Thomas Weimbs, a biochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, didn’t expect such diets to work in a mouse study several years ago. But it did. Giving less food to lab mice whose genomes were manipulated to give them polycystic kidney disease (PKD) led to a vast improvement in their kidney disease.
Afterwards, the Weimbs team went on to identify the mechanism of the stunning effect and found that it was the metabolic state of ketosis.
Putting lab animals into ketosis using ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting, or administering the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) all produced the same effect. The result was so stark the researchers had to double check the animals’ genotypes to make sure they hadn’t made some mistake. But there it was: Ketosis, a fasting response that is also the basis of popular diets, actually shrank the kidney cysts in animals.
“Our findings had a huge impact,” says Weimbs. “They made a big splash in the field.” So big, in fact, that many patients with PKD started to follow ketogenic diets attempting to slow down or even improve their disease that involves painful, fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys and affects millions of people worldwide, impairing the organs’ function and often requiring dialysis in the later stages of the disease.
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