Is the Keto Diet Good for the Brain?

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Is the Keto Diet Good for the Brain?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard about “keto” this year! Though the diet, itself, isn’t new, keto’s popularity is booming!

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a natural metabolic condition in which the body uses stored fat for energy when glucose is not sufficiently available as a source of fuel. The burning of stored fats results in a build-up of ketones (a kind of acid) in the body. Ketones are usually flushed out of the body through urine and expelled through breath. When the body is in a state of ketosis, however, ketones may be burned for energy. In some cases, this may help achieve weight loss or other health goals.

This post is not an endorsement by BIPRI Wellness of a keto diet.
Talk to your physician before beginning any new diet.

Dietary Plans that Activate Ketosis

At BIPRI, we do not recommend specific diet plans outside of one-on-one consultations. Dietary planning is best left to you, your physician and a nutritionist. That being said, there are several diet plans that do promote and activate the state of ketosis within the body. The reasons to follow these plans could include:

  • Desire to lose weight
  • Diabetes
  • Celiac disease

Dietary plans that can cause ketosis are...

  • Ketogenic Diet. This is an extremely low carb, medium protein, high fat plan that pushes the body into a state of ketosis. It is primarily used by those wanting to lose weight or build muscles.
  • Atkins and Paleo. Atkins and Paleo diets tend to focus more on proteins than fats, varying some in their focus of meat, dairy and other foods. Both are low-carb, but they differ from the traditional “Keto” diet in their emphasis on other macronutrients.
  • Gluten-free. Individuals who suffer from celiac disease have an immune response to gluten. While “gluten-free” is not necessarily low carb, this dietary restriction could potentially pair well with a low carb diet. Gluten is typically found in wheat, barley, rye, malt and many other grains. Glutens may also be found in non-food items and through cross-contamination with non-gluten grains and substances.
  • Diabetes Friendly. People with diabetes, especially Type I, find their bodies do not sufficiently produce and utilize insulin to manage blood sugar levels naturally. The primary source of glucose is actually carbohydrates, not just straight sugar. (Diabetics are not encouraged to follow a “Keto” diet, as it could result in a dangerous condition known as ketoacidosis, an elevation of ketone acid in the blood for an excessive period of time.) Again, a keto diet is not recommended for individuals with diabetes. However, a diet that minimizes or eliminates carbs could produce ketones as a direct result.

All of these diets focus on reducing or eliminating processed foods and sugar, particularly refined sugar, in favor of whole foods.

Ketosis and the Brain

A ketogenic state may potentially provide some benefits for the brain. The brain is an energy hog! For an organ that doesn’t move or seem to exert a lot, it sure does require a lot. While the brain makes up only two percent of the body’s weight, it requires 20 percent of the body’s energy! 

The brain is efficient at using glucose as a source of energy. Unlike muscles, the brain cannot use fat as fuel. It can, however, use the ketones produced from the liver during ketosis as an energy source. Ketones can account for 70 percent of the brain’s energy needs when carbohydrates are limited.

This is excellent news for patients experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury or other cognitive issues. In these patients, the ability to utilize glucose decreases. As a result, memory, language skills, verbal skills and overall cognitive abilities can be compromised. Providing the brain with a source of fuel it can efficiently use when glucose can not be used, could help support cognitive function.

Additionally, ketones seem to promote a housecleaning of beta-amyloid proteins. These proteins are building blocks of the brain. In individuals with Alzheimer’s, however, these proteins stick together, creating a toxic plaque that interferes with neural signaling.

Furthermore, animal studies indicate that following a ketogenic diet may actually prevent the risk of dementia and other forms of age-related cognitive decline. Further studies are needed.

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