Can diet reverse heart failure? Keto might

You can’t go a day without hearing the hype about ketogenic diets. All the Hollywood stars seem to love it, but it’s nothing new really…

The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to help control seizures in many children with epilepsy. Higher ketone levels which can be detected in the blood, urine, and breath often lead to improved seizure control. This diet has been recommended by physicians and carefully monitored by a dietician for children specifically who have not responded to medications.

If you’re not familiar, the ketogenic diet is low in carbohydrates and rich in proteins and fats. Ketones are formed when the body uses fat as its primary source of energy. Our body typically uses carbohydrates for its fuel and because the diet is very low in carbohydrates, fats become the primary fuel.

When your body lacks glucose from food it starts breaking down stored fat into ketone bodies, which is called ketosis. Ketosis can typically happen in two to four days of eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates daily for most people.

The keto diet lacks a substantial amount of carbohydrates, however, includes plenty of meats, eggs, sausages, cheese, butter, oils and certain vegetables. The main reason many people use this diet is fast weight loss, but it is very restrictive allowing very few fruits and vegetables, and hard to stick to.

It appears a ketogenic diet could be an alternative to treat certain conditions and accelerate weight loss, but with so much emphasis on fat is it heart healthy? Let’s dig in…

The Ketogenic Diet in Heart Failure

Kyle McCommis, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Biochemistry who leads a research team from Saint Louis University thinks so.

In fact, his research team believes a high fat or ketogenic diet could prevent — possibly even reverse — heart failure.

In an animal model, drastic heart failure in mice was bypassed by switching to high fat or “ketogenic” diets.

“Thus, these studies suggest that consumption of higher fat and lower carbohydrate diets may be a nutritional therapeutic intervention to treat heart failure,” McCommis said.

According to their research findings:

  • Diets with high levels of fat and enough carbs and protein to limit ketosis were able to significantly improve or prevent cardiac remodeling and dysfunction in a mouse model.
  • Higher fat and low carb diets could become a therapeutic intervention to treat heart failure
  • Prolonged fasting reduces the ketolytic flux and increases cardiac reliance on fatty acid oxidation. A 24-hour fast reduced blood glucose levels and enhanced plasma concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids and ketone bodies.
  • A three-week ketogenic diet and fat metabolism increase were associated with reverse remodeling of the failing hearts to normal size.
  • These results suggest that ketogenic diets do not enhance cardiac ketone body metabolism, but rather stimulates fatty acid oxidation, which may be responsible for improved cardiac remodeling and performance.

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Pros and cons

Based on the available research, a ketogenic diet may be associated with some improvements in some cardiovascular risk factors, such as type 2 diabetes and HDL cholesterol levels. And it certainly looks promising as a nutritional intervention for heart failure.

But more studies are warranted to better assess the effects of long-term use of ketogenic diets and cardiovascular risk factors.

In the long term, be mindful of extreme and aggressive diet programs that may not be practical or sustainable. It’s more important to embrace a lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet high in vegetables and lower in processed foods. Cardiologist and Easy Health Options ® contributor, Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, warns that what you’re not eating could kill you.

However, if you want to try a keto diet, these are the foods to avoid:

  • Low-fat dairy
  • Grain products such as pasta, bread, cereal
  • Root vegetables including potatoes
  • All grains and starches
  • Fruit
  • Legumes such as beans and chickpeas

A few caveats…

  • Individuals who have kidney disease should talk to their doctors before starting this type of diet because it could make their condition worse.
  • Quality of fat matters. Poor quality fats could lead to poor heart health, whereas good fats can ultimately reduce risk factors for heart disease.
  • Some people may also feel fatigued, experience bad breath, sleep issues, and constipation at the start of a keto diet.

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High fat or ‘ketogenic’ diets could prevent, reverse heart failure — EurekAlert

Ketogenic Diet  — Epilepsy Foundation

Ketogenic Diet: Is the ultimate Low carb diet good for you? — Harvard Health Publishing

Is Keto Bad for your Heart? — Hakensack Meridian Health

Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors:  Evidence from Animal and Human Studies — Nutrients


Tracey G. Ingram, AuD

By Tracey G. Ingram, AuD

Tracey G. Ingram is a former Occupational Therapist, and presently a writer and Doctor of Audiology with more than 20 years of experience. She enjoys living a healthy lifestyle and feels health is a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. She practices intermittent fasting, Pilates, yoga, hiking and daily meditation. She loves to share her experiences with nutrition, supplements and eating organic foods to help others improve their health.