Ketosis and Mitochondria – The Best Thing About the Ketogenic Diet (NOT Fat Burning)

Siim Land

Want to know how ketosis and mitochondria interconnect? Read this article – it’s the best thing about the ketogenic diet by far!

The Best Thing About the Ketogenic Diet

Keto is most commonly thought to be a weight loss diet for the obese or diabetic. The reason for that is because when you’re in ketosis, you’re using your own body fat and ketones as a source of fuel instead of glucose.

When you’re in a caloric deficit, the calories you do need for maintaining your current body weight will be taken straight from your own body fat. It’s like direct withdrawal of cash.

But this is not the best benefit of the ketogenic diet. Although linked to this, keto is also a superb way of eating for mitochondrial density, which is the greatest densest advantages of ketosis. In this article, I’m going to tell you how ketosis and mitochondria are interconnected.

What Are the Mitochondria?

How do you think you’re able to live – to breathe, to move around and digest food? It’s because our human superorganism is full of hundreds of thousands of cells and bacteria.

Mitochondria are small little organelles that act like the powerplants of the cells. They convert calories from food, heat from the sun and oxygen into energy, specifically the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

  • Mitochondrial biogenesis increases the amount of mitochondria in the cells. How many power reactors do you have to spread across the workload?
  • Mitochondrial density refers to the quality and efficiency of your energy production. How much ATP can your power plants produce and how it’s going to be used?

Both of them are essential for maintaining high energy levels throughout the day, but they’re also vital for preserving brain cells, keeping yourself more youthful and increasing your life-span.

Ketosis and Mitochondria

There are several reasons why the ketogenic diet is superb for the mitochondria.

  • Being in ketosis greatly enhances fat oxidation, leading to you burning more of your own body fat.
  • A ketogenic diet increases brown adipose tissue (BAT)[i].
    • Brown fat is used for thermoregulation and it has a brownish color because there are high amounts of mitochondria in the cells.
    • White fat is thought to be the less healthy one because it can only be used for caloric maintenance and not for heat production.
    • BAT also has more capillaries than white fat, which helps to supply the body with nutrients and oxygen. Exogenous ketones like ketone esters have also been shown to increase BAT and overcome insulin resistance in rats[ii].
  • Ketones give more energy than glucose. Whereas carb metabolism yields 36 ATP molecules from a glucose molecule, a fat metabolism yields 48 ATP molecules from a fatty acid molecule inside the mitochondria. Our body parts actually work a lot better on ketones, including the brain, heart, and kidneys.
  • Burning fatty acids and ketones cause less damage to the body than glucose. Glycolysis, which is the process by which mitochondria burn glucose, causes more oxidative stress and the creation of free radicals, which in turn will speed up aging.
  • A ketogenic diet also helps to kill cancer cells because cancer cells can only use glucose for fuel. In the presence of fat and ketones, they will starve to death through apoptosis. Some type of cancers can also use ketones but not to their fullest potential.

The mitochondria are perfectly designed to use fat for fuel. If you’re burning ketones, then you reduce oxidative load, which in turn will increase the amount of energy you can produce.

More Energy Less Disease

The fact is you get MORE energy per molecule of fat than sugar.

This is something I’ve definitely noticed in my life after having gone on keto – I don’t get tired at all.

  • I don’t need to eat food to feel energized because my mitochondria are tapped into my own body fat 24/7
  • I recover faster from physical exercise and stress because I don’t expose myself to glycolysis
  • I sleep faster, meaning I don’t have to sleep that long because my body has access to more energy and I cause less damage to the cells
  • I look and feel way healthier. My immune system is stronger because it has enough energy to fight off viruses and to heal faster.

The first priority of the mitochondria is to maintain cellular respiration – to keep your cells oxygenized and blood pumping. Cognitive thinking, exercising, feeling amazing are all secondary tasks that are not important for survival.

When you get tired during the day, then you shouldn’t assume that you need more carbohydrates or to have another hit of caffeine.

You should instead think about how you could maximize the efficiency by which your mitochondria produce energy.

Why Your Mitochondria Are Better at Burning Fat for Fuel

The mitochondria create ATP in 5 major steps

  1. Transportation of Food into the Mitochondria – Fuel can come from carbs or fat.
    1. Fatty acids can get into the mitochondria intact thanks to L-carnitine. L-carnitine works like a subway train for quick transport and it’s mostly found in animal products.
    2. Carbs need to be broken down into pyruvate outside the mitochondria before they can be transported in. During anaerobic metabolism, when you’re producing ATP with no oxygen, you can produce energy outside the mitochondria as well but it’s more inefficient.
  2. Conversion of Fuel into Acetyl-CoA
    1. Pyruvate must first be converted into acetyl-CoA by an enzymatic reaction
    2. Fatty acids already inside the mitochondria are directly broken down into acetyl-CoA through the process of beta-oxidation
  3. Oxidation of Acetyl-CoA
    1. Acetyl-CoA enters the Krebs Cycle where it gets oxidized. Electrons get removed from Acetyl-CoA and carbon dioxide gets produced as a by-product
  4. Transportation of Electrons Through the Respiratory Chain
    1. Electrons from Acetyl-CoA are shuttled through many molecules inside the mitochondria. Some of these molecules include cofactors. One of the most important ones for mitochondrial energy production is coenzyme Q-10
  5. Oxidative Phosphorylation
    1. Transporting electrons in the mitochondria cause electrical fluctuations or chemical gradients. This is called oxidative phosphorylation and it’s what drives ATP production. The ATP is then transported outside the mitochondria so that the cell could use it for energy and fulfill thousands of other biochemical reactions.

It makes perfect biochemical sense for our metabolism to be burning fat for fuel. Our own bioenergetics production will become more efficient and we’ll have more sustainable energy.

The Ketogenic Diet and Mitochondrial Density

Increasing mitochondrial density should fundamentally start with nutrition.

The ketogenic diet is the best one for mitochondria not only because of using fat for fuel but also because of its many protective aspects against oxidative stress.

  • Ketosis reduces the amount of epileptic seizures people get
  • Ketosis maintains healthy brain cells and prevents them from dying
  • Alzheimer’s is now referred to as type-3 diabetes or basically insulin resistance in the brain.
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction caused by oxidative stress is linked to aging, cancer, autism and many other diseases
  • The mitochondria are surrounded by a functional membrane which gets built by the fat you eat
  • Using ketone bodies for energy releases more acetyl-CoA, which then gets directed back to the Krebs Cycle to be produced for energy again

Starting the ketogenic diet can be difficult however because of having to swap fuel sources. If you’re used to eating a lot of carbohydrates then that’s what your body and brain will crave for but it’s not what your mitochondria would most benefit from.

Keto the Densest Way

Keto-adaptation is the process by which your body has become adapted to burning fat for fuel.

It takes several months to fully take effect and needs to be accompanied by following a ketogenic diet because just eating fat or animal protein will not improve your mitochondrial density.

  • You need the right healthy fats that don’t cause inflammation, like olive oil, butter, coconut oil, avocados
  • You need the right amount of protein so that you wouldn’t cause unnecessary blood sugar irregulations or glycation
  • You need to restrict carbohydrates to make your liver produce ketone bodies

That’s why I encourage you to check out my KETO // IF program that takes you step by step through the process of starting a well-formulated ketogenic diet and combining it with intermittent fasting that enhances your mitochondrial density and energy levels.


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2 Comments on “Ketosis and Mitochondria – The Best Thing About the Ketogenic Diet (NOT Fat Burning)

  1. Interesting article but why are you referencing studies about mice?

    I was hoping for a link to a study explaining how cancer only feeds on glucose but your claims, while possibly true, aren’t substantiated.

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