It’s no secret the keto diet can help people lose weight by switching the body’s primary fuel source from sugar to fat. What’s less clear is whether the diet can reliably produce other health benefits, like clearer skin, increased mental clarity or even the reversal of conditions like type 2 diabetes.
One reason it’s hard to determine the exact health effects of diets is that it’s often unclear whether any observed effects come from the diet or from a combination of other factors, like stress, environment or genetics. Still, that doesn’t mean all the bold claims about the keto diet are wrong, but rather that you should approach them with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Here are three potential benefits of the keto diet that, while speculative, show how we might benefit from a better understanding of how a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet affects the body.
The keto diet can combat acne
Dermatologists had long thought there was no relationship between diet and acne, but some recent research suggests food can indeed affect complexion, particularly through the consumption of carbohydrates.
The basic theory goes like this: Eating carbohydrates – especially refined carbohydrates – spikes your blood sugar. This spike can stimulate hormone production, and those hormones can trigger oil production, which leads to acne.
Several recent studies have linked the consumption of high-glycemic-index foods (meaning foods that spike blood sugar levels) with acne, including:
- A 2007 study that found a low-glycemic-load diet led to greater reductions in acne compared to high-glycemic-load diets.
- A 2013 review that also found a correlation between eating low-glycemic-load foods and decreased acne.
- A 2014 study that identified carbohydrates as the “main culprit” of acne, and which advised dermatologists to “encourage their acne patients to minimize their intake of high glycemic index foods.”
So, how might the keto diet be an effective therapy for acne? A 2012 article by Italian researchers explored that question, as registered dietician Franziska Spritzler wrote for Diet Doctor, suggesting three reasons:
- Reduction in insulin levels: Elevated insulin levels stimulate increased production of skin cells, sebum, and androgens – setting the stage for acne eruptions. Ketogenic diets decrease insulin levels, often dramatically.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Inflammation drives acne progression. Very-low-carb and ketogenic diets have been shown to reduce inflammation.
- Decrease in IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1): Ketogenic diets decrease levels of IGF-1. Like insulin, IGF-1 increases sebum production and has been found to play a large role in acne.
Of course, whether – or to what extent – diet affects acne is still an open question that requires further research, and it’s worth noting that complexion is also affected by other factors like genetics and stress.