Can the ketogenic diet enhance brain function?

Ketosis, What keto, side effects of ketosis diet, low blood sugar on keto, keto effects, ketosis nhs, explain ketosis

What is a ketogenic diet?

Glucose derived from carbohydrates, such as pasta and bread, are the primary fuel source for the brain. When carbohydrate intake and glucose stores are depleted the body switches to fats for energy and this is the case with the ketogenic diet which constitutes a high fat, high protein, and low carbohydrate intake [1]. Fats are broken down in the liver to produce molecules called ketone bodies: acetoacetate, beta- hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and acetone. As your blood levels of ketones rise your body is driven to a state of ketosis. In this state, ketones cross the blood-brain barrier to provide a supply of energy and exert its benefits on brain function [2]. Did you know the ketogenic diet is a widely accepted treatment for numerous brain-related illnesses? Achieving ketosis is an NHS treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy [3] and a study showed that almost half of the children that followed a ketogenic diet for a year had at least a 50% reduction in their number of seizures [4]. There is also preliminary evidence on the effect of the ketogenic diet on Alzheimer’s. Richard Issacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic explains ketosis may “put less stress on damaged brain cells and that there is some evidence that this diet improves mild cognitive impairment symptoms”[5].

Does the ketogenic diet improve mood?

You may find anti-depressant and mood stabilising benefits from following a ketogenic diet [6]. Both animal and plant proteins are made up of about 20 amino acids. Tryptophan is a building block of your feel-good chemical messenger called serotonin, which underlies emotions associated with happiness. Increased protein intake can also increase your levels of tyrosine, an amino acid and building block to dopamine. Do you remember that feeling when you derived pleasure from an activity or accomplishment? Well, that’s dopamine, your reward and pleasure chemical messenger, also linked to alertness and motivation. You may feel more uplifting and go. L-Dopa is the intermediate step between tyrosine and dopamine and it’s also one of the primary treatments for Parkinson’s disease [7]. It’s interesting to note the impact of an 8-week intervention study of patients following the ketogenic diet.44% of patients with Parkinson’s disease noticed significant improvements in cognitive impairments and tremors [8]. Further studies are planned in the US, UK & Italy.

Can the ketogenic diet enhance cognition?

There has been an increased interest in what keto diets do for cognitive outcomes. A study amongst older adults with mild cognitive impairments showed an improvement in memory performance from following a 6-week ketogenic diet [9]. This cognitive enhancement maybe responsible to an increased amount of two key nutrients:

1. Choline is an essential nutrient that is a building block to acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that is responsible for your working memory retention and learning and it’s found protein-rich foods [10].

2. The diet promotes an increased intake of healthy fats which can be found abundantly in oily fish such as mackerel. They are high in omega 3 fats which contain a compound called DHA which contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function and may promote the brain’s ability to build new connections [11]. Research showed that boosting DHA levels in healthy young adults improved their working memory and long term memory [12].

What's the impact of lowering sugar on the brain?

Did you know there maybe other positive side effects of the ketosis diet on brain performance? Teresa Aubele PhD, assistant professor in psychology states that a high sugar intake can disrupt the communication between your brain neurons. This “ultimately affects your attention span, your short-term memory, and your mood stability” [13]. High sugar consumption was highly associated with memory deficits and disrupted brain neuron structures [14].

Does the ketogenic improve sleep?

Research on healthy adults showed that low sugar and carbohydrate intake may improve sleep quality [15] and a higher intake of protein may also influence the keto effects on sleep outcomes. Tryptophan is also a building block to melatonin which plays a fundamental role in your sleep/wake cycle [16]. The reduced UV levels at night are detected by photosensitive receptors in your eyes which send signals to your brain which promotes the release of melatonin as a response. Melatonin appears to induce sleep and contributes to the reduction of time taken to fall asleep. Sleep underpins all functions of brain performance including alertness, memory, mood regulation, and physical health. A study on healthy adults that employed a keto diet noticed it promoted deep sleep [17].

Is there a synergist benefit of Alpha GPC and the ketogenic diet?

Alpha GPC is a type of choline. Clinical research reveals 2-hour post-ingestion of alpha GPC increased levels of both BHB and acetoacetate ketones in the body [18]. It is believed that alpha GPC is highly effective at producing these two forms of ketones (BHB and acetoacetate) which can cross the blood-brain barrier and provides a readily available energy source for the brain. This may provide a synergistic benefit to your daily meal plans in a ketogenic diet though further research is needed.

[1]Health Harvard (2020) Ketogenic diet: is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you?  [2]The Conversation (2017) What are ketogenic diets? Can they treat epilepsy and brain cancer? [3]National Health Service (2020) Epilepsy. [4]Sharma et al. (2009) Seizure control and biochemical profile on the ketogenic diet in young children with refractory epilepsy—Indian experience. Seizure. [5]Bottom Line INC (2016) The Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet. [6]Operto et al. (2020) The ketogenic diet for the treatment of mood disorders in comorbidity with epilepsy in children and adolescents. [7]Dorszewska et al. (2014) Molecular Effects of L-dopa Therapy in Parkinson’s Disease. Current Genomics. [8]Phillips et al. (2018) Low-fat versus ketogenic diet in Parkinson’s disease: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Movement Disorders.[9]Krikorian et al. (2012) Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Aging.  [10]Zeisel et al. (1991) Choline, an essential nutrient for humans. The FASEB Journal.  [11]Talamonti et al. (2020) Impairment of DHA synthesis alters the expression of neuronal plasticity markers and the brain inflammatory status in mice. The FASEB Journal.  [12]Stonehouse et al. (2013) DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  [13] Psychology Today (2011) Why a sugar high leads to a brain low. [14]Agrawal, R. & Gomez-Pinilla, A. (2012) ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega‐3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and The Journal of Physiology.  [15]Katagiri, et al. (2014) Low intake of vegetables, high intake of confectionary and unhealthy eating habits are associated with poor sleep quality among middle-aged female Japanese workers. Journal of Occupational Health. [16] Paredes et al (2009) Assessment of the Potential Role of Tryptophan as the Precursor of Serotonin and Melatonin for the Aged Sleep-wake Cycle and Immune Function: Streptopelia Risoria as a Model. International Journal of Tryptophan.  [17]Afaghi et al. (2013) Acute effects of the very low carbohydrate diet on sleep indices. Nutritional Neuroscience. [18]Kawamura et al (2012) Glycerophosphocholine enhances growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation in young adults. Nutrition. 

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