Can Keto Support Brain Health?
Ketosis is a state that the body goes into when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates in the diet (either because of fasting or carbohydrate restriction) to fuel the brain and central nervous system. So, the body makes ‘ketone bodies’ that can help to fuel both the brain/CNS and most other tissue in the body.
What’s a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is any diet that is low enough in carbohydrates to increase ketone production over what is normally produced. For the nerdy types out there, this means an increase from ‘normal’ ketone (BOHB) levels in the blood of around 0.1-0.2 mmol/L to over 0.5 mmol/L, the level that we refer to as ‘Nutritional Ketosis’. Usually, this means a carb intake of less than 10-15% of your total daily calories (but individual results vary widely).1
The ketone bodies are fuels derived from fat and some amino acids (from protein) which the brain and most tissue in the body can use for fuel. The ketone bodies are acetoacetate, ß-hydroxybutyric acid (BOHB) and acetone.
Does keto support the brain?
Neurodegeneration, or the breakdown of neurons and the resulting loss of cognitive function, memory, and other functions of the brain, is becoming increasingly common. In addition to the neurodegenerative disorders Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, age-related cognitive decline, not to mention mental health challenges, are a concern for many of us, especially as we age.
The potential role of ketogenic diets for brain health has been hinted at for over a century and keto diets have been used to successfully treat childhood epilepsy since the 1920s.2-5 Evidence is now emerging that keto-diets help to support the brain and might reduce neurodegeneration. Both calorie-restricted diets and ketogenic diets are neuroprotective,6 probably due to reduced glucose-related damage to neurons and elevation of ketones and resultant reductions in oxidation and inflammation.7
Research has shown that:
- Elevated ketones improve memory in adults with Alzheimer’s and reviews of the evidence show a positive role for the keto-diet in its treatment. Early research also suggests that keto can reduce Parkinson’s disease activity.8, 9
- The keto-diet has been easily tolerated by Alzheimer’s patients while improving cognition and memory performance vs a higher-carbohydrate control group.10, 11
- Case study evidence is also beginning to show mood stabilising effects from the ketogenic diet used to treat type 2 bipolar disorder. 12
- Because of their anti-inflammatory actions and due to their availability as a priority fuel source for the brain, ketones are also considered a potential adjunct treatment for brain injury.13
A range of animal studies also suggests benefits to brain health with improved outcomes for animal models of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases along with anxiety, and mental performance and memory.
- Reducing inflammation
- Increasing fuel availability to brain cells
- Reducing the negative effects of long-chain fat usage in the brain
- Reduced ‘excitotoxic’ damage to brain cells
- Increased neurogenesis (creation of new brain cells)
Which supplements support ketosis and ketogenesis?
Exogenous ketone supplements provide the main ‘fuel’ ketone (BOHB) directly to the body. They are considered to be a safe and effective way to increase ketone body concentrations.14
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)
The most compelling evidence currently exists for the use of MCTs for ketogenesis, as they reliably and consistently increase ketone concentrations in the blood in a dose-dependent fashion.15
While there is limited evidence in humans for the effect of short-chain fats (such as acetic acid from vinegar, or butyric acid), they are likely to be ketogenic and might be more so than MCT.15
Check out some of our keto-supporting supplements!
- Harvey CJdC, Schofield GM, Zinn C, Thornley S. Effects of differing levels of carbohydrate restriction on the achievement of nutritional ketosis, mood, and symptoms of carbohydrate withdrawal in healthy adults: A randomized clinical trial. Nutrition: X. 2019:100005.
- Lefevre F, Aronson N. Ketogenic diet for the treatment of refractory epilepsy in children: a systematic review of efficacy. Pediatrics. 2000;105(4):e46.
- Keene DL. A systematic review of the use of the ketogenic diet in childhood epilepsy. Pediatr Neurol. 2006;35(1):1-5.
- Neal EG, Chaffe H, Schwartz RH, Lawson MS, Edwards N, Fitzsimmons G, et al. The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet Neurol. 2008;7(6):500-6.
- Levy RG, Cooper PN, Giri P, Pulman J. Ketogenic diet and other dietary treatments for epilepsy. The Cochrane Library. 2012.
- Maalouf M, Rho JM, Mattson MP. The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies. Brain research reviews. 2009;59(2):293-315.
- Pinto A, Bonucci A, Maggi E, Corsi M, Businaro R. Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet: New Perspectives for Neuroprotection in Alzheimer's Disease. Antioxidants (Basel). 2018;7(5):63.
- Craft S, Neth BJ, Mintz A, Sai K, Shively N, Dahl D, et al. KETOGENIC DIET EFFECTS ON BRAIN KETONE METABOLISM AND ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE CSF BIOMARKERS. Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. 2016;12(7):P342-P3.
- Vanitallie TB, Nonas C, Di Rocco A, Boyar K, Hyams K, Heymsfield SB. Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study. Neurology. 2005;64:728-30.
- Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Dangelo K, Couch SC, Benoit SC, Clegg DJ. Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of Aging. 2012;33(2):425.e19-.e27.
- Swerdlow RH. THE KU ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE KETOGENIC DIET FEASIBILITY AND RETENTION TRIAL: RESULTS FROM A PILOT STUDY. Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. 2017;13(7):P883.
- Phelps JR, Siemers SV, El-Mallakh RS. The ketogenic diet for type II bipolar disorder. Neurocase. 2013;19(5):423-6.
- White H, Venkatesh B. Clinical review: ketones and brain injury. Critical Care. 2011;15(2):219-.
- Hashim SA, VanItallie TB. Ketone body therapy: from the ketogenic diet to the oral administration of ketone ester. J Lipid Res. 2014;55(9):1818-26.
- Harvey CJdC, Schofield GM, Williden M. The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review. PeerJ. 2018;6:e4488.