Get Yourself a Bangin' BRAIN!
A lot of people start out on a ketogenic diet because they want to lose weight. And yes, for that, keto can work wonders! What many don’t expect is the improvement in how they feel, not just physically but mentally. While it’s true that this may be in part due to the weight loss itself. I mean, who doesn't get a nice self esteem boost from looking in the mirror to see their efforts paying off?
But there seems to be strong evidence that this change in mindset is helped along by the presence of ketones. Well primarily Beta-hydroxybutyrate, which isn't technically a 'ketone' because of its chemical structure, but I won't bore you further... In fact, it's likely that the brain actually prefers having access to this alternative fuel source over glucose alone. In a state of ketosis your brain will choose to utilise available ketones, providing up to 70% of the energy it needs.
Being fat adapted means that your brain doesn't have to rely on a constant influx of glucose from carbohydrates. When you've burned through your limited glycogen stores via prolonged exercise, fasting or carb restriction, your body will then release fatty acids from stored fat which your liver can use to create ketones AND glucose.
That's right, the glucose dependant portion of your brain can be fuelled via a handy trick known as gluconeogenesis. When required, your body can make its own glucose from stored body fat (or dietary protein). Which makes sense seeing as excess glucose is how it got there in the first place. Now we're simply reversing the process.
If glucose is available, your brain will use it. It's the cheap and dirty option (think coal power vs solar), burning off with little benefit other than a quick energy boost. Or in the case of pure sugar, a nice endorphin hit...
Ketones on the other hand have been shown to be more efficient, providing more energy per unit of oxygen used. In addition to providing mitochondria (the energy factories in your cells) with a better fuel source, they've also been shown to increase the number of mitochondria produced in critical areas of the brain.
They have antioxidant effects, protecting your brain cells from damaging reactive oxygen species. They help the brain to create optimal amounts of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system. They trigger BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which supports the survival of existing neurons while encouraging the growth and differentiation of new neurons and neuronal connections.
In contrast, too much glucose has been shown to be harmful...
And it's not just diabetics who are affected by periods of hyperglycemia. Many people who are eating a standard diet, and loading up on processed carbs multiple times a day are likely encountering similar swings in blood glucose levels. Even though their average measurement (HbA1c being your average blood glucose over the past 3 months) might be considered normal.
Even one of the most common neurological conditions, Alzheimer's Disease, has now been linked to disordered glucose metabolism. Many have proposed it should be called "Type 3 Diabetes" as it results from a type of insulin resistance in the brain. MCT oil, which is derived from coconuts and can quickly convert into ketones, has been used as a successful treatment in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. When glucose uptake in the brain is impaired, the ability to use ketones as an alternative fuel remains.
With all the beneficial properties of ketones, it stands to reason that a ketogenic diet would be useful for a range of neurological issues, even depression and anxiety. A recent study found that higher ketone levels reduced anxiety-related behaviour in rats. While this is yet to be replicated in humans, there are thousands of stories from people reporting how much better they function mentally when eating a low carb diet.
While a low carb or ketogenic diet is a great way to start generating ketones, fasting is another path you can use to access this super fuel. Though many people do find that the metabolic flexibility (increased ability to use fat for fuel) they gain when eating low carb makes fasting much easier.
Even time restricted eating, a form of fasting during part of the day by keeping your food consumption within a 4-8hr period, has been shown to have major benefits. If you think about it, this was how we naturally ate until very recently. We didn't have access to as much food as we wanted 24/7, a modern day privilege that we've come to abuse rather than appreciate and use to our advantage.
So maybe you haven't considered a change to your diet because you're happy enough with how you look, but take a second thought for how much sexier your brain could be!