The “whoosh effect” is a term used by some adopting a ketogenic diet, or keto, to describe the seemingly rapid weight loss that occurs.
This article discusses what the quiosh effect is, what the research says about it, and the potential risks of adopting a keto diet in order to lose weight.
Several forms of keto diet are available, including Regular Ketogenic Diet and Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.
We explain the benefits of the keto diet, as well as its dangers in this article.
Supports weight loss
The ketogenic diet can help to promote weight loss in several ways, including metabolism enhancement and appetite reduction.
Ketogenic diets are foods that fill a person up and that can reduce the hormones that trigger appetite. For these reasons, a keto diet will reduce the appetite and encourage weight loss.
Researchers found that, in a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 separate randomized controlled trials, people following ketogenic diets lost 2 pounds (lbs) more than those following low-fat diets over 1 year.
Likewise, another study of 11 studies showed that, after 6 months, people on a ketogenic diet lost 5 lbs more than those on low-fat diets.
Acne has several different causes and may have links to diet and blood sugar in some people.
Eating a diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates may alter the balance of gut bacteria and cause blood sugar to rise and fall significantly, both of which can adversely affect skin health.
According to a 2012 study, by decreasing carb intake, a ketogenic diet could reduce acne symptoms in some people.
May reduce risk of certain cancers
Researchers also explored the ketogenic diet’s effectiveness in helping avoid or even cure other cancers.
One study found that the ketogenic diet could be a safe and appropriate alternative treatment for use in people with certain diseases, alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This is because, in cancer cells, it would cause more oxidative stress than normal cells, causing them to die.
A more recent 2018 study suggests that since the ketogenic diet reduces blood sugar, the risk of insulin toxicity could also be reduced. Insulin is a blood sugar regulation factor that can have ties to certain cancers.
Although some research suggests the ketogenic diet may have some value in treating cancer, studies in this field are minimal. To better understand the potential benefits of the ketogenic diet in cancer prevention and treatment, researchers need to perform further studies.
May improve heart health
It is important that when a person follows the ketogenic diet they select healthy foods. Eating healthy fats, such as avocados rather than less healthy fats, such as pork rinds, may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol, some evidence suggests.
A 2017 study of animal and human research on a keto diet found that some individuals experienced a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as an rise in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “healthy” cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Consequently, reducing the impact of a keto diet on cholesterol will reduce the risk of heart complications in a person.
The analysis concluded, however, that the positive effects of a diet on heart health depend on the consistency of the diet. Hence eating healthy, nutritionally balanced food is important when following the keto diet.
May protect brain function
Some research, such as this review in 2019, indicate the ketones produced during the keto diet have neuroprotective benefits, which means they can reinforce and protect the brain and nerve cells.
That is why a keto diet can help a person avoid or control conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Further work is, however, needed into the effects of a keto diet on the brain.
Potentially reduces seizures
In a keto diet the combination of fat, protein, and carbs changes the way the body uses energy, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis is a biochemical cycle that the body uses ketone bodies for fuel during.
The Epilepsy Foundation indicates that ketosis in people with epilepsy will minimize seizures— especially those who have not responded to other methods of treatment. More research is needed on how successful this is although it tends to have the most impact on children with focal seizures.
A study for 2019 supports the hypothesis that a keto diet can benefit people with epilepsy. The ketogenic diet can reduce symptoms of epilepsy by multiple different mechanisms.
Improves PCOS symptoms
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that can lead to excess male hormones, ovulatory dysfunction and ovaries. A high carbohydrate diet can cause adverse effects, such as skin problems and weight gain, in people with PCOS.
Clinical studies on ketogenic diet and PCOS are not many. One 2005 pilot study studied five women over 24 weeks. The researchers find several PCOS markers improved with a ketogenic diet including:
- weight loss
- hormone balance
- ratios of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- levels of fasting insulin
Another 2019 research review found a keto diet has beneficial effects for people with hormonal disorders including PCOS and type 2 diabetes. They also made caution, however, that the studies were too complex to prescribe a keto diet as a general PCOS treatment.
Risks and complications
The ketogenic diet can carry a variety of health benefits. However, remaining on a long-term ketogenic diet can have an adverse health effect including an increased risk of the following health problems:
- kidney stones
- excess protein in the blood
- mineral and vitamin deficiencies
- a build up of fat in the liver
The keto diet can cause adverse side effects that many people know as keto flu. These adverse effects may include:
- low blood sugar
- a low tolerance for exercise
These symptoms are especially common at the beginning of the diet as the body adjusts to its new energy source.
Some populations should avoid the keto diet, including:
- people with diabetes who are insulin-dependent
- people who have eating disorders
- those with kidney disease or pancreatitis
- women during pregnancy and breastfeeding
People who take a type of medication called cotransporter 2 sodium-glucose (SGLT2) inhibitors for type 2 diabetes should not adopt a keto diet either. This medication increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous condition which increases blood acidity.
It is important to talk to a doctor, dietitian, or trusted healthcare provider about any planned diet plan, particularly for people who are trying to handle a health problem or disease.
People who are looking to start the keto diet should receive a doctor’s advice to test if they have diabetes, hypoglycemia, heart disease, or any other health conditions to ensure a safe eating pattern for the keto diet.
Keep in mind that there is a lack of research on the long term benefits of ketogenic diet. It is uncertain whether it is more important to sustain the diet for longer periods than less restrictive healthy eating habits.
A ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates, or severely limits them. Some carbohydrates do provide health benefits, however. People should eat a diet that includes a range of nutrient-dense, fibrous carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, alongside balanced protein sources, and healthy fats for a less restrictive dietary approach.
How long can I maintain a keto diet safely?
There is a fair amount of research backing the potential benefits of the ketogenic diet, including weight loss blood sugar regulation. However, the majority of studies have only taken place over short periods of a few weeks or months.
Some studies show the benefits of following the ketogenic diet over more extended periods of up to 2 years. However, there is a lack of studies exploring the potential side effects of following a ketogenic diet for longer periods.
One recent cohort study that followed 432,179 adults over 25 years associated both high and low carbohydrate intake with a greater risk of mortality than moderate carbohydrate intake. Specifically, people who consumed more than 70% or less than 40% of calories from carbohydrates were at a higher risk of mortality.
While it is likely that you will lose weight when following the ketogenic diet correctly on a short-term basis, research suggests that it is probably not the healthiest diet to follow long-term.
If you want to try the ketogenic diet, it may be best to limit this dietary pattern to a few months, then transition back to a less restrictive diet that you can maintain long-term. No matter what diet you follow, remember to make sure you are consuming whole, nutritious foods.
Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.