The latest research on the ketogenic diet reveals metabolic effects that may prove beneficial against obesity.

Low-carbohydrate diets have been all the rage in the weight loss world since the explosion of cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins’ famed program in the early 2000s. While sometimes criticized for being too restrictive or even dangerous for certain people, these diets essentially replace carbohydrates with fat, forcing the body into ketosis. This is a metabolic state in which the body relies on burning fat — not sugar derived from carbohydrates — for energy.

The ketogenic diet has been touted for not only helping individuals lose weight but also achieving dramatic reductions in their blood sugar and insulin levels.

As covered in The Dallas Express, excess weight can lead to an array of negative health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and infertility. Even with the greater availability of weight loss drugs, such as Ozempic, obesity rates have soared across the country, creating a looming public health crisis.

New research published in Nature Metabolism provides insight into how the ketogenic diet may provide an answer to the obesity issue. A team from Fudan University in Shanghai performed multimethod studies on both mice and humans to better understand what exactly a ketogenic diet does to an organism.

In the animal studies, mice were either fed a ketogenic diet or a regular diet for seven weeks. The researchers found that the ketogenic-fed rodents’ blood levels showed significantly different amounts of bioactive metabolites, which are compounds that interact with bodily functions, including metabolism. Namely, taurodeoxycholic acid and tauroursodeoxycholic acid were found in higher amounts in these mice. Researchers hypothesized that these bile acids were behind the weight loss and lower fasting blood sugar levels.

The research team tested these findings in observational studies on 416 human participants between the ages of 20 and 60 and found them to be similar. As a result, some insights into the underlying mechanisms through which the ketogenic diet leads to weight loss were revealed.

According to the researchers, it all begins in the gut. A low-carbohydrate diet results in less Lactobacillus murinus ASF361 in the gut microbiome, which in turn sparks the production of bile salt hydrolase, a microbial enzyme, and higher levels of bile acid.

Bile acids then block the absorption of calories in the intestines, leading to weight loss and lower blood sugar levels.

At the same time, some experts have reservations about the long-term impact of a ketogenic diet.

“Although effective for [short-term] weight loss, the ketogenic diet raises concerns due to its impact on the gut microbiome, resulting in reduced diversity and altered bile acids, potentially impacting long-term health,” Alyssa Simpson, a registered dietitian based in Arizona, told Medical News Today.

Maintaining diversity in the gut microbiome has been linked to improved health, including the prevention of heart disease, depression, and more.