Keto and CBD are the two trendy lifestyle “magic pills” of the year, each with a host of proclaimed health benefits that are well-supported by scientific evidence.
Both keto and CBD are proven anti-inflammatories (more on that below), and according to Harvard Medical School recent research is fingering chronic inflammation as the main culprit behind modernity’s greatest and most devastating diseases: cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes. .
And there’s this: a study just released in June 2019 found that CBD absorption is vastly improved when consumed with dietary fat (which you’d have in abundance on a ketogenic diet).
Could these two health powerhouses potentiate one another? Could CBD + keto be the next big wellness and longevity hack?
Keep reading and find out.
What is keto?
Keto, aka the ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb eating plan with a host of scientifically-supported benefits. On a ketogenic diet the goal is to enter into a metabolic state called ketosis, in which your body starts to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
The metabolic state of ketosis is sort of like the body’s energy backup plan. The body prefers to run on glucose, but when starved of glucose for long enough (usually 24-48 hours) stored fat is broken down by the liver into energy, the body enters ketosis, and the liver produces ketones.
Why People are Trying Keto (and Why It Works)
So why do you want your body to start running on fat instead of carbs? Well, turns out there are a number of well-attested benefits to the ketogenic diet.
Keto is perhaps best-known as a weight loss diet, and the science backs it up. When the body adapts to burning fat for fuel, stored body fat is burned as well. Numerous studies attest to keto’s fat-burning capabilities, as well as its ability to improve cardiovascular disease markers like cholesterol and triglycerides. Here are a few examples from the scientific literature:
- 89 obese adults were put on a ketogenic diet for 6 months and experienced a 10% decrease in body mass with none of the lost weight regained after one year.
- A meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of clinical studies) conducted on obese individuals found that a ketogenic diet successfully reduced body weight, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- 83 obese patients were put on a 24-month ketogenic diet and the result was: significant decreases in body mass, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Excess body fat is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, so keto’s ability to aid weight loss makes it beneficial for diabetes prevention and treatment. Keto can also improve insulin function and reduce blood sugar, both significant signs of diabetes. Here’s a rundown of the science:
- In one study, keto improved insulin sensitivity by an average of 75%.
- 84 obese type-2 diabetics were split into two groups: a ketogenic diet group, and a low-glycemic, reduced-calorie diet. By the end of the study, the ketogenic group saw better improvements in blood markers, and 95% of the ketogenic group were able to reduce or eliminate diabetes medication compared to 62% for the higher-carb group.
- A ketogenic diet improved glycemic control (an important diabetes marker) in 28 overweight type-2 diabetic patients.
The keto diet is also effective in controlling appetite for a simple reason: fat and protein are much more satiating than carbohydrates. One 2008 study found that “high-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets reduce hunger and lower food intake significantly more than do high-protein, medium-carbohydrate nonketogenic diets.”
Many types of cancer feed exclusively on sugar. By drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and blood glucose, you can starve out these types of cancer and potentially slow their spread. This has been found to be especially true regarding brain cancers, which only “eat” sugar: in one 2007 study, a ketogenic diet reduced the growth of brain cancer tumors by as much as 65%.
What About the Benefits of CBD?
If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you already have some idea of the various benefits of CBD. But here’s a brief recap of the scientifically-supported benefits of CBD (with citations):
CBD and Keto: Natural Partners?
So besides being two buzzy lifestyle trends, what does CBD have to do with keto? Is there any reason to pair the two? Well, if there wasn’t, we wouldn’t have written this article.
Recent research has shown that CBD works synergistically with dietary fat. And they both effectively combat inflammation, the condition at the heart of most chronic diseases.
CBD is Absorbed at a Much Higher Rate Alongside Dietary Fat
One of the most common ways that people get their CBD is orally: with an edible or drink, swallowing an oil, or consuming a capsule or powder. But there’s a big problem with taking your CBD orally: it has a very poor bioavailability rate, as low as 13-19%, meaning that of the CBD that you consume, only 13-19% will enter the bloodstream. The rest is broken down by liver enzymes.
But a just-released June 2019 study revealed something remarkable: consuming CBD with dietary fat can significantly boost absorption. The study divided patients into two groups: one that consumed CBD fasted, and the other with a high-fat burrito. The results? The high-fat group had, on average, 14 times the maximum level of CBD as those who took it fasted. The total amount of CBD absorption in the high-fat group was four times that of the fasted group.
Since the ketogenic diet is based on high levels of dietary fat, this means that keto can enhance the absorption and therapeutic effect of CBD.
CBD and Keto Are Both Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is how the immune system responds to tissue damage, viruses, and bacteria. White blood cells are sent to the inflamed area, where they repair damage and repel foreign invaders. But chronic inflammation is when the body begins to do this mistakenly: sending white blood cells to healthy tissues, where they can begin to attack organs, joints, or skin. It’s believed that inflammation is a contributor, if not the primary cause, of a whole host of maladies, from heart disease and cancer to arthritis and acne.
Many people consume CBD for its anti-inflammatory properties, and many try the ketogenic diet for the same reason. If reducing inflammation levels is a goal for you, then CBD and keto can comprise a dual-sided approach that undercuts inflammation on multiple levels.
- A 2015 study found that CBD reduced a number of inflammatory markers in patients with arthritis, brain inflammation, and colitis.
- And another 6-month study from 2014 found a similar effect from keto: in type-2 diabetes patients a ketogenic diet reduced inflammatory markers associated with diabetes compared to a low-fat diet.
CBD and Keto Are Both Neuro-Protective
This is an exciting and often under-appreciated area of study regarding both CBD and keto, and it’s related to their anti-inflammatory properties. Recent research indicates that CBD may protect the brain from inflammation-induced damage:
- A 2017 study found that “CBD may exert beneficial effects on brain effector systems/substrates”
- Another 2017 study found that CBD reduced neurodegeneration and enhanced neuron survival.
Betahydroxybutyrate is a type of ketone that your body produces when it’s in a state of ketosis, and has been strongly linked by multiple studies to neuroprotective effects:
- From a 2006 study: “ketone bodies, especially β-hydroxybutyrate, confer neuroprotection against diverse types of cellular injury.”
- A 2018 review found that ketone bodies can “thwart or ameliorate histological and biochemical changes leading to neurologic dysfunction and disease.”
So while most people don’t go on a diet for the potential brain-improving effects, this research suggests that CBD + keto may enhance overall wellness in unexpected and powerful ways.
My CBD and Keto Story: How This Powerful Combo Reduced My Inflammation
I went on keto long before I was familiar with CBD, with a vague hope that it would reduce the inflammation which had plagued me in the form of eczema and joint pain. At its worst my hands were so stiff that I couldn’t use a keyboard and mouse without moderate pain. I had to leave my tech job in San Francisco because I couldn’t handle it anymore. My scalp was like a prehistoric riverbed: terrible itchiness, and if I dragged my nails along the top of my head they would have silvery-white scales caked underneath them. Gross.
And these were just the physical symptoms. I had terrible, omnipresent anxiety. My energy was scattershot: at various points of the day I’d be so tired and woozy that I couldn’t stand. My moods were very up and down as well.
Low-Carb: a Game-Changer
After struggling for a long time like this I slowly read and learned about chronic inflammation, and became dead set on finding the roots of my own to fix it. Experimenting with various low-carb diets (starting with the modified ketogenic diet, then to strict keto, and finally a meat-only zero-carb diet) I saw substantial improvements in many of these symptoms. The joint pain and scalp dryness were significantly reduced. My energy and moods evened out. But dieting alone didn’t totally rid me of these symptoms.
I still had anxiety, just not as extreme as before, and the joint stiffness and scalp problems didn’t totally go away. What I found was that dieting could significantly reduce negative symptoms, but it couldn’t seem to get rid of them. Enter CBD.
CBD: the Final Puzzle Piece in My Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle
By the time I stumbled upon CBD I wasn’t as much of a nervous wreck, but anxiety was still a part of my daily life and something that I felt was dragging me down.
My first try, 25mg of full-spectrum CBD, was a revelation: it felt like a cool wave that traveled down into my stomach and calmed the turmoil and churning that drove me crazy. Rather than my attention always being diverted to this and that stress, worry, or petty concern, my mind was clear and I could focus.
Emboldened, I thought that maybe if it worked for anxiety it might help with my other inflammatory problems. I read multiple studies which indicated that CBD could slow down skin cell growth (excess skin cell growth is the cause of conditions like psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema). So I tried Charlotte’s Web Hemp-Infused Balm with 450mg of hemp, applying it to my scalp. I immediately noticed a cooling sensation in my skin: the mild, omnipresent itchiness that comes with eczema went away.
After a couple days of nightly application my skin was smoother than ever. I had almost no flakiness. I could drag my fingernails along my scalp and no horrid, gross scales.
Even further emboldened I tried applying the balm to my hand joints, but didn’t have the same success: after a week I didn’t notice any stiffness reduction or relief and gave up.
Nevertheless, I now incorporate both topical and oral CBD into my daily regimen to keep my scalp flake-free and my anxiety in check. Low-carb dieting, CBD, and exercise have together freed me from most of my inflammatory problems.
If you have health problems that you suspect are caused by inflammation, then CBD + keto is worth a shot.