Why is the link between Keto and inflammation so significant? Because chronic inflammation underlies chronic disease.[*]
Keeping inflammation low is key to healthy aging, and Keto may help with that effort. Keep reading to learn why, along with tips for eating an anti-inflammatory Keto diet.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is another word for immune activity. This immune activity—a whirlwind of white blood cells, cytokines, platelets, and other immune particles—is typically unleashed in response to an injury, illness, or infection.
Think of what happens when you cut yourself. The area turns red, it hurts, the blood clots, a scab forms, and eventually, the wound heals. These are all signs of acute inflammation in response to a specific injury.
You should be grateful for acute inflammation. It’s how you neutralize countless threats throughout your life. Your immune system is always on guard.
But sometimes it’s on high-alert when you don’t need it. That’s called chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation (also called systemic inflammation) is a low-grade immune response that serves no useful purpose.[*] Instead, this unnecessary inflammation causes damage and increases the risk for many diseases.[*]
We’ll talk more about diet soon. First, let’s talk about conditions linked to inflammation.
Health Conditions Linked to Chronic Inflammation
If you wanted to peg a single factor underlying chronic disease, you could make a strong case for chronic inflammation. According to the World Health Organization, inflammatory diseases are the number one threat to the health of our species.[*]
These conditions include:
- Heart disease (the number one killer globally)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Celiac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Alzheimer’s disease[*]
Inflammation may even predict lifespan itself. In one study, low levels of inflammation predicted the healthy aging of centenarians better than telomere length, glucose metabolism, cholesterol levels, and many other biomarkers.[*]
How Keto May Lower Inflammation
If you want to keep inflammation low, diet is a good place to start. Limiting refined sugar goes a long way, but limiting all carbs (aka, eating Keto) may give you an extra anti-inflammatory boost. Here’s why.
#1: Anti-inflammatory ketones
But ketones aren’t just fuel. They’re also anti-inflammatory signaling molecules.
#2: Reduced blood sugar
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is a proinflammatory state. Elevated blood sugar increases insulin levels and oxidative stress, which in turn drives inflammation.[*]
Carb restriction may be one of the simplest ways to keep blood sugar low. Carbohydrates elevate blood sugar more than either protein or fat.
#3: Less Glutamate, More GABA
Glutamate and GABA are both chemicals that regulate brain activity. Glutamate is excitatory, GABA is relaxative.
In humans, Keto has been shown to increase GABA levels[*]—and it may suppress glutamate too.[*] Because of this, Keto is a promising therapy for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases of brain inflammation.[*]
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
One simple way to reduce inflammation is to avoid inflammatory foods. Let’s explore three main categories.
#1: Refined sugar
Case in point: High glycemic diets have been associated with elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of chronic inflammation.[*] Elevated CRP, in turn, is linked to a wide range of medical conditions.[*] Diets high in refined sugars and processed carbohydrates also chronically increase insulin levels. This leads to insulin resistance, further worsening inflammation.
#2: Vegetable oils
Excess consumption of soybean oil (among other vegetable oils) has been linked to the American obesity epidemic.[*] Why? Because vegetable oils contain copious amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
All that omega-6 changes the composition of cellular membranes, creating conditions ripe for fat storage. Combine that with low intakes of omega-3s and you have a formula for inflammation, obesity, and chronic disease.
#3: Food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies
Food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies are often mediated by inflammation. The immune system doesn’t recognize a food particle, it attacks, and symptoms soon follow.[*]
Food allergies aren’t subtle, but food intolerances can be. The trick is to use a food journal (or food tracker like Carb Manager) so you can correlate specific food with specific symptoms.
Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Keto Diet
To maximize the anti-inflammatory potential of Keto, you’ll want to eat a clean Keto diet. Let’s contrast a clean Keto diet with a dirty Keto diet.
Dirty Keto: vegetable oils like soybean oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and safflower oil
Clean Keto: heaps of non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli
Dirty Keto: Vegetables? What vegetables?
Clean Keto: organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised fresh meat and seafood
Dirty Keto: processed meat and bunless greasy hamburgers from the local fast food joint
Clean Keto: anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, rosemary, and cinnamon
Dirty Keto: whatever is used to season the pork rinds
Clean Keto: non-caloric beverages like coffee, tea, and lemon water
Dirty Keto: diet soda
The takeaway is simple: To eat clean Keto is to consciously favor anti-inflammatory whole foods. When you eat this way, you give your future self the gift of better health.