How To Test Zinc Levels At Home

Zinc, much like magnesium, is one of those nutrients that is critically important in hundreds of processes in the body. It is estimated that around 25% of the world population is actually deficient in this critical mineral. If you want healthy hormones, a strong immune system, and healthy tissues, you absolutely need to make sure your zinc levels are adequate. Not enough people know this, but there is actually a very simple method to test zinc levels in the comfort of your own home.

Another great way to start to tell if you may not be getting enough zinc in your diet, is by understanding its functions and how someone could become deficient in the first place.

Benefits Of Zinc

The benefits of optimizing your zinc levels are vast. Zinc is involved in so many processes from modulating the immune system to supporting healthy hormone production. These are foundational human processes that must be supported if you want to attain optimal health.

Boosts Immunity

Zinc modulates the immune system by balancing the Th-1 and Th-2 branches of the immune system. This is important for coordinating the immune system in cases of imbalance such as autoimmunity and cancer.

Zinc also assists a protein called human cytokine interferon alpha that is responsible for inhibiting the replication of viruses within the body (1).

Reduces Inflammation

An imbalanced immune response is one of the number one causes of chronic inflammation in our society. By helping to balance and coordinate the immune system, zinc also helps to drastically lower inflammation for many people.

On top of this, zinc plays a critical role in the production of one of the body’s most important antioxidants, superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD protects genes from becoming damaged, helps to detoxify the body, and further assists the immune system by protecting against viral infection.

Anti-Cancer

It is a natural consequence that by reducing inflammation and improving immune coordination, zinc also improves the body’s ability to fight off cancer cells.

In addition to this, zinc actually plays an important role in regulation of the expression of the P53 gene. The P53 gene plays an important role in monitoring the cell division cycle and preventing cancerous growth (2, 3).

Chronic oxidative stress can cause damage to the p53 gene that renders it useless and leads to an inability to protect the genomic stability. In order to be active, p53 needs to bind zinc while other metals such as copper can displace zinc leading to p53 unfolding.

Low zinc levels or excessive copper and other heavy metals such as lead, aluminum, cadmium and mercury can damage the p53 protein (45).

Reasons For Zinc Deficiency

Before we can even think about using supplemental zinc or consuming more zinc-rich foods, we must understand what causes our zinc stores to deplete.

Addressing these factors will make the zinc you do consume go much further in exerting its benefits in the body.

Leaky Gut & Poor Digestion

A commonly overlooked reason for poor zinc levels in the body, is that you are just not digesting your foods as well as you should. If you have a leaky gut or poor stomach acid production, it is likely you are deficient in several nutrients.

Zinc is also extremely important for healing and sealing the gut.  So if you are deficient, it becomes a viscious cycle of inflammation and the gut lining will never heal.

Medications

Medications that damage the gut or inhibit stomach acid production can be another overlooked factor in poor zinc levels.  Most prescribing doctors are unfamiliar with the long-term ramifications of these medications and how they deplete key nutrients and cause a number of health problems.

If you currently use or have a history of using things like prescription antibiotics, NSAIDS (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.), proton pump inhibitors, or antacids; you will definitely want to take additional steps to support digestion.

Poor Diet & Blood Sugar Imbalance

If you are simply not consuming nutrient dense foods, and instead rely heavily on processed foods, you are most likely lacking in several nutrients.  Consuming zinc-rich foods and balancing blood sugar are critical strategies for ensuring you retain adequate levels of nutrients like zinc.

Finally, consuming a lot of grains, nuts, and foods containing phytic acids can quickly deplete the body’s zinc stores. Limiting your intake of these foods or at least sprouting them before consuming is important.

Chronic Stress

Zinc is important for a large number of biological processess and stress speeds up biological function.  During times of elevated stress, zinc is utilized at a much more rapid rate, increasing your dietary need for zinc.

If you are noticing that you are experiencing high amounts of overwhelming emotions like anxiety, this could be due in part to low zinc levels. Of course several other nutrient are involved such as magnesium and B-complex vitamins.

Exposure To Toxins

Exposure to toxins like pesticides and heavy metals in the environment can interfere with zinc absorption and increase stress within the body. This depletes your zinc levels while simultaneously increasing your need, not a good combo.

Also, consuming high levels of copper can lead to an imbalance in copper:zinc ratios.  This is not uncommon as copper is a common byproduct of industrial manufacturing and is often high in our city water.  Additionally, high copper can come from drinking water from copper pipes and women having a copper IUD.  Additionally, foods such as grains, nuts and seeds are high in copper and also contain phytic acids that reduce zinc absorption.

Copper and zinc work against each other to regulate certain functions in the body. Having high copper levels in relation to zinc can create many problems and you can read more about that in this article.  Consuming a clean, healing diet, getting good water filtration and lowering your intake of copper-rich foods, and increasing your zinc intake are all powerful for rebalancing this ratio.

Signs Of Zinc Deficiency

After reflecting on your daily life and seeing if any of the causes above align with you, it is important to observe your own health for common symptoms of zinc deficiency.

The following is a list of common symptoms seen with zinc deficiency or copper:zinc imbalance:

How To Test

There are several ways to test your zinc levels. One that I am a fan of due to its simplicity and cost-effectiveness is the zinc sulfate taste test. All you do purchase a bottle of zinc sulfate liquid (this a good one), place a capful in your mouth, and observe the sensations in your mouth.

Below are the possible outcomes and indications:

You Notice No Metallic Taste: Zinc Deficiency

You Notice A Delayed Metallic Taste: Slight Zinc Deficiency

You Notice Slight Metallic Taste: Zinc Levels Are Adequate, But Could Be Higher

You Notice Very Strong Metallic Taste: You Likely Have Optimal Zinc Levels

Optimal Levels

If you notice that you are expressing signs of slight to complete zinc deficiency, you will need to be intentional about the foods you eat to drastically increase zinc intake. You will also need to avoid dietary habits that deplete zinc levels like consuming high amounts of sugar, grains, and processed foods.

Zinc-Rich Foods

Consuming plenty of zinc-rich foods is a great start to optimizing your zinc levels. The following graphic outlines some of the best sources of zinc you can consume.

You will notice that various seeds made the list which seems counterintuitive since I mentioned phytic acid containing foods lowering zinc levels. However, these foods contain really high amounts of zinc that may counteract this effect. Buying these in their sprouted forms is ideal.

Supplemental

When it comes to quickly balancing zinc levels in the body, supplementation is very helpful. Just as with many supplements, zinc comes in many forms. My favorite is Zinc Glycinate because it is what’s called a chelated form. This is important because it is very easily absorbed by the body unlike many other forms.

The recommended daily allowance for zinc is between eight to eleven milligrams for most adults. However, for functional health most progressive nutritionists and doctors recommend between 20-40 mg/daily. You can use your results from the Zinc Sulfate taste test to determine how much supplemental zinc to consume.

If your results indicate a slight or complete zinc deficiency, 40 mg daily is likely more suitable for you while 20 mg daily may be more suitable for someone who is trying to maintain optimal levels.

Summary

Zinc is critical for overall health and quality of life. It is important to assess your daily life and physiological wellbeing to determine whether or not you are getting enough of this vital mineral in your diet.

The Zinc Sulfate test is an incredibly simple and cost-effective way to determine your zinc levels at home. If you are showing signs of zinc deficiency, than it is important to follow a blood sugar stabilizing healing diet and improve your stomach acid, enzymes and overall digestive function.  You will also want to reduce your exposure to some of the higher copper foods such as nuts and seeds and increase zinc rich foods (fish and grass-fed meats) and take additional zinc supplements.

Sources For This Article Include

1. Ohio State University. “Zinc helps against infection by tapping brakes in immune response.” Science Daily.
2. Lane, D. P. (1992). Cancer. p53, guardian of the genome. Nature. PMID: 1614522
3. Adimoolam, S., & Ford, J. M. (2003). p53 and regulation of DNA damage recognition during nucleotide excision repair. DNA Repair. PMID: 12967652
4. Phatak, V. M., & Muller, P. A. J. (2015). Metal toxicity and the p53 protein: an intimate relationship. Toxicol. Res., 4(3), 576–591. Link
5. Tokumoto, M., Fujiwara, Y., Shimada, A., Hasegawa, T., Seko, Y., Nagase, H., & Satoh, M. (2011). Cadmium toxicity is caused by accumulation of p53 through the down-regulation of Ube2d family genes in vitro and in vivo. The Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 36(2), 191–200. PMID: 21467746


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How To Follow A Vegan Ketogenic Diet

How To Follow A Vegan Ketogenic Diet

Two major health trends are the vegan or plant based diet movement and the ketogenic diet.  While these plans don’t naturally endorse each other…it is possible to get the benefits of what both nutrition practices offer.   Most vegan diets rely upon a high amount of carbohydrates as the major source of calories so these individuals would not produce ketones. In this article, I am going to break down how to follow a vegan ketogenic diet to improve health and performance.

The ketogenic diet is beginning to get a lot of media attention for its tremendous health benefits. I think it is important to help empower people on how to properly implement a ketogenic diet into their lifestyle if they so desire. This article serves as a guide for how I would suggest following a vegan ketogenic diet for optimal results.

Vegan/Plant-Based Diet

A vegan diet is one devoid of all animal products. This means no animal meat and no byproducts of animals (milk, eggs, cheese, honey, etc.). This will usually carry over into lifestyle as well as these people tend to avoid anything made using animal products. The vegan philosophy comes from an ethical philosophy of minimizing suffering for animals.

This style of diet that has recently gained a ton of press due to the film What The Health as well as many other media publications following a similar narrative. While I do have my qualms about the “facts” portrayed in this film and how it was presented, there are certainly benefits to be derived from a plant-based diet if carefully planned.

One thing they did not mention in the film was the benefit of carbohydrate restriction, they instead insisted that as long as you are not eating meat, you can essentially eat as much sugar as you want with no health consequences. I obviously do not agree with this idea.

The science actually shows that a low-carb, high-fat diet has the potential to lower risk of heart disease, lower inflammation, and improve blood sugar regulation more effectively than a low-fat, high-carb diet (1, 2).

Benefits of Plant-Based Diets

Compared to the Standard American Diet, plant-based diets have been shown to offer some level of benefit in reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. There has also been a correlation between plant-based diets and decreased risk of cancer which may be attributable to higher amounts of antioxidants and protein restriction (3).

Many people may notice that they lose weight and sometimes observe an improvement in gut health, but this can vary depending on an individual’s current health status. This is likely due to the removal of highly processed foods and an increase in dietary fiber intake.

For many people, there are certain risks of following a plant-based diet if it is not carefully planned, they include:

Protein Deficiency

Low B12

Increased Intake of Dietary Carbohydrates – Blood Sugar Imbalances

High Consumption of Phytic Acids and Lectins – Causing Gut Inflammation

Negligible Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

…and some people notice that they just don’t feel healthy when they eliminate all animal-based products from the diet.

Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate meal plan that derives the majority of its calories from healthy fat sources. In fact, at least 60-70% of your total calories will be coming from fat sources while often less than 5% will be coming from carbs. The goal with this is to drop blood sugar and insulin low enough that the body resorts to burning fat as energy instead.

When this happens, your liver begins to convert fatty acids into molecules called ketones. Ketones are a very efficient fuel source that produce more stable energy, and have tons of health benefits for the brain and body.

While originally designed as a medical therapy for pediatric seizures in the 1900’s, it has reemerged as a powerful brain boosting and healing strategy. I personally recommend a ketogenic or low-carb, high-fat diet to the majority of my clients who are looking to optimize their health and quality of life.

Traditionally, a ketogenic diet is relatively high in animal-based foods.

Benefits Of A Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is starting to get recognition for incredible healing benefits it provides. One of the most significant aspects in my opinion, is its potential cancer-fighting effects (4). Additionally, as someone who relies on his own wellbeing in order to serve others, I take advantage of a ketogenic diet daily to maximize my mental acuity and boost my overall performance.

Other Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet Include:

Improved Blood Sugar Regulation

Lowered Inflammation

Supporting Ideal Weight

Reduced Oxidative Stress

Improved Mitochondrial Health

Improvement In Multiple Neurological Disorders

Metabolically speaking, ketones are much more efficiently converted into energy compared to sugar. As a result, less oxidative stress occurs and therefore less inflammation. On top of this, there is a stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis (growth of new mitochondria) (5).

Essentially, the energy production factories in your cells gain better fuel and your body significantly upregulates how many of those factories there are. This means more energy for your body to perform normal functions.  It is this combined effect of reduced inflammation and increased energy production that is responsible for most of the benefits of ketosis.

Is A Vegan Ketogenic Diet Possible?

In short, yes, a vegan ketogenic diet is possible. In my opinion, it can be quite limiting, but nonetheless it can be done.  The proportion of high-fat plant-based foods is quite low compared to a more traditional paleo eating style. This is because plants tend to store starch or sugar as energy whereas animals tend to store more fat.

At the same time, some of the best plant-based sources of protein also tend to be high in starch. This would include things like beans. So, when looking for plant-based foods that help provide, enough fat, adequate protein, while also being low in carbs; the list of available foods narrows quickly.  With some planning and a little creativity however, going ketogenic while following vegan principles can be achieved.

Vegan Keto Breakdown

Fats

In general, some of the staple fat sources on a vegan ketogenic diet would be coconut, avocados, olives, and higher fat nuts like macadamias or walnuts.

Additionally, the products that are made out of these high-fat foods can be great too. For example, coconut oil, coconut flakes, or full-fat coconut milk are great. Same with avocado oil or olive oil. Finally, nut butters can be a great option. The key for many people will be getting creative with these things to create variety.

The general rule to follow is that a food contains at least 70% healthy fats and very few net carbs. Healthy fats would be mostly saturated fats with smaller amounts of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. Net carbs can be calculated by subtracting the fiber content from the total carbs in a given food.

For Example:

The average avocado contains somewhere around 17 grams of total carbohydrates where 13 grams of that is fiber (per 1 cup serving). So, by subtracting 13 from 17, we get 4 grams of net carbs. Most people will want to shoot for 40 or less net carbs per day while following a ketogenic diet in order to maintain a fat-burning metabolic state.

Proteins

This is really where challenges are met with a vegan ketogenic diet. Many of the best plant-based protein sources are consequently high in starches. This is obviously not conducive to being in ketosis.

Technically, the most ketogenic vegan protein source would be tofu due to its low carbohydrate content. This is assuming that there is adequate fat consumption from other sources. As a health professional, I do not recommend the consumption of any unfermented soy products. Organic tempeh, which is a fermented soy product, could be a key aspect of your diet however.

Finally, consuming a high-quality plant-based protein powder may be an important aspect of getting into ketosis on a plant-based diet while ensuring protein needs are met. Some of the best options for this are hemp, brown rice, and pea-derived proteins.

Protein Requirements

Protein consumption is important to monitor on a ketogenic diet. Consuming too little protein, which is not uncommon on a vegan diet, will facilitate the breakdown of muscle tissues and other consequences of amino acid deficiencies. At the same time, too much protein can be counterproductive to getting into ketosis as your body will tend to convert excess amino acids into glucose.

The rule to follow is generally about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, for a 160 lb individual:

Divide by 2.2 lb/kg to calculate your bodyweight in kg:

160/2.2 = 73 (and this would be your daily protein requirement)

This is going to be adequate for an individual who is fairly inactive. For someone who is looking to put on muscle and is very active, this number can be increased to between 100-120 grams of protein on training days, which would be about 1.3-1.6 grams of protein per kg.

For those dealing with cancer, staying around 0.5 g/Kg can be therapeutic for reducing mTOR expression. To put that into perspective, a 150 lb person would only consume 34 g/protein daily. mTOR is a biological pathway in the body which plays an important role in regulating cell growth and proliferation that may also have an influence over cancer growth (6).

If you are simply having problems with staying full, then increasing fat intake will be the place to focus.

Therapeutic Considerations

If you are planning on using the ketogenic diet as a healing strategy, certain factors should be considered. For example, those that are struggling with autoimmunity or cancer often have sensitive and inflamed digestive systems.

In these cases, using an easily digestible protein powder can be very helpful. Personally, I will use Gut Healing Protein as it is keto friendly and extremely beneficial for repairing an inflamed gut. It is also vegan, being derived from pea and rice sources.

Also, if consuming nuts it will be important to soak and sprout them in order to improve digestibility and reduce the burden of digestion.

Meal Plan

To help give you some ideas of great vegan ketogenic meal options, I have pulled together various recipes that are either vegan or easily converted with single ingredient swaps.

Note: Many of these recipes contain butter. For vegan-friendly versions, you can simply substitute coconut oil (or in some cases, cocoa butter).

Keto Breakfasts

I am big on liquid nutrition, especially when on a ketogenic diet. Liquid meals are easy to digest and are a great way to add plenty of healthy fats to the diet. I also use these types of recipes as an opportunity to utilize XCT oil to provide my body with an easily convertible source of ketones. These are some of my favorite recipes:

Turmeric Fat Burning Coffee

This recipe is a great morning pick-me-up that also has anti-inflammatory benefits. You get the antioxidant benefits of turmeric and organic coffee, plus good healthy fats to get your day started. I personally make this on busy days when I need to be on my mental game. Simply switch out the butter for coconut oil or cocoa butter and you have yourself a ketogenic and vegan coffee that will keep you full for hours.

Keto Matcha Green Tea

Matcha is a green tea powder that is insanely nutritious with tons of benefits for the brain and body.

Containing less caffeine than coffee, in addition to the relaxing amino acid L-theanine, this option provides a smoother stimulation to start your day. All you need is hot water, matcha, coconut oil (or XCT oil), and full-fat coconut milk (sweetener optional).

Coconut Dandelion Coffee

If you are sensitive to caffeine or just prefer to do without, this dandelion “coffee” is a great option. This is essentially a caffeine-free herbal substitute that tastes similar to coffee. Using this Dandy Blend instant mix and a bit of full-fat coconut milk and you are ready to start your day.

Dandelion is also great for healthy liver function. To kick up the anti-inflammatory potential of this one, you can add cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and a bit of stevia.

Lunch

For lunch, you want to get in plenty more healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, and plenty of fiber. What I do personally, and what I recommend to many of my clients, is either a big salad or another liquid meal. I like to consume only one solid meal a day during the time I am most relaxed (at night) to facilitate better digestion.

Doing the liquid nutrition during the day really helps free up energy for physical and mental exertion while helping to maintain an optimal state of ketosis. Consider trying this strategy to reduce the energetic burden of digestion during the day.

Gut Healing Protein Pudding

This is a super anti-inflammatory and ketogenic recipe with only 4 ingredients. It features my Gut Healing Protein for added nutrition and to support a healthy gut lining. I make this 2-3 times per week personally. I would recommend adding in a Tbsp. of XCT oil for an added boost to get you through the afternoon with no crash or hunger.

Blueberry Gut Healing Protein Shake

This is a variation of the pudding recipe above except with blueberries for added antioxidant benefits. Blueberries are also great for healing the gut lining and supporting optimal brain function.

Chocolate Chia Super Smoothie

This is a rich, chocolatey smoothie recipe that is loaded with superfoods like raw cacao, chia, flax, and blueberries. Blend this with a high-quality vegan protein powder and you’ve got yourself a solid meal loaded with magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and plenty of healthy fats. Add in an avocado for an extra creamy texture and to increase fiber content.

Avocado Salad

If you are someone who would rather have something more solid for lunch, a big salad full of veggies and fresh herbs is a great option.   You can try our avocado salad recipe, which is delicious!  This recipes contains grass-fed cheese; however this can easily be replaced. Load this one up with avocado, a splash of XCT or olive oil, olives, and some tempeh or sprouted pumpkin seeds for protein.

Dinner

Dinner, for most people, tends to be the most relaxed meal of the day. This is a great time to get into a state of gratitude and reflect on the positive notes of your day. Getting into this state of gratitude will put your body in a relaxed state to facilitate better digestion. This is when I typically advocate consuming the largest meal of the day.

Here you will likely need to get creative but there is definitely potential for some great vegan ketogenic dinner recipes. For some inspiration you can follow this simple template:

Base: Shirataki Noodles, Zucchini Noodles, Cauliflower Rice

Filler: Fibrous, Non-Starchy Veggies

Protein: Tempeh or sprouted nuts & seeds

Topping: Get creative with fat sources in making a sauce, for example this avocado pesto recipe. You can also make nut-based sauces for added protein.

Another great option for dinner is to make some kind of soup or stew. Curries are great using full-fat coconut milk as the base. Next adding in plenty of vegetables and a ketogenic protein source like pumpkin seeds or tempeh make this a perfect meal.

For more inspiration, check out the following recipes:

Garlic Basil Squash Spaghetti

SuperCharged Coconut Curry (Replace chicken broth with vegetable broth and your choice of protein)

Creamy Coconut Guacamole Wraps (Add in your choice of protein)

Dessert

Dessert is the most satisfying part of the meal. It’s even better eating a delicious dessert that you know is providing your body with health benefits. This is also another great chance to load up on healthy fats.

Recipes containing eggs can be easily substituted by ground flaxseed, chia, or almond butter while maintaining ketogenic macronutrient ratios. Also, don’t limit these to only dessert time. These recipes can also serve as great high-fat snacks to satisfy your sweet tooth at any time during the day.

Coconut Lemon Glazed Cookie Bites

These taste delicious and are completely vegan and fairly easy to make!

Coconut Flour Keto Donut Holes

Rich, satisfying, ketogenic, vegan. What more could you ask for?

Coconut Short Bread Cookies

Switch out the butter with coconut oil or cocoa butter and you’ve got yourself a delicious cookie.

Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Ice cream can be vegan, ketogenic, and delicious. Start with full fat coconut milk and build from there, add in berries, vanilla flavoring, or cacao powder and stevia to taste. After a quick freeze, all you have to do is throw it in the blender and there you have it. Pure simplicity.

More Delicious Dessert Ideas:

Turmeric Coconut Cream Cups

Chocolate Avocado Dessert Bars

Chocolate Avocado Truffles

Snacks

Following a ketogenic diet correctly, you should have very little cravings for snack foods. Sometimes a snack can be satisfying, I get it. I have some recipes for that that are both ketogenic and vegan friendly.

One of my go-to combinations are Homemade Keto Crackers with Lemon Creamy Superfood Guacamole. This combination satisfies the desire for a salty and crunchy snack while effectively satisfying hunger. Keto crackers and these keto chips also go well with this cashew artichoke dip or our coconut keto ranch dressing.

Additional Considerations

While some people respond well to a plant-based diet, many people simply do not. If you are someone who has been following a plant-based diet, have taken the extra precautions to make up for any possible nutrient deficiencies, and are struggling to overcome any kind of chronic health conditions, you may consider adding in specific animal-based foods.

For some people, following more of a vegetarian-style diet can maintain ethical standards while providing more complete nutrition.

If you are considering adding back in animal-based products, it would probably be most beneficial to add them back slowly. The three I would recommend to adding first are grass-fed butter, pasture-raised eggs, and wild-caught fish if you choose to consume meat.

Grass-fed Butter

A great first addition when transitioning back from a vegan diet is grass-fed butter. Grass fed butter is packed with fat soluble vitamins, fat-burning CLA, omega-3 fatty acids, and the short chain fatty acid butyrate.

Try adding grass-fed butter to steamed veggies or in a turmeric fat burning coffee.

Organic, Pasture-Raised Eggs

In addition to grass-fed butter, eggs from pasture-raised chickens are an excellent and complete source of nutrition. Eggs contain complete protein, omega-3 fats, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Iron, Calcium, and more. Eggs are one of the most nutritionally complete foods on the planet.

Also, you should not be concerned about the cholesterol content. In fact, cholesterol plays an important role in forming sex hormones in the body as well as healthy brain tissue.

Wild-Caught Fish

If you are really struggling with your health and are considering adding animal meats back into your diet, wild-caught fish should be your go-to. The long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA are absolutely critical for the health of your brain and nervous system.

While you are able to convert a small amount of plant based omega-3 fats into EPA and DHA, it simply is not an efficient process and does not satisfy the body’s needs.  The best fish for this are Alaskan salmon, mackerel, sardines, and Alaskan cod.

If you are not considering adding fish back into your diet, you may be able to derive some benefit from supplementing with an algae-based omega-3.

Summary

Two dietary trends that are rapidly growing are the ketogenic diet and the vegan/plant-based movement. Traditionally, vegan diets tend to be extremely high in carbohydrates and low in fats (which is the opposite of a ketogenic diet). As we discover more benefits of a ketogenic diet, those who are following plant-based diets are looking to change the way they eat.

Here I have laid the foundation for following a vegan ketogenic diet. I am interested to hear your experiences and any new strategies you have found helpful on your own ketogenic journey!

Sources For This Article Include:

1. Raygan, F., Bahmani, F., Kouchaki, E., Aghadavod, E., Sharifi, S., Akbari, E., … Asemi, Z. (2016). Comparative effects of carbohydrate versus fat restriction on metabolic profiles, biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in overweight patients with type 2 diabetic and coronary heart disease: A randomized clinical trial. ARYA Atherosclerosis, 12(6), 266–273. PMID: 28607566
2. Steckhan, N., Hohmann, C.-D., Kessler, C., Dobos, G., Michalsen, A., & Cramer, H. (2016). Effects of different dietary approaches on inflammatory markers in patients with metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition, 32(3), 338–348. PMID: 26706026
3. Levine, M. E., Suarez, J. A., Brandhorst, S., Balasubramanian, P., Cheng, C. W., Madia, F., … Longo, V. D. (2014). Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. Cell Metabolism, 19(3), 407–417. PMID: 24606898
4. Vidali, S., Aminzadeh, S., Lambert, B., Rutherford, T., Sperl, W., Kofler, B., & Feichtinger, R. G. (2015). Mitochondria: The ketogenic diet – A metabolism-based therapy. International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, 63, 55–59. PMID: 25666556
5. Bough, K. J., Wetherington, J., Hassel, B., Pare, J. F., Gawryluk, J. W., Greene, J. G., … Dingledine, R. J. (2006). Mitochondrial biogenesis in the anticonvulsant mechanism of the ketogenic diet. Annals of Neurology, 60(2), 223–235. PMID: 16807920
6. Xie, J., Wang, X., & Proud, C. G. (2016). mTOR inhibitors in cancer therapy. F1000Research, 5, 2078. PMID: 27635236

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How Sugar Feeds Cancer Growth

How Sugar Feeds Cancer Growth 

Billions of dollars are funneled into cancer research every year, yes BILLIONS. While we have made great technological advances in detection and treatment, it seems to be all on new versions of the same treatments. With that being said, cancer remains the number 2 cause of all preventable deaths in the US today.

Take a look at almost any cancer treatment center in the US that uses the traditional treatment methods (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) and you’ll notice something outright blasphemous. To help keep weight on their patients, they offer snacks and meal replacements. The problem? They are loaded with sugar and processed ingredients and… sugar feeds cancer.

Detriments of Sugar 

I have been a strong proponent of a low-carb, high-healthy fat diet for years. While I think certain types of carbs can be advantageously placed into the diet for health benefits, no one should be consuming high amounts of carbs on a regular basis.

When it comes to people who are trying to fight off cancer, this principle becomes absolutely vital. Our traditional oncological doctors seem to brush this fact off as a non-factor but if your goal is to give the body a fighting chance against cancer, sugar must go. Here’s why.

Cancer Cells Vs. Healthy Cells

When you are looking at fighting cancer while keeping normal cells healthy, you have to ask yourself, what makes a cancer cell different?

Based on what we know from the work of Otto Warburg, Thomas Seyfried, and many others, cancer cells are metabolically damaged. Metabolically damaged in that their energy producing structures, mitochondria, are unable to operate efficiently.

This manifests in their preference for glucose as a fuel source, relatively low-yield production of ATP, and rampant production of oxidative species.  Normal healthy cells, on the other hand, are able to exhibit metabolic flexibility where they can burn multiple sources of fuel, produce more ATP, and relatively lower levels of oxidative species.

The Mitochondrial Aspect 

For a long time, we focused on the nuclear genome for the cause of diseases. This is where the whole idea that diseases are hereditary came from. With the rampant up-rise in chronic disease over the last 100 years, the nuclear genome hardly makes sense. Changes in the nuclear genome occur over thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

It turns out epigenetic changes occur much more rapidly in the mitochondrial genome and science is catching on to this concept. The healthier your mitochondria are, the healthier you will be. This is a simple byproduct of efficient energy production.

As we look deeper into many of the chronic diseases plaguing us today, we are beginning to notice that the mitochondria play a much larger role than we ever considered.

Energy Production From Glucose 

Before we get into discussing the mitochondrial aspect of cancer, it helps to understand how energy is formed in a cell.

Cells need energy to perform normal functions including: responding to their environment, absorbing nutrients, exporting toxins, growing, replicating, etc. This energy Is produced through a process called respiration.

There are two types of respiration: aerobic and anaerobic.

Normal, healthy cells in most cases will use aerobic respiration which occurs in the mitochondria. This process involves breaking glucose down into pyruvate in the cytosol, transporting it to the mitochondria, and forming ATP in the presence of oxygen. Given that there is enough oxygen within the cells, this is the default method of energy production. The byproducts of this process are 36 molecules of ATP and carbon dioxide, which is released through breathing.

When there is a lack of oxygen, anaerobic respiration takes place. This occurs in the cytosol of the cell where glucose is broken down into pyruvate and directly converted into ATP and lactic acid. This process never reaches the mitochondria and only generates 2 molecules of ATP.

While anaerobic respiration produces a tiny fraction of the energy (2 ATP versus 36 ATP), it actually generates ATP at almost 100 times the rate. We know that rapidly dividing tissues, such as healing wounds or cancer, tend to take advantage of anaerobic respiration for quick energy production.

While anaerobic respiration provides energy faster, there may be other factors that make this method of energy production beneficial for growing cancer cells.

Cancer Cell Energy Production

Based on what I outlined above about glucose metabolism, a healthy cell with enough oxygen should perform both glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation for the production of energy.

Healthy cells can also utilize ketone bodies, converted from fatty acids, to produce ATP through aerobic respiration.

What we now know is that cancer cells, even in the presence of oxygen, choose to undergo glycolysis utilizing glucose (and sometimes glutamine) as the favored substrate (1).

This is thought to be due to damaged mitochondrial structures within cancer cells inhibiting the cells ability to undergo aerobic respiration. Glucose enters the cell and is converted into pyruvate within the cytosol but cannot enter the mitochondria to undergo aerobic respiration.

As a result, growing cancer cells upregulate glucose transport proteins on their surfaces in order to take in as much glucose as possible. There is also a rampant build-up of lactic acid in cancer cells as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration.

Advantages of Glycolysis For Cancer 

While some people see glycolysis in cancer cells as a byproduct of damaged mitochondria, it is also possible that cancer cells have adapted to favor glycolysis for its growth promoting properties.Not only does glycolysis produce energy more rapidly that aerobic respiration, but it actually promotes an environment where cancer cells can rapidly divide.

Excess lactic acid produced by cancer cells actually shuts off the body’s anticancer immune response by deactivating anti-tumor immune cells (2). This essentially shields cancer from the immune system.

At the same time, rapid cell growth requires a lot of raw materials to make new cells. One of the primary atoms needed in abundance to form new cell structures is carbon. Carbon atoms are linked together to form backbones that cell structures are built off of.

After glucose is metabolized, it leaves a 6-carbon chain. While aerobic respiration excretes this carbon through the breath via carbon dioxide, glycolysis retains it. It is thought that this allows for a more rapid division of cells through a higher availability of raw materials.

How Sugar Feeds Cancer 

As has been covered so far, cancer cells have an impaired ability to produce energy. Due to damaged mitochondrial structures, they perform glycolysis rather than aerobic respiration. As a result, they must upregulate glucose intake in order to support rapid division and growth.

At the same time glycolysis favors cancer growth in several ways. This why a ketogenic diet has been heavily investigated for being able to limit cancer growth by cutting off its primary fuel supply. In addition to this, there are other mechanisms by which sugar may be stimulating cancer growth.

White Blood Cells

White blood cells are the soldiers of our immune system. They are a powerful force against foreign invaders in our bodies including cancer cells. In order to operate at their full capacity, they require high amounts of Vitamin C. This was discovered by Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, in the 1960’s.

Unlike other animals, humans are not able to produce Vitamin C endogenously. Instead we must receive it from our foods and transport it to our cells for use. We then have internal antioxidant systems that help us to retain and recycle Vitamin C to get the most use out of it. This is a function of glutathione (3).

In the 1970’s Dr. John Ely discovered what is referred to as the Glucose-Ascorbate-Antagonism (GAA) Theory. Both glucose and Vitamin C are similar in structure and rely upon insulin in order to enter the cells via the Glut-1 receptor on the cell membrane. Unfortunately, glucose has a higher affinity for this receptor which means it is absorbed more readily than vitamin C.

It is thought that having high levels of blood sugar actually inhibits Vitamin C from entering the white blood cells, which drastically reduces immunity and therefore the ability to fight off cancer.

Phagocytic Index 

In order for white blood cells to destroy foreign pathogens within the body, they do so by engulfing them and essentially breaking them down into benign byproducts. This process is called phagocytosis. The measure of how well a white blood cell is able to perform this function is called the phagocytic index.

Therefore, in order to provide the best chance for the immune system to target cancer cells, they need to have a high phagocytic index.

Because of the relationship explained above between glucose and vitamin C, high levels of sugar circulating in the blood is thought to lower the phagocytic index of white blood cells, impairing their ability to fight cancer.

In fact, it has been shown that a blood sugar level of 120 actually reduces phagocytic index by 75% (4).

Insulin HMP Shunt 

In addition to Vitamin C’s importance for proper phagocytic functioning of white blood cells, it is also critical for stimulation of the hexose monophosphate (HMP) pathway (5).

The HMP pathway produces NADPH which is used by white blood cells to make superoxide and reactive oxygen species that are used to destroy pathogens.  This HMP shunt also produces ribose and deoxyribose which provide important raw materials for the formation of new white blood cell RNA/DNA (6).

When the immune system is under attack it needs to quickly produce new immune cells.  If blood sugar is high enough to turn off the HMP shunt it will reduce the quantity of RNA/DNA and the amount of new immune cells formed.

AMP-K

AMP-K stands for Adenosine Monophosphate-activated protein kinase. When ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is broken down for energy within cells, phosphate groups are removed to form ADP and AMP (Adenosine Diphosphate and Adenosine Monophosphate, respectively).

When the ratio of AMP to ATP is increased, it is a sign that energy is getting low and AMP-K signals the upregulation of ATP production. In this manner, AMP-K is an energy regulating molecule.

It has also been shown that upregulation of AMP-K diverts glucose away from cancer cells and towards the body’s healthy tissues (7). In fact, it is suggested that activation of AMP-K helps to reverse the glycolytic preference of cancer cells, giving them an energetic disadvantage (8).

Luckily, AMP-K activity can be upregulated by intense exercise, carbohydrate restriction, and intermittent fasting (9, 10).

There are a number of peripheral benefits of AMP-K activation that are centered around key physiological pathways that are also associated with cancer growth. These include mTOR, the p53 gene, and COX-2 enzymes.

mTOR 

mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) is a physiological pathway that regulates cell growth and replication. We know that cancer tissues have an elevated expression of mTOR signaling that may contribute to rapid cell growth in cancer.

Upregulation of AMP-K through the strategies listed in the previous section have actually been shown to inhibit this mechanism of cancer growth (11).

While mTOR is necessary for a healthy body, having a chronically activated mTOR pathway is what contributes to cancer development. Consequently, one of the primary activators of the mTOR pathway is insulin. Naturally, chronic sugar consumption will leave insulin levels high which will contribute to constantly elevated mTOR.

This is yet another way lowering dietary glucose, fasting, and a ketogenic diet may be able to help the body combat cancer (12, 13).

By combining these techniques, blood sugar becomes stable, insulin drops, and these growth pathways become less of a contributing factor towards cancer growth.

The p53 Gene 

The p53 gene is responsible for controlling tumor development by responding to damaged DNA sequences and regulating gene expression in cancerous tissues.

If the DNA is able to be repaired, the p53 gene will allow the cell to go back into its normal cycle of growth and reproduction.  If the DNA cannot be repaired, then p53 signals for cellular apoptosis (programmed cell death) (14).  It has been found that the p53 gene is inactivated in a large proportion of cancers, making it a pharmacological target in cancer treatment (15).

Yet another benefit of AMP-K activation is that it actually improves p53 expression and prevents it from becoming inactive in the first place (16). This occurs because AMP-K phosphorylates p53 and, in turn, makes it more stable.

Among many others, high blood sugar is recognized as a contributing factor for inactive or mutation of p53 genes as well. This may be due to hyperglycemia inhibiting the absorption of zinc, which is supposed to bind to p53 to activate it.

COX-2 Enzymes 

COX-2 is an abbreviated version of Cyclooxygenase-2. COX-2 is a pro-inflammatory enzyme that is elevated in many cancers and is thought to contribute to the aggressiveness of tumors (17).

The COX-2 enzyme is yet another pharmacological target that many cancer therapies attempt to take advantage of. Rightfully so, lowering this inflammatory enzyme may have powerful potential in a holistic approach to healing cancer.  While more research is needed in the area, activation of AMP-K has also been associated with COX-2 inhibition (18).

Cancer At A Metabolic Disadvantage 

Given what we have covered so far, there seems to be a logical solution to placing cancer cells at a metabolic disadvantage. Given that cancer cells are highly glycolytic and thrive in an acidic environment, steps should be taken to ensure that the availability of glucose is very low in the blood stream.

Additionally, upregulating AMP-K and driving aerobic metabolism towards the oxidation of fatty acids over glucose can be very powerful.  Following the strategies below will help you improve AMP-K and convert over to burning fat for fuel.

Reduce Sugar 

First and foremost, it is imperative that sugar and highly insulinogenic carbohydrate sources be removed from the diet. Insulin is a significant promoter of cancer cell growth and it must be limited as best as possible.

This means relying on healthy fats as the primary source of calories and only moderate amounts of clean protein. Overconsumption of protein can become gluconeogenic, meaning the body begins to convert proteins into glucose.

Cancer cells have an abnormally high number of insulin receptors and extremely upregulated glucose metabolism. This means that depending on the severity of your cancer development, cancer cells are stealing sugar that should be going to your healthy cells.

Ketogenic Diet 

While removing sugars and carbs is a great first step, it can be equally as important to implement a ketogenic diet. This is where you train your healthy cells to burn ketones, made from fat, as energy instead of glucose.

This is important because, as I just mentioned, aggressive cancer cells will essentially steal glucose away from healthy cells. This feeds the cancer cells while leaving your healthy cells in a weakened state, lose-lose.

Most cancer cells cannot utilize ketones as a fuel source. So, by teaching your healthy cells to do so, you help return vitality to your healthy cells while weakening your cancer cells, win-win.

Reducing Sugar Cravings 

Because cancer cells are stealing glucose from your healthy cells, your healthy cells will have less glucose to create fuel. As a result, your brain will be receiving signals that you need more, which will likely trigger carbohydrate cravings.

These will likely become even more pronounce in the beginning stages of implementing a ketogenic diet because many cancer patients have weakened mitochondria.  Using strategies to stimulate mitochondria and allow the body to begin making ketones more quickly can help a lot here.  This is where exogenous ketones or MCT oils containing C8 and C10 fatty acids can help.

Once ketone production becomes efficient, these cravings will likely diminish greatly. Other strategies to help reduce these cravings include exercise, staying hydrated, getting plenty of minerals, supporting the HPA axis, and supporting optimal dopamine production.

Intermittent Fasting 

In addition to following a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting is a powerful strategy to quickly reduce insulin and upregulate AMP-K activity. At the same time, intermittent fasting strengthens the immune system to help your white blood cells seek out and destroy cancer cells.

As if those benefits weren’t powerful enough, fasting also upregulates cellular autophagy (breaking down of damaged and abnormal cells) and genetic repair. So, we get rid of bad cells and repair the rest. This benefit becomes more powerful during longer bouts of fasting (24 hours or more).

Finally, intermittent fasting improves your metabolic flexibility to help you get into a deeper state of ketosis at a much quicker rate. At this point, I would say that is a win-win-win-win-win-win… You get what I mean.

Start with a 12-hour fasting window where you consume nothing but water or non-caloric herbal teas for a 12-hours window between dinner and breakfast the next day. Once your body tolerates this well, work up to a longer fast as outlined below.

Other Critical Ketogenic Diet Tips 

In addition to the strategies outlined above, there a few other ways to ensure you are optimizing your health on a ketogenic diet.

Super Hydration 

While in a fasted state, it is a great time to drink plenty of water to ensure proper hydration and to assist with gentle detoxification. It is extremely important that you get pure water with no chlorine or fluoride in it.

I recommend super hydrating your system by drinking 32 oz. of water within the first hour of waking and another 32-48 oz. of water before noon. Additionally, you should aim to consume close to your full body weight in ounces of water each day.  So a 150 lb person can aim to drink 150 ounces of water in the form of water, herbal teas, lemon water, broth, etc.

This amount of water seems excessive, but as long as it comes with enough minerals (adding in a pinch of good salt), it is extremely cleansing to the body.  In addition, staying hydrated will improve your energy and reduce feelings of hunger or cravings.

High Quality Salts 

Most people in society avoid salts as they have been taught that excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure.  However, during the initial adaptation phase to a ketogenic diet, the body excretes excess sodium and minerals due to a drop in insulin levels.

If you don’t replace these minerals, you can end up with many of the symptoms of the keto flu.  Be sure to replenish these minerals by using a high-quality pink or gray salt and drinking organic bone broth throughout the day.

Get Regular Exercise 

Short bursts of intense exercise increase AMP-K and promote metabolic flexibility while increasing oxygenation of tissues. Be sure to keep it to 15-20 minutes 2-4 times a week, overdoing it can raise cortisol and pull you out of ketosis.

Additionally, get regular low intensity exercise such as barefoot walking outdoors.  This adds the benefit of free electrons from the Earth that are helpful for your electromagnetic frequency, which calms your stress response and improves healing and sense of well-being.

Improve Bowel Movements

Many people don’t consider this as an important factor but constipation can drive up stress hormones and pull you out of ketosis. Many people experience constipation on a ketogenic diet so it is important to take steps to mitigate this.

You should be sure to consume plenty of fibrous vegetables, fermented foods, water, minerals, and never eat in a stressed state. Stress inhibits digestion so be sure to perform an act of gratitude or prayer before meals to help pull your body into a resting state.

If intestinal bacterial overgrowth is an issue, this should absolutely be addressed as another cause of poor digestion.  Finally, magnesium supplementation can be a great remedy for constipation while also supporting the body for optimal health overall.

Control Protein Intake 

Eating too much protein can easily stimulate gluconeogenesis which will raise blood sugar and pull you out of ketosis.  Most individuals will want to aim for 0.4-0.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and around 20-30 grams per meal.

This means a 150 lb. individual would only need about 60-75 grams of protein each day.  Individuals who are more active and involved in intense weight training or intense athletic endeavors may go up to 0.6-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight on heavy training days.

Use MCT Oil

Producing ketones can be a stressor on the body, especially if you have mitochondrial dysfunction. MCT oil is easily converted into ketones to relieve some of this stress and improve your state of ketosis. Avoid brands that contain lauric acid (C12) as this fatty acid is not easily converted into ketones.

I often recommend the bulletproof brand XCT which contains the two MCTs most readily converted into ketones, namely capric and caprylic acid.

Improve Your Sleep 

Mitigating stress is a key aspect of maintaining an optimal state of ketosis and getting good sleep is a paramount aspect of this.  Poor sleep is consistently correlated with blood sugar imbalance and increased risk of cancer.  A good start is to be in bed no later than 11pm, make sure the room is completely blacked out, and lower the temperature to about 60-65 degrees.

More advanced strategies for optimal sleep include:

Getting AM sunlight to prime the circadian rhythm

Avoiding blue light exposure within 4 hours of sleep by investing in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses

Developing a relaxing routine that you go through every night before bed. This could include prayer, meditation, gratitude journaling, light stretching, or anything that brings you peace and comfort.

Conclusion 

We know a lot about how cancer cells behave and what conditions allow them to thrive. Because of this, we are able to alter our internal environment in order to favor our healthy cells over cancer cells.

Reducing sugar intake, getting the body into a state of ketosis, and implementing intermittent fasting can be powerful cancer-fighting strategies. Because cancer cells in general are metabolically inflexible, we are able to take advantage of ketone metabolism as a way of placing cancer cells in a weakened state.

Not only does this make these strategies powerful stand-alone healing practices, but also for improving the outcomes of traditional treatments.

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