition of inflammation of these pathways is important for cell health.)
Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are considered two key factors in the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and recent research is showing that the presence of ketones can lower neuroinflammation.
There’s more convincing statistics, too. High-tech health company VirtaHealth conducted a number of clinical studies around nutritional ketosis and chronic diseases affected by inflammation. In one study, both white blood cell count and C-reactive protein (CRP) were dramatically reduced in the low-carb ketogenic diet group compared to the usual-care group at one and two-year follow-ups. In particular, the reduction in CRP in the ketogenic diet group at one year was comparable in magnitude (35 to 40 percent) to what is seen with the most potent statin drug. But unlike the statin, which appears to be primarily focused on CRP and has no effect on white blood cell count, nutritional ketosis addresses both (lowering both WBC and CRP), providing a more balanced effect on the network of interacting bioactive components influencing inflammation.
The Final Word
Overall, the ketogenic low-carbohydrate diet has many anti-inflammation effects and immune-health benefits that can help prevent and alleviate chronic pain and abate many autoimmune diseases and their symptoms. With the benefits being potentially life-changing for some, it’s worth exploring healthy dietary changes with your medical professionals how the ketogenic diet can be used to help you manage your own inflammation and generate anti-inflammatory effects, even as a precautionary measure. Reducing your carbohydrates, incorporating good healthy fats (think avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil), and avoiding added sugar (glucose) are the first steps to making optimal health a possibility. When properly practiced, a keto high-fat, low-carb diet is a lifestyle that will have you feeling better than ever.