The Ketogenic diet is an extremely popular diet amongst the weight loss community. Originally brought to light for its promising research in epilepsy management, it quickly became a hopeful solution for those looking to quickly shed pounds without massive caloric restrictions. But like any trend, we must weigh all the pros and cons, while simultaneously accounting for the long-term impacts on our health.
First off, let's break down what the ketogenic diet actually involves. The premises of the diet focuses on reducing carbohydrates to force the body into an anabolic (breakdown) state, known as ketogenesis. Ketogenesis is a metabolic process our bodies enter into when sources of glucose (both dietary and stored) cannot keep us with metabolic needs, forcing the body to produce ketone bodies from adipose tissue (aka fat) to use for energy in place of sugar. As you can imagine, this is favourable for weight loss for several reasons. In addition to fat now being used as fuel, the blood sugar staying so low sharply drops insulin secretion, which further reduces the stimulus for fat and sugar storage. As long as the body remains deprived of carbohydrates, ketosis is sustained and weight loss continues. There’s also the concept of something called ‘super fuel’, meaning ketone bodies produce more usable ATP molecules (aka energy) to the heart, muscles, and brain than glucose, resulting in the additional energy and mental focus many people report while in ketosis.1
The gut is home to a wide array of microbiota that influences various interactions within our bodies. These microbes also regulate gut functioning, digestive processes, absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, and so on. When the gut is not functioning correctly, our bodies suffer. Long-term effects of an unhealthy gut include increasing the risks of metabolic problems, depression, obesity, cancer, autoimmunity, liver disease, ulcers, heart disease, and other illnesses and health problems.
Of particular interest is the Paleo diet, which restricts the consumption of all grains (bread, rice, pasta, cereals, quinoa, etc) including whole grains, as well as legumes. The most notable limit of this diet is the loss of soluble and insoluble fibers found within these foods. Let’s explore this important nutrient first.
The thyroid is responsible for producing various hormones in the body that help regulate metabolism and provide support for other bodily systems, like the immune system and cardiovascular system.
Thyroid hormones help improve the absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat. They assist with gut motility. They regulate our appetites. Additionally, these hormones help boost our basal metabolic rate to burn calories. Other functions of thyroid hormones include helping metabolize glucose and break down fats.
Cruciferous vegetables consist of a wide range of vegetables that contain glucosinolates or goitrogeris – a sulfur compound found in kale, broccoli, arugula, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, and other vegetables. People with thyroid problems, such as low functioning or autoimmune disorders are typically advised to avoid cruciferous vegetables due to their ‘goitrogenic’ effect.
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder common in reproductive-age women. The exact cause of PCOs is not fully understood. Women with this condition may experience higher levels of androgen (male hormones), prolonged or infrequent menstrual periods, and problems in the ovaries.
When PCOS can be diagnosed earlier, and treatment can begin, risks of long-term complications could be reduced. PCOS can develop with the first menstrual period or later in life from a change in health, like becoming obese.
Common Symptoms Associated with PCOS
Some of the more common symptoms that could indicate a woman has developed PCOS include:
Millions of people around the world live with autoimmune disorders, which is why it’s so important that our understanding of these disorders continues to grow rapidly. A growing body of research suggests that chronic illness responds best to a multifaceted methodology of diet and lifestyle changes that include a focus on anti-inflammatory nutrition, moderate exercise, adequate and plentiful sleep, and reasonably reducing stress. This approach to managing autoimmune disease has been termed ‘the Autoimmune Protocol’ (AIP) and may be the key to successfully managing autoimmune disorder symptoms.
What you eat matters.
What we put into our bodies has a significant impact on our health – even for those of us considered generally healthy. Processed foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats can contribute to the onset of autoimmune symptoms. But even some ‘good-for-you’ foods may affect gut flora and result in recurrence of autoimmune symptoms.
Hair thinning and/or hair loss is a familiar experience for many, especially as we age. It’s a topic close to home, as I’ve struggled with my own personal battle with hair loss. Until recently, the cause of male or female pattern baldness was not widely understood and thought to be primarily to be an inherited trait. But it turns out that a specific androgen – DHT – plays a significant role in hair loss.
What is DHT?
Dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, is an androgenic hormone derived from testosterone. We often think of testosterone as being mostly a male hormone, but it can also be found in smaller amounts in females, and is essential for mood, energy, and reproduction.
In men, the androgen group of hormones, including DHT, play a significant role in the development of male sex characteristics such asdeepening the voice, body hair growth, increased muscle mass, growth of male reproductive organs, and how fat is stored in the body.
While testosterone is the most abundant androgen found in men, playing the greatest role in controlling and maintaining many physiological and reproductive processes, DHT also helps influence these processes. In fact, DHT has demonstrated to be 2.5x more biologically active than testosterone, however it is found in significantly smaller amounts.
The use of hormonal birth control one of the most common and effective ways to prevent pregnancy, as well as manage unwanted symptoms of reproductive health.
Hormonal birth control, whether a pill, an implant, or a patch, all functions in a fairly similar way. They introduce synthetic hormones into the body to prevent ovulation and increase cervical mucus – a tandem effect that helps prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are also prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of certain gynecological conditions, like endometriosis, and regulate menstruation.
However, if you’ve have been diagnosed with a chronic gut dysfunction disorder and are struggling to treat it, your birth control may be an attributing factor.
PCOS is a medical condition that affects hormone levels in women, impacting 5%–20% of women of reproductive age worldwide and characterized by hyperandrogenism, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovarian morphology. Women with PCO end up producing a higher amount of male hormones, like testosterone, and often experiencing resistance to the metabolic hormone, insulin. These imbalances can lead to issues with acne, and missed menstrual periods (impacting fertility), amongst other symptoms. The 2003 Rotterdam criteria are currently the internationally accepted criteria by which PCOS is diagnosed.
However, the pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is poorly understood. Part of the research conducted on the origination of the disease has shown that the likelihood of PCOS development in women may be determined at birth. Research in primates suggests that excess fetal androgen exposure may predispose the infant to later development of PCOS through alternations in the epigenome (1). If there is an imbalance of hormones from PCOS during pregnancy, then there is an increased likelihood the baby may also develop PCOS if the infant is born female. Additionally, exposure to testosterone prior to pregnancy could lead to PCOS even when women have children later.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the leading medical conditions now impacting women of reproductive age, and can also have substantial impacts on a woman’s physical and emotional well-being. We’ve already covered symptoms and diagnostic testing of PCOS here, but let's dive deeper into one key hormonal disruption that seems to be particularly troublesome for my patient population – hyperandrogenism.
Hyperandrogenism is common in PCOS, often seen as elevated testosterone and DHEA levels on blood work. And while these two hormones are often seen as synonymous when evaluating total androgenic burden, there is a significant difference between the two. Testosterone and DHEA are both classified as androgenic hormones, however some women with PCOS may have elevated testosterone, with normal DHEA levels, and vice versa. You also don't have to have cysts on your ovaries to present with hyperandrogenism (in fact, only about 20% of women with high androgens have cystic ovaries), and cysts on your ovaries don't always mean you’ll have high androgens. Have I lost you yet?
© 2018 Courtney Holmberg ND. All rights reserved. Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND does not endorse or have professional affiliation with any discussed supplement or lab companies. All material provided is for general education and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to assist in diagnosing to treating a medical condition. Legal & Medical Disclaimer, sitemap