Ketosis: An Inside Look At The Benefits For Brain Function

Most people are aware of the ketogenic diet’s ability to convert stored body fat into energy. The weight loss that results from that process is nothing short of astounding. What many don’t appreciate is that the fat loss is actually only a side benefit of being in a state of ketosis. The real magic takes place in the brain. In this article, we will delve into the research to uncover the many neurological benefits of going keto. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)"What is Ketosis?"</p></h4> Ketosis happens when the body does not have enough glucose (sugar and carbohydrates) to use as energy. When you enter a state of ketosis, your body switches from using glucose to using stored body fat as its source of energy. Fat is broken down into ketones, which are small molecules of fuel produced in the liver and then delivered to the bloodstream. From there, the ketones travel throughout the body to provide the energy your cells need to function. Ketones can be used by all of the body’s cells, including those of the brain. There are two ways to enter into a state of ketosis. The first is to consume an extremely low carbohydrate diet. The other is to practice intermittent fasting. The goal of both methods is to use up the body’s supply of glucose, so that the body switches to fat-burning mode. When your glucose levels are depleted, your levels of insulin, a fat storage hormone, and blood sugar drop. The body will then begin breaking down stored body fat. This triggers a number of metabolic actions that result in the production of the ketones that act as fuel for your body. The measure of whether a person is in a state of ketosis is determined by the level of ketones in the bloodstream. If you have at least 0.5mmol/L ketones in your blood, then you are in a state of ketosis. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Improved Brain Function and Mental Productivity</p></h4> The ketogenic diet was originally designed to help relieve the symptoms of childhood epilepsy. A pioneer of this treatment was Dr. Hugh William Conklin, who began putting epileptic children on a fasting diet in the 1920s. Conklin was a student of bodybuilding pioneer Bernarr MacFadden who had long advocated fasting as a way to overcome all sorts of health problems. The diet diminished the children’s blood glucose levels, so that their bodies switched to a state of ketosis. Conklin reported a success rate in excess of 90 percent in terms of eliminating seizures. In the ninety-odd years since then, researchers have come to appreciate the positive effects that ketosis has on the workings of the brain. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="" alt="ATP"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> The places in our cells where energy is created are called mitochondria. The more mitochondria we have, the more energy we’ll be able to produce. The great news is that a fat-burning energy system creates more mitochondria than a glucose-based system does. In fact, a glucose molecule yields thirty-six ATP molecules, whereas a fat molecule will produce forty-eight ATP molecules. That is an increase of 25 percent! </div> </div> As a result of the increased mitochondrial production, we are able to produce more energy when we are in a state of ketosis, and this has a profound effect on our brain activity. More energy to the brain means that you will be able to think more clearly, have fewer occasions of mental fatigue, and will be better able to concentrate on a subject. The ability of brain cells to communicate with each other is a key to proper brain functioning. A hormone that strengthens these connections is known as BDNF. The more of it we have, the better our brains will function. When we are in ketosis, our cells are more responsive to BDNF. As a result of this, the brain will be better able to learn and adapt to new stimuli. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Mitochondria"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> The mitochondria (those places where energy is made) can be damaged by rogue molecules in a process called oxidative stress; however, there is far less of this damage when you are using a fat-burning rather than a glucose-burning energy system. </div> </div> This was seen in a 2015 study that revealed that male rats on a keto diet had significantly lower levels of oxidative stress than those on a standard diet. The result of this reduced oxidative stress is that more energy will be available to feed your brain. It will also make you less likely to suffer from such conditions as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, and bipolar disorder. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Ability to Focus</p></h4> Your brain contains two powerful neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate) that have a direct effect on your ability to focus and concentrate: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter whereas GABA is an inhibitory one. For optimum functioning, you need to get just the right balance between them. Imbalances are usually seen when people eat too much sugar and carbs. This causes an excessive amount of glutamate, resulting in loss of focus, ability to concentrate, and a general feeling of mental lethargy. Higher amounts of glutamate and depressed levels of GABA are also evident in those suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, epilepsy, and depression. When you are in a state of ketosis, the body is able to convert excess glutamate in GABA. This allows you to rebalance your chemicals for sharper communication between your brain cells. The benefits for you will be improved focus, a happier mood, clearer levels of concentration, and reduced brain cell degeneration. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Ketones Improve your Memory</p></h4> <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Neuron connection"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> There has been promising research in the area of memory enhancement derived from being in a state of ketosis. A 2017 study out of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California tested the effects of a ketogenic diet on the memory of aging mice. The study showed that age-related memory decline was significantly reduced in mice that were placed on a keto diet compared with those on a standard high carb diet. </div> </div> Another study, this one out of the University of California, Davis, showed that a ketogenic diet improved memory, motor function, and muscle mass in adult male mice. When it comes to human research, the most significant study was conducted in 2010 and published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. In this study, twenty-three people with mild cognitive impairment were divided into two groups. The first group followed a ketogenic diet with between 5 and 10 percent of calories coming from carbohydrates. The second group consumed 50 percent of their daily calories from carb sources. The study was carried out over a period of six weeks. At the end of the study period, the verbal memory skills of the ketogenic diet group were significantly better than those of the high carb group. In fact, it was documented that the greater their measured ketone levels, the better they scored on the memory test. The lead researcher on the study, Robert Krikorian, PhD, concluded that: These findings indicate that very low carbohydrate consumption, even in the short term, can improve memory function in older adults with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Cognitive Disorders</p></h4> The state of ketosis has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of a number of neurodegenerative diseases. Three of the main conditions are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Interestingly, they have two things in common: <h5>1. Mitochondria functioning is restricted</h5> <h5>2. The body is not able to use glucose effectively</h5> When these two things happen, people who are relying on glucose for energy are going to have a chronic lack of energy all day long. This results in inflammation, brain cell death, and poor brain functioning. When you switch to a ketone-based fuel source, you alleviate both of the problems that lead to these outcomes. As we’ve already seen, mitochondrial activity is greatly boosted when you are in a state of ketosis. In addition, the fact that you are not relying on glucose negates the glucose absorbability problem. The use of the ketogenic diet to help people who are afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases is an exciting area of research that shows great promise. A 2009 study which was published in Nutrition and Metabolism investigated the effect of ketosis on Alzheimer’s patients. An oral ketogenic compound was given to 152 subjects with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. The memory recall of these subjects was tested forty-five days after the administration period and was significantly higher than that of a placebo group. The study authors concluded:. . . “...chronic induction of ketosis may offer a novel strategy for AD [Alzheimer’s Disease] that can be used with current therapies.” <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="" alt="Scientist with microscope"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> To date, there has been only one major human study on the effects of being in ketosis on Parkinson’s disease sufferers. In the 2005 study, five people with Parkinson’s were put on a ketogenic diet for twenty-eight days. Their Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) was taken at the beginning of the study and again at weekly intervals. </div> </div> The five subjects who completed the study reduced their UPDRS scores by an average of 10.72 points, which represented an average decrease of nearly 45 percent (in a range from 21 to 81 percent) in just twenty-eight days. Resting tremors, balance, gait, mood, and energy level all improved. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as that which affects football players, results in impaired glucose metabolism for up to several months following the injury. This causes an energy crisis within the brain. Research suggests that this crisis can be overcome by switching to a ketone-based energy system. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Final thoughts</p></h4> The research is quite conclusive: a ketone-based energy system is vastly superior to a glucose-based system when it comes to enhancing your brain’s abilities. Being in a state of ketosis will maximize the production and performance of the mitochondria in your cells, which are the microfactories in which energy is produced. It will also strengthen your brain cell connections allowing for more effective cell-to-cell communication. As a result, every function of your brain will be enhanced. You’ll be sharper, smarter, more focused, and you’ll have a better memory. So, why wouldn’t you go keto?

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