Keto May Improve Brain Injury, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and More
With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, people are once again buzzing about the keto diet with the goal of losing the “quarantine 15.” But there’s another reason to give keto a closer look. A recent study found that ketogenic diets, characterized by high fat, low carbohydrates, and moderate protein, can improve brain power in people with neurological diseases.
A lot of people come to keto to lose weight, and stick with it because they enjoy the increased focus and concentration they’ve been experiencing.
There is a possibly uncomfortable adjustment period as you transition from burning sugar to burning fat. It’s known as the keto flu and can range from mild to unpleasant. You can experience headaches, fatigue, brain fog, digestive upset, and other symptoms. For most people, it tends to last a few days up to two weeks.
But once you’re on the other side of keto flu, you start noticing the mental clarity that everyone is talking about. Researchers and doctors are starting to realize that giving up carbohydrates may have benefit beyond trimming your waistline.
The exact mechanism isn’t crystal clear, but a few things are at play.
Keto diet and fat intake
First, your brain is 60% fat. Especially if you’re coming off of a low-fat diet comprised of mostly empty calories, you may feel the effects of nourishing your brain once again.
There’s a layer of fat called myelin that wraps around each brain cell. Myelin is comprised of mostly saturated fat. Myelin acts like insulation, keeping brain signals going in the direction they should. Just like with electrical wiring, when myelin breaks down, communication between brain cells takes indirect pathways and slows down.
If you’re eating sufficient fat, you’re supporting your brain cells and your myelin. With keto, you can be sure you’re getting plenty of fat.
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Keto diet and energy
High fat, low carbohydrate diets have been found to increase energy production in the brain. Your brain is constantly running like a computer processor, and it never takes a break. Even while you’re fast asleep, your brain is working hard to keep your body systems running. If your brain went on pause, even for a short time, everything would stop.
So, your brain has a high energy demand. One major benefit of keto is that you have a steady supply of energy. Your body doesn’t make its own sugar. You have to eat foods that turn into glucose, and your muscles and liver store what you don’t use in the moment.
When you’re burning ketones, which is your energy source when you’ve burned through your sugar stores (the goal of keto), you have a virtually unlimited supply of energy. When your circulating ketones drop too low, your body can make new ones by burning fat.
Steady energy for your brain and body, and you get to burn your dietary and body fat. Win-win.
Potential protective effects of keto
Some experts credit keto’s protective effects for the brain benefits of keto. In one study, the keto diet was found to be neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory for mice in a laboratory setting. A review of relevant literature found strong evidence of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of keto – strong enough to explore it as a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s disease.
For years, doctors have been using ketogenic diets successfully to treat cases of epilepsy that do not respond well to medication.
Keto has also been used to help manage conditions such as:
- Malignant glioma
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Migraine headache
- Motor neuron disease
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Transient dyslipidemia
If you’re suffering from a neurological condition, it’s worth bringing up the possibility of a ketogenic diet with your doctor. If you and your doctor decide that it’s appropriate for you, ask for a consultation with a dietician next. There’s a right way (lots of vegetables and healthy fats) and a wrong way (fast food, no bun, and diet soda) to do keto. It doesn’t stop at carbs, so you want to make sure you’re doing it the right way.