Beware of Keto Diet: May Be Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attacks and Cardiovascular Disease

Keto Ketogenic Diet

A new study presented at a scientific conference warns that a “keto-like” diet, which involves high amounts of fat and low carbohydrates, may increase the risk of cardiovascular events like chest pain, blocked arteries, heart attacks, and strokes. The study suggests that this type of diet may lead to higher levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood.

Popular weight-loss diet also associated with higher levels of LDL cholesterol.

The ketogenic or “keto” diet, which involves consuming very low amounts of carbohydrates and high amounts of fats, has been gaining popularity. However, a new study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology suggests that a “keto-like” diet may be associated with higher blood levels of “bad” cholesterol and a twofold heightened risk of cardiovascular events such as chest pain (angina), blocked arteries requiring stenting, heart attacks and strokes.

“Our study found that regular consumption of a self-reported diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol— or “bad” cholesterol—and a higher risk of heart disease,” said Iulia Iatan, MD, PhD, attending physician-scientist at the Healthy Heart Program Prevention Clinic, St. Paul’s Hospital and University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver, Canada, and lead author of the study. “To our knowledge, our study is one of the first to examine the association between this type of dietary pattern and cardiovascular outcomes.”

Carbohydrates are the body’s first “go-to” source for fuel to provide energy for daily life. Low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diets, like a keto diet, restrict consumption of carbohydrates (e.g., bread, pasta, rice and other grains, baked goods, potato products such as fries and chips, and high-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables). By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it is forced to start breaking down fat for energy instead. The breakdown of fat in the liver produces ketones, chemicals that the body uses as energy in the absence of carbohydrates—hence the name ketogenic, or “ketone producing.” Proponents of a ketogenic diet generally suggest limiting carbohydrates to 10% of total daily calories, protein to 20% to 30% and obtaining 60% to 80% of daily calories from fat.

Ketogenic Diet

The keto diet, also known as the ketogenic diet, is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that has gained popularity in recent years. The diet involves consuming a very low amount of carbohydrates, typically less than 50 grams per day, which puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. In this state, the body switches from using glucose as its primary source of energy to using ketones, which are produced by the liver from stored fat.
The high fat intake in the keto diet typically comes from sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and oils. The diet also includes moderate amounts of protein, as excess protein can be converted into glucose and potentially interfere with ketosis.
The keto diet has been promoted for weight loss, as well as for other health benefits such as improved blood sugar control and increased energy levels. However, the diet can be difficult to maintain, and there are concerns about its potential long-term effects on health, including the risk of nutrient deficiencies, liver problems, and heart disease. It is important to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new diet, including the keto diet.

Some previous studies have shown that an LCHF diet can lead to elevated levels of LDL cholesterol in some people. While elevated LDL cholesterol is a known risk factor for heart disease (caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol in the coronary arteries), the effects of an LCHF diet on risk for heart disease and stroke have not been well studied, Iatan said.  

For this study, Iatan and her colleagues defined an LCHF diet as consisting of no more than 25% of total daily energy or calories from carbohydrates and more than 45% of total daily calories from fat. They dubbed this an LCHF diet and “keto-like” because it is somewhat higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat than a strict ketogenic diet. They defined a “standard diet” as individuals not meeting these criteria and having more balanced eating habits.

The research team analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a large-scale prospective database with health information from over half a million people living in the United Kingdom who were followed for at least 10 years. Upon enrollment in the biobank, 70,684 participants completed a one-time self-reported 24-hour diet questionnaire and, at the same time, had blood drawn to check their levels of cholesterol. The researchers identified 305 participants whose questionnaire responses indicated that their diet during the 24-hour reporting period met the study’s definition of an LCHF. These participants were matched by age and sex with 1,220 individuals who reported eating a standard diet. This resulted in 73% of the participants in each group being women and the group’s average age was 54 years. Those on an LCHF diet had an average body mass index (BMI) of 27.7; those on a standard diet, 26.7. A BMI of 25 to 30 falls within the overweight range.

Compared with participants on a standard diet, those on an LCHF diet had significantly higher levels of both LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (apoB), the protein component that sits on LDL and other atherogenic lipoprotein particles. Previous studies have shown that elevated apoB may be a better predictor than elevated LDL cholesterol for risk of cardiovascular disease, Iatan said. After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up—and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking—people on an LCHF diet had more than two times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. In all, 9.8% of participants on an LCHF diet experienced a new cardiac event, compared with 4.3% of those on a standard diet, a doubling of risk for those on an LCHF diet.

“Among the participants on an LCHF diet, we found that those with the highest levels of LDL cholesterol were at the highest risk for a cardiovascular event,” Iatan said. “Our findings suggest that people who are considering going on an LCHF diet should be aware that doing so could lead to an increase in their levels of LDL cholesterol. Before starting this dietary pattern, they should consult a healthcare provider. While on the diet, it is recommended they have their cholesterol levels monitored and should try to address other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and smoking.”

The study’s findings also suggest that not everyone responds to an LCHF diet in the same way.

“On average, cholesterol levels tend to rise on this diet, but some people’s cholesterol concentrations can stay the same or go down, depending on several underlying factors,” Iatan said. “There are inter-individual differences in how people respond to this dietary pattern that we don’t fully understand yet. One of our next steps will be to try to identify specific characteristics or genetic markers that can predict how someone will respond to this type of diet.”   

A limitation of the study is that participants provided dietary information at only one point in time, which should be considered when interpreting the study findings, Iatan said. Moreover, self-reports of food consumption can be inaccurate, though Iatan said this questionnaire has been extensively validated.    

Because the study was observational, it can only show an association between the diet and an increased risk for major cardiac events, not a causal relationship. However, Iatan said the findings merit further research in prospectively designed studies, especially when approximately 1 in 5 Americans report being on a low-carb, keto-like or full keto diet.

Iatan presented the study, “Association of a Low-carbohydrate High-fat (Ketogenic) Diet With Plasma Lipid Levels and Cardiovascular Risk in a Population-based Cohort,” on Sunday, March 5.

4 Comments on "Beware of Keto Diet: May Be Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attacks and Cardiovascular Disease"

  1. Maeby Lynked Maebynoh | March 7, 2023 at 1:37 am | Reply

    Maybe people choose a special diet because they have worse cholesterol, the way anyone choosing diet fizzy drinks is fat?

    Self-reported studies are great. I eat a natural keto diet with healthy fats in moderation while staying optimally hydrated, like these potato chips I’m eating with beer. My favourite bit is “On average, cholesterol levels tend to rise on this diet, but some people’s cholesterol concentrations can stay the same or go down”, so after a dozen years they found their conclusion is true apart from when it’s false. Don’t eat the chalk on the way back to the drawing board.

  2. Wow!! If only STDaily would come out with the same VIGOR AND VITRIOL about the 91-divoc vaccines, but, the science cried the wolf….

  3. Rajeev Samuel | March 7, 2023 at 7:52 am | Reply

    Carbohydrates combined with Poly-Unsaturated fats (PUFA / VARNISH -> soybean/safflower/sunflower/corn/seasame/canola/flaxseed/cottonseed/linseed) directly cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, obesity and dementia.

  4. This is a bizarre excuse for a study. They categorized people based on exactly one day’s self reported diet over an 11 year period. Then they called a diet that allows 25% carbs as a “keto-like” diet. This is a typical example of shoddy “science” being promoted by a credulous press.

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