Increase in mental clarity with a ketogenic diet
The Keto diet was originally developed in the ’20s by physicians as a treatment for childhood epilepsy, as the ketogenic diet mimics the effects fasting has on the body.
Ketosis for an increase in mental performance
In addition to weight loss, many people are on the Keto diet for the potential benefits of increased energy and brainpower. Let’s start with ketosis and energy.
How the ketogenic diet is working is that it uses a specially designed macronutrient balance to get a certain response from the body. Those on the keto diet eat normal amounts of protein, higher amounts of fat than the average person, up to 75-80 percent of fat and they keep their carbohydrate intake very low, less than 50 grams per day.
When carb intake is this low, it triggers a response in the body that is similar to how it would act during starvation. Instead of simply use glucose for energy, the primary source of energy, the brain pulls from its alternative energy source is fat. But before fat can be used by the body, the liver has to convert them to ketone bodies. Then, these ketone bodies are used as energy for the body and brain when there is a lack of glucose.
A keto diet can be really simple, but it helps to learn some basic skills. These tips and guides will help you answer all the common keto questions.
Click here for An Easy Detailed Guide to Follow for Beginners to The Keto Diet.
What Happens When the Brain Runs on Ketones?
Ketones are burned using different pathways and enzymes than sugar, causing a cascade of effects that improve brain health. Let’s go over some of the ways that ketone bodies benefit the brain.
Ketones are a neuroprotective antioxidant. They have been found in many animal models to act as an antioxidant, even preventing harmful reactive oxygen species from damaging brain cells.
Ketones are a more efficient energy source than sugar. Ketone bodies, beta-hydroxybutyrate in particular, are a more efficient source of energy per unit oxygen than glucose.
Ketones increase mitochondrial efficiency and production
The keto diet causes an upregulation of mitochondrial genes and genes involved in energy metabolism. This enhances the capacity of brain cells, protecting from strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Ketones increase GABAergic tone and decrease glutamatergic tone. Glutamate, the brain’s main excitatory neurotransmitter, is the precursor for GABA, the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter.
Glutamate is essential for neural communication, memory formation, learning, and regulation, but in certain conditions, glutamate can become excitotoxic.
In other words, nerve cells can become damaged or killed by excessive stimulation of glutamate, which sets the stage for a variety of issues like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson’s disease. Although the mechanisms are unclear, ketones have been found to decrease glutamatergic tone and increase GABAergic tone, which helps prevent brain cell damage and improve function.
Ketones trigger the expression of BDNF. BDNF or Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a protein that acts on specific neurons throughout the nervous system. It helps to support the survival of existing neurons while encouraging the growth and differentiation of new neurons and neuronal connections.
Ketones have been found to trigger the expression of BDNF in ways that can improve the function of the hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain—areas of the brain, which are vital in learning, memory, and higher thinking.
Improving your brain capacities with a keto diet
Whether you want to boost brain function, prevent neurodegenerative disease, or reduce the severity of a brain-related issue, the ketogenic diet one of the best ways to do it. By using the ketogenic diet to enter ketosis, you provide your body and brain with a more efficient fuel source that decreases inflammation and neuronal damage, improves brain cell growth and function, and regulates your brain’s neurotransmitters.
As an added bonus, you will be eating highly-satiating, healthy foods that will help you eat fewer calories, improve health, and lose fat rapidly. This is what makes the ketogenic diet a win-win for many people, especially those with neurological conditions
Ketones can increase brain function
Our standard Western diet is a deficiency in many areas, including the very important essential fatty acids. This is harmful to our health because we need these for the body and brain to function properly.
It’s been known for a while that ketones can benefit patients with neurodegeneration issues like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and aging-related cognitive diseases.
The production of ketone bodies can help 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 increase brain function in specific ways.
During a study published by the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetics saw an 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 number of ketone levels present.
Ketones from a very low-carb diet have also been shown to improve mild cognitive impairment in aging adults.
The question is: does a ketogenic diet bring a true cognitive advantage for healthy people? And might ketosis encourage better brain health for the average person?
A big element of how a ketogenic diet can offer benefits for the brain function of healthy people has to do with its neuroprotective properties. Think about the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, which are crucial for brain health and function.
Most of our brain tissue is made up of fatty acids, so it makes sense that they would be vital for not only the overall health of the brain but also its important functions like learning and sensory execution.
How can we obtain essential fatty acids?
The human body isn’t able to make essential fatty acids on its own, so we must obtain them from the diet, and a ketogenic diet is rich in them. The right ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is typically between 1:1 and 1:4, and its importance for brain health. In a typical Western diet, the ratio falls more between 1:20 and 1:40, a recipe for oxidation and inflammation that isn’t helpful for mental wellness.
A benefit of the ketogenic diet is its use of fats that help maintain the proper balance of omega-3s to omega-6s, including
Also, when one is in a ketogenic state, ketones are used by the brain to generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule responsible for carrying energy where it’s needed for metabolism within the cells.
Even though glucose remains the primary source of energy for the body when it’s present, many people aren’t aware that ketones are actually a more efficient energy source than glucose and can reduce the amount of destructive free radicals produced. And in the brain, energy is everything. This helps better protect the brain and the rest of the body from oxidative stress, which negatively affects mental performance and brain aging.
Ketosis help with focus
An unbalanced diet can lead to a lack of mental clarity, showing up as a foggy brain, having a hard time remembering important facts, or struggling to stay focused on tasks. These types of symptoms normally involve two factors:
Glutamate, a neurotransmitter that promotes stimulation in the body and is vital for brain function and learning.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), the main neurotransmitter in the body that reduces stimulation.
Any time you are talking, thinking, or processing information, glutamate is involved. In fact, as intelligence increases, glutamate receptors on the cells increase.
But like anything in life, too much glutamate doesn’t mean better. Glutamate should be able to convert into GABA, but sometimes the conversion doesn’t occur as well as it should.
Since glutamate is responsible for over 90% of the brain’s synaptic connections, the brain can over-process and won’t have GABA available to assist in reducing stimulation. So if your body has too much glutamate and not enough GABA available, you’ll likely experience brain fog and have trouble concentrating, as well as decreased social behavior and increased anxiety.
Ketones provide the brain with another source of energy and allow it to more efficiently process the extra glutamate into GABA.
So, by helping increase the production of GABA, ketones can then help decrease the number of extra neurons that are firing in the brain and improve mental focus. This might even help reduce the presence of anxiety and stress, which is beneficial for anyone.
Ketones can improve your memory
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 a typical Western diet.
Mental fog during keto start-up
It’s also important to note that within the first few weeks of starting a ketogenic diet, as your carb consumption is reduced and your body uses up the glucose that’s leftover, you might experience some initial mental fog or headaches. This is temporary and usually due to your body flushing out electrolytes from the diuretic effect of ketosis.
To counter any of these side effects until your body adjusts, be sure to greatly increase your water intake. Then you’ll be well on your way to using the benefits of ketosis for mental performance.
Does keto improve treatment for different neurological conditions?
Of the diseases and disorders that are most perplexing, neurological-based conditions tend to be the most difficult to treat.
The interplay between neurons, astrocytes, neurotransmitters, genetics, and environmental factors is enough to make your head spin (perhaps because of having a too much glutamatergic tone).
However, by studying the effects that ketones have on the brain, scientists have been able to understand many of the neurological conditions on a deeper level, allowing us to open the door to better treatments — and it all started with epilepsy.
Many clinical studies have found that the ketogenic diet helps reduce the quantity and severity of seizures. Animal model evidence suggests that this is due to the effects that using ketones for fuel has on the brain.
The current evidence suggests that supplementing with ketones and/or following the ketogenic diet is a safe and effective approach that should be used to improve the quality of life in Alzheimer’s patients.
Some animal model evidence even suggests that the disease can be reversed with the ketogenic diet.
There is a lack of clinical data on how keto and ketones can help people with Parkinson’s disease, but there is plenty of lab and animal work and case studies that have found the ketogenic diet to improve many Parkinson’s symptoms.
Because of the current state of the evidence, it is best to look at the ketogenic diet as an effective supplementary treatment for Parkinson’s disease, used to enhance the effectiveness of current therapies.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Although there isn’t much high-quality research on how the ketogenic diet affects those with autism, the existing evidence suggests that it can help reduce many common autism-related symptoms.
Studies have found that the ketogenic diet can improve milder cases of autism, while case studies indicate that it may even help patients with more severe cases of autism.
Gliomas are one of the most common forms of brain cancer, affecting about 10,000 patients each year. Nearly half die within 15 months of diagnosis. Fortunately, many case studies and randomized controlled trials have found that carbohydrate restriction has the potential to delay cancer growth when used with conventional treatments (such as chemotherapy).
Traumatic Brain Injury
The annual incidence of traumatic brain injury far exceeds the rates of any other disease in the United States, yet therapies and research have yet to evolve. However, recent studies on rats have found that the neuroprotective effects of ketones can help with traumatic brain injury recovery.
Although the effectiveness has yet to be proven in humans, the current evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet may have tremendous therapeutic potential for both children and adults who sustain head injuries.
Although clinical trials are currently being published on the effects of ketone boosting supplements and ketogenic diet on stroke patients, animal studies have found promising results.
In a recent analysis of the studies on animal models of stroke, the authors concluded with “we found beneficial effects on pathologic and functional outcomes of a dietary intervention [the ketogenic diet], or exogenous ketone administration, either prior to or following experimental stroke.”
For this reason, the ketogenic diet and ketone boosting supplements may be one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce stroke incidence and improve stroke recovery.
The ketogenic diet also has the potential to treat some of the components of progressive multiple sclerosis.
The current research suggests that the ketogenic diet can help those with multiple sclerosis by increasing energy efficiency, promoting mitochondrial function, and protecting neurons with the antioxidant effects of ketones.
Altogether, these benefits may be able to prevent or slow the progression of neurodegeneration, which is a common component of the disease.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that progressively weakens muscles, decreasing physical function. Medication and therapy can slow ALS and reduce discomfort, but there is very little research on how diet can affect ALS patients.
The available epidemiologic evidence suggests that increased dietary fat and cholesterol intake might reduce the risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the rate of disease progression. Also, data from animal studies indicate that increasing dietary intake of fat will slow disease progression.
The current evidence implies that the ideal diet for ALS is a high-fat ketogenic diet, but to determine whether ALS patients should be treated with a ketogenic diet can only be based on randomized double-blind placebo-controlled interventional trials.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of the neurological conditions that can be helped by ketones and the ketogenic diet.
The research on how carb restriction and ketone usage impact various neurological conditions is still in its infancy, and we are only beginning to understand the tip of the ketone-burning iceberg.