Ketone production (ketosis) happens when the body burns fat instead of glucose. When the body goes into ketosis, it is being fueled by ketone bodies — molecules the liver produces from fatty acids – instead of glucose, which requires insulin.
While the weight loss resulting from ketosis is life-altering for many, the most important benefit of the fat burning system is that it triggers autophagy (Greek for “self-eating”), which eliminates dead and damaged mitochondria, and supports the formation of healthy new mitochondria. (As discussed in an earlier blog, high-functioning mitochondria — the body’s “fuel factories” — are essential for brain and body health and repair.)
Autophagy is the garbage collection service inside the cells, the process by which cellular waste is broken down and recycled to harvest amino acids, the building blocks of new cells. When the system goes awry, it’s like a city where the garbage collectors are on strike. First, garbage accumulates in the kitchen, then in the bins on the street, and eventually in the street itself.
The human body evolved to store fat. Our ancestors had to eat when they could and then fasted until the next lucky catch or seasonal harvest of fruit. When food was scarce, they survived because of the body’s ability to burn stored fat. Nowadays, our body can’t make the switch to fat burning if we continually feed it grains and sugars, which keep the insulin system going.
When we don’t switch off the insulin system, there’s no garbage collection in the cells. Toxins build up and damage mitochondria, which then do not combust fuel cleanly and produce large amounts of free radicals that further damage the mitochondria.
Ketones are many times more efficient a fuel than sugars. But as soon as you eat carbs and the insulin system kicks in, the mitochondria treat the sugar as the first course, filling up and forgetting about the rest of the meal.
When we’re consuming sugars the body is in building mode, repairing and creating muscle. The pancreas produces insulin to transport it to cells that can use it. But if the cells already have plenty of glucose, they’ll refuse the delivery, just as if they were pushing away a dessert plate.
Consuming too much sugar throws off the insulin system, causing blood sugar to spike, sometimes dangerously so. Once high blood sugar becomes chronic, you have a prediabetic condition. Unable to absorb more sugar, your cells reduce the number of receptors for insulin in their membranes, resulting in insulin resistance. But the pancreas, registering a buildup of sugar levels in your blood, continues to pump out more insulin. Finally, inflammation and cellular damage occur.
If you’re consuming large amounts of carbs, gaining weight around your belly, and experiencing mood swings and brain fog associated with blood-sugar fluctuations, you’re already on your way toward insulin resistance and mitochondrial damage.
By reducing sugars and grains and switching to a ketogenic diet — one high in plant foods and healthy fats (such as avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil) — you will stop pressuring the pancreas to go into overdrive and thereby quiet the insulin system. Autophagy will kick in. Toxins stored in the cells can be excreted. Dead mitochondria can be recycled for their reusable building blocks. The system runs as it’s supposed to.
Fasting causes the body to switch from feeding on glucose to feeding on stored fats. Generally speaking, there’s no need to fast for more than 18 hours at a time. Brain repair starts to happen that quickly, and brain fog starts to clear. Longer fasts are common to many religions and cultures — Shamans prepare for a vision quest with a three-day fast — but even during Ramadan, the monthlong period of fasting that is one of the most sacred practices of Islam, Muslims fast only from sunrise to sunset each day.
Fasting for weight loss is a dangerous misuse of the practice. We fast to cleanse at a cellular level, to turn on the body’s repair systems, and to clear brain fog. Be sure to drink plenty of water and refrain from rigorous exercise. And remember that hunger pangs are an indication that you’re switching from the glucose system to the ketone system, so you might even welcome them.
My book, One Spirit Medicine, has the step-by-step guide to repair damage to the body and brain. You can get a condensed version of the One Spirit Medicine regimen in this free copy of “Hacking the Human Biofield,” which includes my complete 30-day detox diet. You can find all the supplements you’ll need for the regimen in our store or you can purchase them from other vendors or at your preferred health food stores.