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I’m sure you’ve heard of the keto diet. It’s one of the most famous dietary plans in the world. Many athletes and celebrities turn to it to boost metabolism and encourage weight loss. Yet, a recent study suggests that following a keto diet may lead to premature aging in your organs, which may potentially lead to organ failure.

Let’s talk about the keto diet

Before we discuss the effect of the keto diet on your organs, it’s best to first understand what the diet entails.

The keto diet, or the ketogenic diet, is a pattern of eating that encourages the low consumption of carbohydrates, and the high consumption of fats. The sources of fats can include avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, red meat and butter. By following the keto diet, our bodies undergo ketosis, whereby they’re forced to burn fat. Designed to help treat epilepsy in children, the keto diet has been associated with many benefits. These include weight loss, improved metabolism, and even help manage diabetes.

Now, while the keto diet may have some benefits, there is also concern about the negative effects that the eating style may have on the body.

Keto Diet and Your Organs

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio set out to investigate how the keto diet may influence p53. This is a cancer-fighting protein that works to prevent old cells from multiplying, and becoming senescent cells. Per research, an increase in senescent cells can lead to an increased risk for chronic inflammation. It’s also linked to many other age-related disorders like heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

For the study, the researchers fed a group of mice a keto diet, with 90% of the calories coming from fat. The control group fed on food where the fat provided only 17% of the calories.  After 7 or 21 days of feeding, the team of scientists analyzed tissue samples from their hearts, kidneys, livers, and brains.

Per the findings, published in Science Advances, the researchers noted that the mice on the keto diet experienced an accumulation of senescent cells in their organs.

After taking the mice off of the keto diet for 3 weeks, the researchers found that levels of senescent cells had almost returned to normal.

Should I quit keto?

Not if this study is your reason to.

Upon having the mice take regular breaks from the keto diet, the researchers found that there was no build-up of senescent cells in the rodent’s bodies. This surprised the researchers, as cells don’t recover from senescence so, “It’s possible that the cells in the mice were not senescent; they may have entered a similar inactive state that is reversible,” explained Dr. David Gius, lead author of the study.

It should also be noted that this was an animal study. Thus, it does not prove that humans who follow the keto diet may experience an increase in senescent cells.

Also, the presence of senescent cells is not necessarily a bad thing. Senescent cells can also assist wound healing, host immunity and suppress tumors.

Having said that, Gius admits that he still has his concerns and more research may be needed to either assuage or confirm them.

“While the ketogenic diet is probably a good thing, [it is not for] everyone. And importantly, you need to take a break. I think our paper really says we need to study this more rigorously.” Dr. David Gius

References

Dehkordi, S. K., Walker, J., Sah, E., Bennett, E., et al. (2021). Profiling senescent cells in human brains reveals neurons with CDKN2D/p19 and tau neuropathology. Nature Aging, 1(12), 1107-1116. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00142-3

Dowis, K., & Banga, S. (2021). The Potential Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 13(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051654

Föger-Samwald, U., Kerschan-Schindl, K., Butylina, M., & Pietschmann, P. (2022). Age Related Osteoporosis: Targeting Cellular Senescence. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23052701

Raffaele, M. and Vinciguerra, M. (2022). The costs and benefits of senotherapeutics for human health. The Lancet Healthy Longevity, 3(1), pp.e67–e77. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/s2666-7568(21)00300-7.

Vogel, G. (2023) ‘Keto diet may cause organ damage, mouse study finds’, Science. Available at: https://www.science.org/content/article/keto-diet-may-cause-organ-damage-mouse-study-finds/ (Accessed: 23 May 2024).

Wei, J., Schell, J. R., Chocron, E. S., Varmazyad, M., et al. (2024). Ketogenic diet induces p53-dependent cellular senescence in multiple organs. Science Advances. https://doi.org/ado1463

Yan, C., Xu, Z., & Huang, W. (2021). Cellular Senescence Affects Cardiac Regeneration and Repair in Ischemic Heart Disease. Aging and Disease, 12(2), 552-569. https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2020.0811

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT:Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

 

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.

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