Ketogenic diet, what it is and when it is needed

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Robert Maurer
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Quick solutions to lose weight? Just type in "diet to lose weight fast" and you are overwhelmed by almost 7 million sites offering tips and tricks of all sorts. The most popular strategy? Zero out carbohydrates e increase protein not to feel the pangs of hunger, in the wake of now historic diets, such as Atkins or Dukan. After all, who has never heard of "Diet chetogeniche"?

«They are diets that focus on one drastic reduction of carbohydrates to mimic the physiological mechanism triggered by the fasting», Fold Simona Bertoli, associate professor of human nutrition and dietetics at the State University of Milan. "In search of alternative energy sources to sugars, the body begins to burn fat by producing waste molecules, called ketone bodies, which end up in the circulation and are used as an energy substrate by cells, especially those of the heart, brain and blood , the most important for our survival ».


In fact, a real emergency plan is triggered, which evolution has developed over millions of years, and it is not advisable to activate it for a simple remise en forme.


What are the contraindications to a ketogenic diet


“Many people think that the ketogenic diets are a shortcut to quickly lose the extra pounds, but that's not the case, ”warns Bertoli, who is also head of the Obesity Center and the Experimental Laboratory for Research on Nutrition and Obesity at the Irccs Istituto Auxologico Del Paese. In fact, they foresee a strong imbalance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats that we take in through food and for this reason they are not suitable for everyone: they are absolutely contraindicated in case of type 1 diabetes, eating disorders, liver or kidney failure, unstable angina, recent heart attack, pregnancy and breastfeeding.


"In reality, this diet can only be applied in special cases, which must be carefully selected and kept under strict medical supervision," says the expert. "In a sense cwho follows these diets becomes a "supervised special", to avoid potentially serious side effects such as cardiac arrhythmias, anemia or hypoglycemia ».


How many ketogenic diets are there

Another false myth to dispel is that the ketogenic diet is "one": actually there are several types, Because the eating pattern changes from person to person as needed. "There are low calorie ketogenic diets which are used to help the obese to lose weight quickly, in case of severe metabolic imbalances or as a bridging strategy in view of bariatric surgery », recalls the nutritionist.

“Then there are the chetoogeniche normocaloriche diet, which do not make you lose weight but only induce the change in the "fuel" of the cells: they are generally used by professional athletes, who want to enhance their performance in view of a race in endurance sports such as cycling or marathon, and above all by patients, who find in food a real drug for their health problems of neurological or metabolic origin ».



When ketogenic diets are a therapy

Perhaps not everyone knows that the ketogenic diet was born at the beginning of the twentieth century therapeutic purpose, to improve the control of Seizures in drug resistant patients. It was in fact seen that epileptic patients were able to have a better control of their seizures during fasting periods. Assuming that ketone bodies could play a role in regulating the function of neurons, Russell Wilder, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic (USA), developed a normocaloric diet (with 80-90% fat and low protein and carbohydrates) that favored its formation, simulating fasting.


They have since been identified different pathologies that can benefit from the production of ketone bodies, Starting from Glut1 deficiency syndrome: it is a very rare neurological disease of genetic origin, which affects on average one person in a million. The cause is the lack of a enzyme, Glut1 precisely, which transports glucose into the cells: its lack ends up by "starving" the brain, causing epileptic seizures, psychomotor retardation, speech and movement disorders.

"Till today there is no cure: the only life-saving therapy is the ketogenic diet, which allows to obtain a clear improvement of the clinical picture in a short time », underlines Bertoli. "Over the years, more and more evidence has emerged regarding theaction of ketone bodies on the nervous system: for this reason the ketogenic diet has also been tested indrug-resistant migraine, obtaining very encouraging data regarding the reduction of the frequency and intensity of attacks in the most acute phases.


Improvements have also been observed in the treatment of some diseases related to glycogen metabolism, called glycogenosis, with an alleviation of symptoms especially in the muscles. There are also some encouraging, albeit preliminary, data on control of some brain tumors like glioblastoma ".


There is now an app for those on treatment

To meet such different needs, the ketogenic diet it must be tailor-made by the nutritionist, but following it to the letter is not always easy. To manage it in everyday life, without falling into do-it-yourself mistakes, now there is theapp Ketonet, born from the idea of ​​a mother, Alessandra Camerini, engineer and mother of little Lorenzo, who is now four years old and suffers from Glut1 deficiency, since he was only 5 months old. Alessandra Camerini is also responsible for communication and fundraising of the Glut1 onlus country association.


"We immediately started following the ketogenic diet," says Alessandra Camerini. Important clinical improvements occur within 3 months, and epilepsy generally resolves in almost 90% of cases. “The difficulty is that you have to be precise to the tenth of a gram, to make sure your brain has all the nutrition it needs: a real problem if you don't find exactly the foods indicated when shopping or if the child refuses to eat. To maintain the right quantities and proportions, theoretically, he should always brush the plate without leaving any leftovers ».

Accustomed as an engineer to analyzing and solving problems, Alessandra has thus thought of one digital instrument that could make life easier for her and for many other mothers. “I wanted one free but high-level app, easy to use and modular, allowing you to customize the diet respecting the doctors' instructions but adapting it better to the patient's tastes ». Thus was born Ketonet, which to date has already won over 6.000 users.

L'app Ketonet it was developed by the experts of the Politecnico di Milano in collaboration with the University of Pavia and the Association of the country Glut1 onlus. It is free and available for iOs and Android in 22 European countries. Installing it on your smartphone is equivalent to having a small pocket nutritionist to ask for help when shopping or wanting to experiment in the kitchen.


  • Also read: Ketone supplements, what you need to know
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