Many people want the benefits of the ketogenic diet and make sure that their heart health remains intact.
If you have a history of heart conditions yourself or running in your family, it’s natural to wonder, “Is the keto diet good or bad for your heart?”
How The Concern For Heart Disease Risks Came About
A study by Chinese researchers found that from the patients they have studied who followed a low carbohydrate diet, after 20 years, they had higher risks for atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation occurs in the heart, where your heartbeat is very fast and has an irregular rhythm.
When the upper chambers of the heart face erratic signals, an erratic heartbeat occurs.
Typically, a heart will beat around 60-100 beats per minute, where someone with atrial fibrillation can range as high as 100-175 beats per minute.
Atrial fibrillation has been shown to cause many health complications such as strokes and heart failure. (1)
While this may seem scary, this study does not show the cause-and-effect relationship between low-carb diets and atrial fibrillation.
Also, it’s important to note that the patients were not following a ketogenic diet either, and that’s the critical point of the study as it relates to heart health and keto.
Even though the reported intake of carbohydrates in the study was around 44% of calories which technically makes it a “low-carb diet,” that is way higher than the recommended amount when following keto guidelines.
After the study was done, it was picked apart by other scientists concluding that the association between low-carb and poor heart health was a very loose association.
There are way too many factors involved to draw any conclusions from that study.
Another hypothesis was mentioned that the patients likely had been eating few amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grains which have been shown to fight inflammation. (2)
Inflammation has also been shown to have an impact on Atrial Fibrillation. (3)
While the ketogenic diet has been around for decades now successfully treating epilepsy in children, only recently has it become popular among adults who have used it for weight loss.
Similar to other low-carb diets like Atkins, popular back in the early 2000s, the ketogenic diet has been adopted by newer generations, unlike other diets.
The reason the keto diet’s positive impact has been widespread is due to the attention people are now paying to it when it comes to the food they’re putting inside their bodies.
Higher fat diets have been shown to decrease hunger because you feel fuller after meals making consuming excessive amounts of calories much smaller.
When looking at the breakdown of consumed foods, people on the keto diet now have a better understanding of the makeup of many foods.
They’re likely to consume healthier options while decreasing foods that are processed.
Also, healthy habits and routines are established over time which leads to more and more positive changes.
This leads to weight loss and feelings of euphoria in some people.
Can The Ketogenic Diet Reverse Heart Disease?
A team of researchers from Saint Louis University found that preventing or even reversing heart failure can happen from the ketogenic diet.
When looking at animal models, by switching to a high-fat diet, heart failure was avoided entirely and, in some cases, reversed.
Studies suggest that a ketogenic diet or really low carb diets can be an intervention and even treatment option for heart failure. (4)
There is a layer of muscle in the heart called the myocardium, which is made up of cardiomyocytes.
Myocardium can be found specifically in the ventricles, atria, and all four heart chambers.
Myocardium requires immense energy from the food we eat to keep our heart pumping, but it can also adapt to different fuel sources.
When you switch and enter into ketosis instead of burning glycogen for fuel, your heart also uses this energy to power your body.
Also, within this study, it showed that 24-hour fasts in mice, which is also ketogenic due to entering into ketosis, significantly improved the overall heart health of the mice.
Takeaways From The Study
- Diets that include high levels of fat and lower levels of carbohydrates were shown to improve or prevent the heart from changing size and shape due to cardiac damage or disease.
- Studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can act as an intervention to treat or reverse heart disease or heart failure.
- Similar to keto, longer fasts had been shown to reduce glucose levels in the blood.
- Consuming a ketogenic diet for 3 weeks, the increase in fat metabolism was shown to reduce heart size back to normal.
- The results also suggest that high-fat, low-carb diets stimulate energy released from fatty acids producing Beta-oxidation.
Are There Dangers To The Keto Diet?
Yes, there are common mistakes people make on the ketogenic diet as well as downsides you should be aware of.
Since you will be consuming a considerable portion of calories from fat, you need to be weary of the kinds of fats you’re consuming daily.
Fats you should stay away from are saturated fats which can elevate your LDL cholesterol.
If you consume a lot of saturated fat, you can put yourself at risk for coronary disease and even a heart attack.
The healthier fats to consume are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated fat can be found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil. It’s been shown to lower LDL cholesterol while also keeping your HDL or “good cholesterol” levels high.
Polyunsaturated fat is mainly found in vegetable oils, and there are two types, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids.
You can find Omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and oysters, while Omega-6 fatty acids are found in soybean, corn, and safflower oil.
It’s possible that you will see a spike in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides when starting a ketogenic diet.
For most people, this levels out after a few months, and elevated LDL levels short-term do not cause concern for cardiovascular disease.
High cholesterol and triglycerides that maintain at high levels for more extended periods should be looked at by your doctor.