I recently came across a lady’s comment on Instagram about how a co-worker was lost to kidney shutdown, reportedly from a prolonged keto diet. This prompted me to do a little write-up on it to separate the facts from the fads.

A keto diet is well known for being a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low carb diet where the body, due to low blood sugar from low carb intake, is forced to turn to its fat store in breaking down fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies in the liver, with the ketones being used as energy, instead of glucose from carbs.

In medicine, it is primarily employed to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, thus driving glucose (sugar) level down, and increasing ketones circulation in the blood (a state called ketosis)- these ketones now replace glucose in the brain, thus leading to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.

It’s gained prominence today in the weight loss industry because of this ketosis-generating effect and thus, have different names like ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), etc. Suffice to say, the essence of keto diet in weight loss is to create ketosis which helps the body to begin breaking down fat from the body’s fat store in order to generate energy, in the shortage of blood sugar from low or no carb diet.

Though, kidney damage or disease has not been medically associated with keto diets (even prolonged ones) in people with normally functioning kidneys, concerns however arise when there’s a pathologic (dysfunctioning) kidney already, as the keto diet will amount to an undue stress on it, especially with very low carbohydrate, very high protein ketogenic diets.

Medically, ketosis is not necessarily harmful if it’s for short term, average of 2 – 7 days (max of 10 – 14 days), which can be done at intervals with some days of breaks in between. After all, if you exercise daily in the morning on an empty stomach, your body enters a ketosis mode transiently, towards burning fat in order to supply sugar to your system.

I however suggest that people (ardent believers in keto diets) should be careful with following the bandwagon of dietary advice from online blogs and fitness enthusiasts without background expertise in nutrition.

Also, I encourage everyone to get to know their body’s clinical state through easy-to-do kidney function tests like urinalysis, serum electrolytes, urea, and creatinine (and possibly GFR) before embarking on keto diets. These tests (safe for GFR) shouldn’t cost more than #6,000 in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria. What’s food for A might be poison for B, just because of different clinical states of their bodies. In simple words, for your health and longevity sake, know your body’s capacity before assigning it a role it can’t handle.

About the Writer

Dr Osaz (Deji Osasona), is an integrative physician, psychotherapist, life & wellness coach, and MD, WINBOX centre (a lifestyle clinic and behavioural health centre based in Lekki, Lagos). For expert help on effective stress management and resilience building, send a mail drosaz@winbox.com.ng for enquiries on available coaching and therapy bookings or training programs. Connect with Dr Osaz on Instagram and Twitter 

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