By Dr. Mercola
Mitochondria — the tiny energy factories within your cells — generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency your body needs to run its systems. Your mitochondria are also responsible for apoptosis (programmed cell death), and serve as important signaling molecules that help regulate your genetic expression. Hence, the state of your mitochondria plays a key role in health and disease.
Once your mitochondria become damaged and dysfunctional, your energy reserves decrease, leading to a wide variety of symptoms, some of the most common being headache and fatigue, and leaving you increasingly vulnerable to degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative decay.
Unfortunately, mitochondrial damage is more the norm than the exception these days, thanks to the prevalence of processed food diets, inactivity, lack of sun exposure and excessive exposure to toxins and non-native electromagnetic fields from cellphones, routers, cellular towers and more. All of these factors contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction. On the upside, your body can regenerate and renew, regardless of your age — provided it has the proper fuel to do so.
A ketogenic diet — which is very low in net carbohydrates and high in healthy fats — is key for boosting mitochondrial function. Healthy fats also play an important role in maintaining your body's electrical system.
When your body is able to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates water-soluble fats called ketones that burn far more efficiently than carbs, thereby creating fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals. Ketones also decrease inflammation, improve glucose metabolism1 and aid the building of muscle mass.2
International Study Confirms Fat for Fuel Premise
The benefits of a cyclical ketogenic diet are detailed in my latest bestselling book, "Fat for Fuel."3 While the book was peer-reviewed by over a dozen health experts and scientists, a new large-scale international study (known as the international Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology, or PURE, study4,5 ) adds further weight to the premise that high intakes of healthy fats — especially saturated fats — boost health and longevity. As reported by STAT News:6
"Its research team recorded the eating habits of 135,000 adults in 18 countries — including high-income, medium-income, and low-income nations — and followed the participants' health for more than seven years on average. Among the PURE participants, those with the highest intake of dietary fat (35 percent of daily calories) were 23 percent less likely to have died during the study period than those with the lowest fat intake (10 percent of calories).
The rates of various cardiovascular diseases were essentially the same across fat intake, while strokes were less common among those with a high fat intake. Upending conventional wisdom, the findings for carbohydrate intake went in the opposite direction. PURE participants with the highest carbohydrate intake (77 percent of daily calories) were 28 percent more likely to have died than those with the lowest carbohydrate intake (46 percent of calories)."
Low-Fructose Diet Significantly Reduces Liver Fat in Mere Days
In related news, another recent study found a reduced-sugar diet lowered liver fat by more than 20 percent in just nine days — a reduction co-author Susan Noworolski called "unprecedented." Processed fructose found in soda, fruit juices and processed food is a major contributor to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition affecting an increasing number of children. In the past two decades, NAFLD among children has more than doubled.
According to lead author Jean-Marc Schwarz, "Our study clearly shows that sugar is turned into fat, which may explain the epidemic of fatty liver in children consuming soda and food with added sugar. And we find that fatty liver is reversed by removing added fructose from our diet."
NAFLD raises your risk for Type 2 diabetes. Conventional advice recommends a low-fat diet for Type 2 diabetics, but this and other research refutes that strategy.7 On the contrary, a high-fat, low-carb diet has been shown to improve both blood sugar levels and blood lipids.8
Dr. Robert Lustig (who was not involved in the study but has investigated the role of fructose in disease for many years) commented on the results, saying, "Many people think that fructose provides empty calories. But no, they are toxic calories because they are metabolized only in the liver, and the liver turns the excess into fat."
American Heart Association Has It All Wrong
In June, the American Heart Association (AHA) shocked health conscious individuals around the world by declaring coconut oil dangerous and urging people to switch from butter to margarine to protect their heart health.9 According to the AHA, replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats such as margarine and vegetable oil might cut your heart disease risk by as much as 30 percent.
This is a remarkable statement when you consider that margarine and refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils10 have been scientifically identified as the fats that actually DO cause heart disease and other health problems, whereas saturated fats have been exonerated. Vegetable oils are particularly hazardous in cooking, as they produce toxic oxidation products like cyclic aldehydes when heated.
They're also high in damaged omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. In large amounts, these fats cannot be burned for fuel. Instead, they're incorporated into cellular and mitochondrial membranes where they are highly susceptible to oxidative damage. In short, margarines and vegetable oils are a recipe for metabolic and mitochondrial dysfunction, and there's nothing heart healthy about that!
The AHA's Presidential Advisory was sent out to cardiologists around the world, not just to those in the U.S. Overall, the AHA now recommends limiting your daily saturated fat intake to 6 percent of daily calories or less11 — a far cry from the 50 percent or more most people actually need for optimal health. However, it quickly became apparent that the AHA had carefully cherry-picked outdated data to support an outdated view.12
In fact, the AHA bases its ancient recommendation on decades' old studies. The four studies they decided to focus on all date back to the 1960s and early 1970s — the eras when the low-fat myth was born and grew to take hold.
Moreover, none of these four studies actually involved coconut oil, which means the AHA is flat out making false claims when it's identifying coconut oil as a dangerous fat. Nutritional science has made significant strides since the '70s, and studies have repeatedly refuted the idea that high-fat diets promote heart disease. The featured study above is just the latest in a long string of such studies.
Why Is the AHA Clinging to Outdated Science?
As for why the AHA would choose to ignore decades of scientific studies showing saturated fats have no impact on heart health is anyone's guess, but the timing of this bold vegetable oil promotion does coincide with news about a vaccine to lower cholesterol.13,14 If people would simply eat healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and butter, there would be no need for a vaccine strategy.
Of course, there are other financial incentives as well, not to mention the basic reluctance to admit they've led nearly two generations of people astray with their advice, possibly harming millions. As noted by Nina Teicholz, an investigative journalist and author of "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet:"15
"To me, the AHA advisory released in June was mystifying. How could its scientists examine the same studies as I had, yet double down on an anti-saturated fat position? With a cardiologist, I went through the nuts and bolts of the AHA paper, and came to this conclusion: It was likely driven less by sound science than by longstanding bias, commercial interests and the AHA's need to reaffirm nearly 70 years of its 'heart healthy' advice …
That the AHA should be so resistant to updating its view of saturated fats, despite so much legitimate science, could simply reflect the association's unwavering devotion to a belief it has promoted for decades. Or it could be due to its significant, longstanding reliance on funding from interested industries, such as the vegetable-oil manufacturer Procter & Gamble, maker of Crisco …
More recently, Bayer, the owner of LibertyLink soybeans, pledged up to $500,000 to the AHA, perhaps encouraged by the group's continued support of soybean oil, by far the dominant ingredient in the 'vegetable oil' consumed in America today."
Mitochondrial Metabolic Therapy
Based on the evidence, there's no doubt in my mind that saturated fats are vitally important for optimal health. Most people need to eat more of it, not less. In my book, "Fat for Fuel," I expound on why these kinds of healthy fats are so important, and how implementing a cyclical ketogenic diet may help you address a wide array of ailments.
More than just a diet book, "Fat for Fuel" presents a complete Mitochondrial Metabolic Therapy (MMT) program, complemented by an online course created in collaboration with nutritionist Miriam Kalamian, who specializes in nutritional ketosis. The course, which consists of seven comprehensive lessons, teaches you the keys to fighting chronic disease and optimizing your health and longevity. If you or someone you love has cancer, it will also augment any oncological treatment you might be undergoing.
MMT merges decades of my own research with the latest science on mitochondrial health, all of which has been peer-reviewed. Worksheets, additional reading, meal planning resources and recipes, with guidelines on how to tailor the program to your unique physiology, are all included. You'll also learn a number of other non-diet related ways to boost your mitochondrial health.
Consider Experimenting With a Water Fast
In all my clinical experience, I have never seen a more effective intervention than multi-day fasts where the only thing you consume is water and mineral supplements, and no other food or drink. I had previously been opposed to fasting if one was already at an ideal body weight. However, I failed to realize that there is metabolic magic that simply won't occur in any other setting.
I now view this type of extreme fast as taking out the trash. It allows your body to seriously upregulate autophagy and mitophagy and remove most of the damaged senescent cells in your body. This, of course, would include premalignant cells. It is a magnificent way to help cancer-proof your body. It is also outstanding for helping you achieve optimal body weight, and it can improve your health and extend your lifespan.
I think I have stumbled on an easy way to do it with minimal discomfort. I have been doing 14- to 16-hour daily intermittent fasts for 18 months, but the last two months I increased that to 20- to 21-hour fasts. I don't think you need to do intermittent fasting for 18 months before trying water-only fasts, but I think a few months would radically decrease any negative side effects.
Interestingly, I experienced no hunger pains. I simply had no food cravings, which is extremely fascinating to me as most people who fast are really hungry on day two. I lost 10 pounds on the fast. My ketones were 5.1 and my blood sugar 45, which doubled the ketone/glucose index threshold Dr. Thomas Seyfried says is necessary to treat cancer. After the fast I feasted and had 130 grams of net carbs with sweet potatoes and fruits and extra protein.
I encourage you to consider a water-only fast. I must admit that I was afraid I would lose muscle mass, but that is not what happens when you do short day-long fasts. I actually stopped losing weight after day three as my thyroid throttled back. I know this because my lowest body temperature the last night of the fast was a full 2 degrees lower. I also had my lowest recorded heart rate that day.
I will be interviewing experts on fasting in the future to go into more detail of all the benefits that are provided, but until then, I would strongly encourage everyone to seriously consider increasing their daily intermittent fasting toward the 18- to 20-hour range so you will be able to painlessly do water fasting and then feast like a king afterward. This in an amazing ability to have, as it gives you enormous power over your environment when you won't have to worry about eating for four days if problems happen.
The Benefits of a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The MMT diet is a CYCLICAL or targeted ketogenic diet, high in healthy fats and fiber, low in net carbs with a moderate amount of protein. This targeted component is important, as long-term continuous ketosis has drawbacks that may actually undermine your health and longevity. One of the primary reasons to cycle in and out of ketosis is because the "metabolic magic" in the mitochondria actually occurs during the refeeding phase, not during the starvation phase.
Ideally, once you have established ketosis you cycle healthy carbs back in to about 100 to 150 grams on the few days a week you do strength training. MMT has a number of really important health benefits, and may just be the U-turn you've been searching for if you're struggling with excess weight or just about any chronic health condition. Some of the most important benefits of this program are:
By rebalancing your body's chemistry, weight loss and/or improved weight management becomes nearly effortless. Studies have shown a ketogenic diet can double the weight lost compared to a low-fat diet.16
When burned for fuel, dietary fat releases far fewer ROS and secondary free radicals than sugar. Ketones are also very effective histone deacetylase inhibitors that effectively reduce inflammatory responses. In fact, many drugs are being developed to address immune related inflammatory diseases that are HDAC inhibitors.
A safer and more rational strategy is to use a ketogenic diet, as it is one of the most effective ways to drive down your inflammation level through HDAC inhibition.
Reduced cancer risk
While all cells (including cancer cells) can use glucose for fuel, cancer cells lack the metabolic flexibility to use ketones, while regular cells thrive on these fats. Once your body enters a state of nutritional ketosis, cancer cells are more susceptible to being removed by your body through a process called autophagy. A cyclical ketogenic diet is a fundamental, essential tool that needs to be integrated in the management of nearly every cancer.
Increased muscle mass
Ketones spare branched-chain amino acids, thereby promoting muscle mass.17 However, make sure to implement cyclic ketosis. Chronic ketosis may eventually result in muscle loss as your body is impairing the mTOR pathway, which is important for anabolic growth. mTOR needs to be stimulated, just not consistently, as many people do with high protein diets.
Lowered insulin levels
Keeping your insulin level low helps prevent insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and related diseases. Research has demonstrated that diabetics who eat a low-carb ketogenic diet are able to significantly reduce their dependency on diabetes medication and may even reverse the condition.18
Lowering insulin resistance will also reduce your risk of Alzheimer's. Recent research strengthens the link between insulin resistance and dementia even further, particularly among those with existing heart disease.19,20,21
One of the first things people really notice once they start burning fat for fuel is that any former "brain fog" lifts, and they can suddenly think very clearly. As mentioned earlier, ketones are a preferred fuel for your brain; hence, the improved mental clarity.
One of the reasons you can survive a long time without food is due to the process of ketosis, which spares protein breakdown.22 A fairly consistent effect seen in people on a ketogenic diet is that blood levels of leucine and other important structural proteins go up, allowing these proteins to perform a number of important signaling functions.
Ketones also mimic the life span extending properties of calorie restriction23 (fasting), which includes improved glucose metabolism; reduced inflammation; clearing out malfunctioning immune cells;24 reduced IGF-1, one of the factors that regulate growth pathways and growth genes and is a major player in accelerated aging; cellular/intracellular regeneration and rejuvenation (autophagy and mitophagy).25
Take Control of Your Health — And Help Others Do the Same
Two-thirds of the American population are overweight or obese,26 more than half of all Americans struggle with chronic illness,27 1 in 3 women and half of all men will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. is obesity-related.28 It doesn't have to be this way. The evidence is clear: Excessive net carbohydrate intake is the No. 1 culprit behind skyrocketing obesity, diabetes and chronic disease rates, primarily by decimating your mitochondrial function.
To address this, you need to eat a diet that allows your body to burn fat as its primary fuel rather than sugars. My MMT program will teach you everything you need to know to safely and effectively improve your mitochondrial function, thereby regaining your health and boosting your longevity. It's also one of the most effective ways to shed excess weight. Weight loss is simply a natural side effect of rebalancing your body's chemistry.
I'll be lecturing on this topic at the ACIM conference in Orlando, Florida, November 2 through 4. The event is being held at the Florida Conference and Hotel Center. If you are a physician and want to learn how you can use the ketogenic diet and other therapies for cancer, heart disease, Lyme and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, be sure to attend.
There will be a separate and less expensive track available to the public November 3 and 4 at the same location. Be sure to visit the conference page if you want to register for the event.