Ketogenic or the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that many people stick to lose weight, feel more energetic, and experience other benefits as well. One of those benefits may be helping the brain stay healthy as many researchers seem to suggest. The Body Reboot book discusses how the keto diet triggers ketosis, which is when the body breaks down fat instead of glucose and thus, helps dieters lose weight. The keto diet may also help reduce side effects of cancer therapies as well as offer other cognitive benefits.
Medical News Daily summarizes a recent study done by Scientific Reports in April of 2018. The study revealed that the keto diet might protect against cognitive decline and improve cognitive function.
Now, researchers from the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, are assessing evidence suggesting that keto diets may also help stave off cognitive decline.
The scientists conducted two studies, both in mice. The findings indicate that keto-type diets can protect neurovascular function, as well as metabolic function, in general, which may help the animals maintain healthy cognitive function.
The team worked with two groups of nine mice each, all of which were aged 12-14 weeks. The animals received either a ketogenic diet or a regular diet for 16 weeks.
After this period, the scientists found that the mice that had followed the keto regimen had not only improved blood flow to the brain, but also better bacterial balance in the gut, as well as lower blood glucose (sugar), and lower body weight.
Moreover, and most importantly, the keto diet also seemed to boost the clearance of beta-amyloid protein in the brain — the “building blocks” that, in Alzheimer's, stick together, forming toxic plaques which interfere with neuronal signaling.
Even though it’s unclear what positive brain benefits take place when dieters stick to the keto diet, some suggest that its protective effects may be due to the nutrient sensor, otherwise known as mTOR. Research completed in 2018 by Gerontology. Mentions that mTOR signaling can positively impact our lifespan and aging.
The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) network is an evolutionary conserved signaling hub that senses and integrates environmental and intracellular nutrient and growth factor signals to coordinate basic cellular and organismal responses such as cell growth, proliferation, apoptosis, and inflammation depending on the individual cell and tissue. A growing list of evidence suggests that mTOR signaling influences longevity and aging. Inhibition of the mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) with rapamycin is currently the only known pharmacological treatment that increases lifespan in all model organisms studied. This review discusses the potential mechanisms how mTOR signaling controls lifespan and influences aging-related processes such as cellular senescence, metabolism, and stem cell function. Understanding these processes might provide novel therapeutic approaches to influence longevity and aging-related diseases.
Perfect Keto also discusses a few studies that also support that the keto diet may help with brain functioning. For example, a study by Diabetes in 2009 revealed that the keto diet could improve diabetics’ cognitive performance.
The standard Western diet is deficiency in many areas, including the very important essential fatty acids. This is detrimental to health because we need these for the body and brain to function properly.
It’s been known for a while that ketones can benefit those with neurodegeneration issues like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and aging-related cognitive diseases. The production of ketone bodies can help in these cases because the brains of people with these problems can’t use enough of the available glucose to handle cognition and perception. A ketogenic diet can then assist by providing a backup source of energy.
The increased fat intake itself from low-carb and keto diets has also been shown to improve brain function in specific ways. For example:
During a study published by the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetics saw improved cognitive performance and preserved brain function during hypoglycemia after ingesting medium chain triglycerides (derived from coconut oil).
Those with Alzheimer’s have seen improved memory scores that might correlate with the amount of ketones levels present.
Ketones from a very low-carb diet have also been shown to improve mild cognitive impairment in aging adults.
Read in more detail what the researchers' conclusion in the Diabetes 2009 study says about how the keto diet can improve brain function:
Medium-chain triglyceride ingestion improves cognition without adversely affecting adrenergic or symptomatic responses to hypoglycemia in intensively treated type 1 diabetic subjects. Medium-chain triglycerides offer the therapeutic advantage of preserving brain function under hypoglycemic conditions without causing deleterious hyperglycemia.
Maintaining plasma glucose (PG) at near-normal levels in individuals with type 1 diabetes reduces the risk for developing long-term microvascular complications (1). However, intensive insulin therapy increases the risk of severe hypoglycemia, which can cause rapid deterioration of cognitive function and often occurs without warning symptoms (1,2). As a result, hypoglycemia limits the ability of patients to achieve target glycemic goals because the immediate fear of hypoglycemia exceeds the fear of long-term complications. Therefore, new strategies to protect the brain from hypoglycemia-induced injury are essential for optimizing the benefits of insulin therapy.
Although the brain relies primarily on glucose, it can use alternative fuels such as monocarboxylic acids, lactate, and ketones to maintain energy homeostasis (3–7). Exposure to prolonged fasting or hypoglycemia causes adaptive changes in the brain, including an enhanced ability to utilize alternative fuels (3,8,9). Thus, patients with intensively managed type 1 diabetes, by virtue of their increased exposure to hypoglycemia, may develop an enhanced ability to use alternate fuels, which, in turn, might provide neuroprotection during hypoglycemia.
To explore this possibility, we evaluated whether oral medium-chain triglycerides could improve cognitive performance during acute insulin-induced hypoglycemia in intensively treated type 1 diabetic subjects. In addition, an in vitro hippocampal slice preparation from nondiabetic rats was used to assess the ability of β-hydroxybutyrate and octanoate to support neuronal activity when the glucose supply is deficient.
Furthermore, did you know that ketones can also help improve your memory?! Perfect Keto cites a 2016 study called FASEB J. that discovered that rats on a keto diet, as opposed to a high-carb diet, performed better at their tests.
Another way ketone bodies may reduce free radicals in the brain is by improving the efficiency and energy levels of the mitochondria, which produce energy for the body’s cells. Ketosis can also help make new mitochondria and increase ATP in your brain’s memory cells. An example of this was shown during a rat study in which those subjects given a diet of mostly ketones performed better in physical and cognitive tests than those fed a high-carbohydrate diet or typical Western diet.
Mark’s Daily Apple discusses that because ketosis helps us burn fat perhaps it helps to improve our brain function in other ways, such as improving cognitive function. They also mention that exercise combined with the keto diet may also help increase cognitive functioning.
Ketosis upregulates mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain. It literally creates new power plants in the brain that are good at burning fat-derived fuel. This upregulation is actually responsible for the anticonvulsant benefits in patients with epilepsy, and, likely, the benefits seen in other brain disorders with glucose uptake problems. By providing an alternate source of brain power, brains that don’t run so well on glucose can begin burning fat. There’s no indication that ketosis only induces mitochondrial biogenesis in “unhealthy” brains. It simply hasn’t been studied yet, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t also build mitochondria in healthy brains.
There’s reason to believe ketone-induced mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain will improve its function.
For one, extra energy sources are always nice to have. That they might improve the way your brain works makes intuitive sense.
Two, exercise, perhaps our most reliable and potent booster of mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain, is downright nootropic. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which provides more oxygen and energy but also reduces free radical damage and enhances memory. It stimulates the creation of new neurons and the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a chemical that is instrumental in neuron preservation and formation. Exercise also promotes gene expression that supports plasticity, the brain’s crucial power to alter neural pathways.
If exercise promotes mitochondrial biogenesis and better functioning in the brain, perhaps ketosis does, too.
At the time of writing this post, we're currently giving away free copies of the Body Reboot book because it's our mission to increase awareness and to help people lose weight and get healthy! If you help us cover the cost of shipping, we’ll send a copy to your door FREE. Go over to this page to see if there are any copies left. At the time of writing this post, we're currently giving away free copies of the Body Reboot book because it's our mission to increase awareness and to help people lose weight and get healthy! If you help us cover the cost of shipping, we’ll send a copy to your door FREE. Go over to this page to see if there are any copies left.
Sources: Scientific Reports, Medical News Today, NCBI: Gerontology. 2018, Perfect Keto, ADA: Diabetes 2009, Perfect Keto, NCBI: FASEB J. 2016, Mark’s Daily Apple
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