Gladstone Institutes scientists have found that the low-carb, low-calorie diet known as the ketogenic diet, often practiced by epileptics, also has an anti-aging effect.
In past eras, the ketogenic diet was used to treat epilepsy and control seizures, requiring periods of fasting to produce what we now know as ketones, a by-product of metabolism. One ketone body, β-hydroxybutyrate (βOHB), was found by Gladstone scientist to protect cells from the oxidative stress cells experience when toxins—from our environment as well as from our own cellular activity—build up in the body.
Ketogenic Diet: Switching on Genes, Protecting Cells
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at removing free radicals. While βOHB is toxic at high levels—such as with Type I diabetes—low levels of this compound contribute to slowing the aging process.
How it does that, however, has been “elusive” until now, according to Dr. Verdin of the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Center for HIV & Aging at Gladstone. “Here, we find that βOHB—the body’s major source of energy during exercise or fasting—blocks a class of enzymes that would otherwise promote oxidative stress, thus protecting cells from aging.”
Dr. Verdin and his team conducted a series of laboratory experiments, finding that βOHB production spurred on by controlled fasting blocked histone deacetylases (HDACs) activity. HDACs typically keep genes Foxo3a and Mt2 switched off, but βOHB prevents this. When the genes are activated, a process that protects cells from oxidative stress ensues.
Co-author Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, remarks, “The findings could be relevant for a wide range of neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, and traumatic brain injury—diseases that afflict millions and for which there are few treatment options.”
Admittedly, a functional ketogenic diet requires rigor, vigilance, and oftentimes professional guidance. Because ketones are formed when fat is the primary supply of calories, the ketogenic diet is high in healthy fats like omega 3s, found in oily fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Avocados are also known to naturally conquer aging and disease with their healthy fats and antioxidants.
If you’re on the hunt for anti-aging foods, look for quality over quantity, and don’t ignore some of the top antioxidant rich foods. In example, try to buy organic (and, whenever possible, locally harvested) berries for an anti-aging boost without the nasty pesticide residue. Green tea also has tremendous anti-aging benefits as well as, potentially, anti-cancer and weight-loss benefits.