Tag Archives: ketosis

Disappointing Outcome With Bitter Melon Protocol

This is an N of 1 study on a specific supplement that reportedly has the outcome of lowered blood glucose levels. In June of 2015 I went on a ketogenic diet. I was enjoying the benefits of weight loss and increased alertness, but I noticed my blood glucose was creeping up in the daily readings. I wanted to see if I could turn that around and bring the readings lower.

I heard on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast that Bitter Melon lowers blood glucose levels. I purchased the supplement and decided to test it. The results were surprising, but not in a fun way.

suprised scientist

My Question

Is Bitter Melon effective for in lowering my blood glucose and should I continue to take it?

What I Did

I took Bitter Melon on a randomized schedule for 20 days, then took it every day for another 14 days. As I did so, I recorded my glucose levels after waking, at 10am, and 3pm each day.

How I Did It

I used a Google Spreadsheet to generate a random “one” or “zero” for each day in the 20 day randomized period. This gave me instructions on whether or not to take the Bitter Melon. After 20 days, I took it every day for 13 days.

The daily dose was two tablets, which is 900mg of the supplement. I excluded readings on days where food intake was outside of a normal range, or something extraordinary was happening like a flight or no sleep.

At the end of the period, I looked at the difference on the randomized days using a TTest. I also looked at the effect on my glucose for the period where I was taking the supplement every day.

What I Learned

I had a disappointing outcome with Bitter Melon protocol. There was no change in the continued climb in my blood glucose levels. This graph shows the period from the beginning of the diet to the end of the Bitter Melon test:

Morning Reads

The period of taking Bitter Melon was from 8/9/2015 onward, so for me it appeared to be ineffective in arresting the upward movement of the glucose levels.

The first measure I looked at was the morning readings based on having taken the supplement the day prior. There was no effect: p=.84. Recall that to have demonstrated a significant difference in the two data sets we are looking  for p<.05.

The second measure was a 10am reading after having taken the pills at around 7am. Doing the TTest comparing the days where I had taken the supplement vs. not there was no effect: p=.25.

The final measure I compared was a measure at 3PM, comparing the days where I had ingested Bitter Melon vs. not. The test showed a significant difference (P=.057), but the result was reversed from what I would expect. The average glucose reading on the days I took Bitter Melon was higher than days I did not take the pills. That is an odd outcome.

Finally, looking at the effect of taking the supplement daily there was no significant change in the morning glucose level taking an intermittent dose versus a daily dose (p=.17).

image (7)

As a result of this analysis I will no longer take Bitter Melon and save myself the money. And the data opens up another line of research. Something is driving my glucose levels upward. I am tracking my food intake and my carbohydrates are very low. I am not eating any processed foods. The next step is to eliminate all supplements and see if the source is there as well as up my fiber levels. One thing is for sure. A “one size fits all” ketogenic diet ripped straight from the podcasts is not the cure all for my physiology. Nor is it probably for yours either.


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Going Ketogenic and HRV

Inspired by a fellow Quantified Selfer at our recent Denver QS Meetup and motivated by multiple guests on Damien Blenkinsopp’s excellent Quantified Body podcast I decided to switch from eating vegetarian to eating ketogenic. And always interested in heart rate variability (HRV), I wanted to look at the mix of going ketogenic and HRV.

I won’t go into too much detail about ketosis and its reported benefits. At a high level you switch your body over from sugar (glucose) burning to fat burning (ketones). To do this I was going from a very carb heavy diet to one that severely limits carbs and moderates proteins while ramping up fat. Imagine my long suffering vegetarian wife’s surprise when she came into the kitchen to find me chomping on bacon with a coffee full of butter.

One element of the switch involves a state called “keto flu” which is the body suddenly finding no carbs available and sending pretty clear signals to the brain that its time to find some carbs. Proponents of the diet tend to downplay the effects calling it a euphemistic “short term discomfort” but I have to say it felt like I had been hit by a truck.

Going Ketogenic and HRV

Me no like keto flu

Of course being a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) enthusiast I had to check the impact of the transition on my resting heart rate and HRV.

My Question

What impact would the transition to ketosis and its associated “keto flu” have on my HRV? What did the load on the body look like?

What I Did

I measured my resting heart rate and HRV for three weeks during the transition to ketosis. I was also measuring my glucose and ketone production so could verify when the transition was complete.

How I Did It

I measured my heart rate and HRV reading using a Polar H7 heart rate belt that was sending data to Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger four times a day. I would take a reading first thing in the morning, later in the morning after traveling to work, after lunch and before bed. Once each morning I would use a glucose meter and a Ketonix breath ketone analyzer to check the trend in my transition to ketosis. Toward the end of the period I used a Precision Xtra ketone meter to verify with surety I was in ketosis.

What I Learned

Transitioning to ketosis is a real butt kicker of both mood and heart level activity. First my mood went very dark and on day two I almost tore my car’s steering wheel out of its moorings when I couldn’t find a parking space. Keto flu for me was like a bad hangover mixed with a flu-like dizziness. For me it took two weeks to transition to ketosis.

At the physiological level my resting heart rate over the period showed a large amount of load on the body. You can see from the graph that my resting heart rate popped up almost immediately. In the middle of the transition I was getting a readings of 85 to 93 Beats Per Minute (BPM) and that was unusually high. I am usually in the high 60’s to low 70’s.

Going Ketogenic and HRV

HRV showed a similar story. The four readings through the day showed that my HRV was lowered in the early day readings but tended to be similar in the later day readings.

Going Ketogenic and HRV

HRV has a circadian rhythm. As with our energy levels, it tends to drop over the course of the day. You can see that in the baseline. The slope of the curve was still negative while in the transition, but the slope was greatly reduced. I would have expected the slope to be the same and the lower start point end with a lower end point, but that was not the case. Perhaps the body has a baseline beneath which it won’t drop based on health and when in load the impact is in the beginning of the day when the body should be able to relax.

From an HRV perspective it looks like transitioning to ketosis has a similar effect on the body as being overtrained as an athlete.  The body’s Parasympathetic Nervous System seems to be less capable of putting the brakes on the system and bring the body to a relaxed state.

The happy news is that once through the whupping you get from keto flu the benefits are as advertised. I dropped 12 pounds and feel great. I have a lot of energy and feel very clear of mind. All the better to conduct more studies in the future.