We all could use a little bit more energy. Most of us are running on far too few hours of sleep and find ourselves reaching for an extra cup of coffee on those really long days. It may do the trick for a few hours, but then we find ourselves crashing again either from working too hard or not eating the proper foods.
As well as everyday individuals not having enough brain power to make it through the day without feeling tired and burned out, there are other people who are suffering from diseases who are constantly having their energy depleted.
The three diseases that cause cognitive impairments and thus a lack of energy are Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy. Aging also leads to less cognitive functioning, which is why we all could use ketones which are constructed by the liver. Our liver utilizes fatty acids and creates ketones which are an excellent energy source for both people who are suffering from these diseases or have low energy in general.
People whose brains suffer from impaired glucose utilization see cognitive benefits from ketones. In Alzheimer’s disease, aging-related cognitive decline, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, brain glucose uptake is depressed—even before any actual cognitive decline appears. Despite high glucose availability, the aging, epileptic, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s brain can’t utilize enough of it to handle cognition. Enter ketones. Ketones act as an alternative energy source for the glucose-starved brains. It’s no coincidence that ketogenic diets can improve symptoms (and in some cases abolish them) and cognitive function in all four conditions.
Anecdotes certainly suggest that otherwise healthy people can experience cognitive benefits from brain utilization of ketones. The entire butter/coconut oil coffee movement is predicated on ketone production—from morning fat bombs (especially medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil, which convert directly into ketones regardless of carb intake) and very low carb intakes—improving mental clarity, focus, and performance. In people with “mild cognitive decline” rather than full-blown Alzheimer’s, a ketogenic diet improves memory.
There were some studies that were done to see exactly how ketones are helping brain function:
- Type 1 diabetics who experience reduced cognitive function because of low blood sugar see those deficits erased by increasing BHB through dietary medium chain triglycerides (the same fats found in coconut oil).
- In memory impaired adults, some with Alzheimer’s, BHB improved cognition. Scores improved in (rough) parallel with rising ketones.
- A ketone-elevating agent (purified medium chain triglycerides) improved cognition in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
- A very low-carb diet improved memory in older adults. Again, ketones tracked with improvements.
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.
Here are a few other ways we can introduce ketones to our brain and thus increase our energy level:
Fasting: A fast quickly induces ketosis. You’re not eating anything, so your only option is to consume your own body fat. And to offset the lack of incoming glucose, your brain will run partially on ketones. It helps to be a strong fat-burner already, as you’ll start dipping into your body fat stores right away and everything will go more smoothly. Anyone who’s fasted without being fat-adapted can attest—it’s not easy.
Don’t eat too late: Even just a “fast” from dinner to breakfast is enough time to induce a little ketogenesis. Ketosis is a spectrum, not a binary. By eating earlier and avoiding midnight snacks, you allow your body to start burning fat and converting it into ketones. You’ll know it when you have funky ketone breath in the morning; it’s a sign of a good metabolism (PDF).
Eat medium chain triglycerides: Adding MCTs, found in coconut oil or isolated MCT oils, to a regular diet spurs the creation of ketones.
Primal Endurance training: Low-level aerobic activity is awesome for starting ketosis. 180 minus your age = the heart rate you need to stay at or under to maximize fat burning efficiency, lay your aerobic base, and upregulate mitochondrial biogenesis. Do this on an empty stomach and you’ll kickstart ketosis.
So as you can see, introducing ketones to our brain is an excellent way to increase energy and we can continue to do this by following the keto diet. In addition, to help our brain implement ketones, we should also consider implementing positive daily habits. Examples include (which were also listed above): not eating too late, fasting, and working on endurance training. Form these habits and you'll only increase your energy. Not to mention you'll lose weight and hopefully feel the healthiest you've ever felt.
You can read more about how ketones can improve brain function on Mark's Daily Apple.
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