After suffering from ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome for too long, I decided to try a ketogenic diet. I had tried at least a dozen other diets before, with little-to-no success, but a trusted doctor friend of mine suggested that keto may be more effective at controlling my disease because “ketones are signaling molecules that suppress inflammation.” Indeed, within one week of starting keto, my symptoms improved and my Calprotectin, an inflammatory marker, dropped from being triple the upper limit of healthy normal to the lower end of the normal range! I’ve been on keto ever since. And, although the anti-inflammatory effects of keto are potent, and likely had something to do with my improvement, a paper recently published in the prestigious journal Cell entitled, “Ketone body signaling mediates intestinal stem cell homeostatic and adaptation to diet,” gave me pause to think about another mechanism by which ketones could have helped to heal my gut…
This study showed that ketones and a ketogenic diet can help stem cells in the gut multiply more quickly, helping the gut heal itself! To dig down a little bit into the nitty gritty of the paper, the researchers genetically engineered mice that expressed a “special” form of the gene, Hmgcs2, that codes for the most important (“rate limiting”) protein in the production of ketones. What was “special” about this form of Hmgcs2 is that the scientists could turn it on or off, and thus turn ketone body production on and off, in the live mice by giving them a chemical called tamoxifen. Through a series of experiments, in which they put different groups of these mice on different diets, the scientists were able to collect evidence to support a model in which a ketogenic diet causes both the liver, and intestinal cells themselves, to produce ketones, which act as hormone-like signaling molecules to inhibit HDAC1, a protein that decreases the expression of certain genes, increase activity in the NOTCH signaling pathway, and, ultimately increase the capacity of the intestinal stem cells to self-renew. If the jargon and double negatives are getting to you, here’s the punchline once more:
A ketonic diet appears to be able to superpower stem cells in the gut to help the gut heal!
I can’t promise keto will fix your tummy troubles like it did mine. But if the medicine I’m suggesting is a hearty morning omelet filled with your favorite mixed veggies, avocado fries with chipotle mayonnaise or other dipping sauce, a nice fillet of salmon or steak smothered in the fat or oil of your choice, and buttery keto late or hot cocoa, I’d argue giving it is better than an enema.