A ketogenic diet is one of the most trendy diets to come along in quite some time. That’s understandable, considering the supposed health benefits it provides, like managing diabetes and helping with weight loss.
Ketosis also seems to be very beneficial for the human brain. That’s because the brain is (mostly) fueled by ketones when you’re on a ketogenic diet, which scientists believe causes several positive changes. Today’s article, Top 7 Facts about Ketosis and Brain Health, takes a closer look at what happens to the brain when the body is in ketosis due to a ketogenic diet. If you’re thinking about going keto, it’s great info to know before you start. Enjoy.
Fact 1- Unlike Your Muscles, Your Brain Can’t Use Fat for Fuel
Your muscles are powered, if you will, mostly by fat. The brain, however, can’t use fat for fuel, so it uses glucose instead. Interestingly, the brain can also use ketones made by the liver for energy.
When you sleep, the body makes some ketones on its own, especially after a few hours of rest, such as sleeping. When you eliminate carbs from your diet, though, your liver starts producing even more ketones. If you eliminate carbs almost completely, those ketones can provide upwards of 75% of the energy your brain needs to function at a high capacity.
Fact 2- Some Parts of the Brain Need Glucose to Function Correctly
While it’s true that most of the brain can use ketones for fuel, some parts still require glucose to function correctly. If you reduce your glucose substantially, a process called gluconeogenesis begins to make glucose for your brain in the liver. That way, even if you’re on a keto diet, your brain still gets the glucose it needs.
Fact 3- The Ketogenic Diet Was Developed to Fight Epilepsy
Way back in the 1920s, Dr. Russell Wilder developed the ketogenic diet to help children with epilepsy. Epilepsy is a disease that causes uncontrolled movements and, occasionally, a loss of consciousness. It’s challenging to treat, and there are also several different types. Dr. Russell’s research showed that when you reduce calories from carbs in the human diet, epileptic seizures are reduced (although the exact reason why isn’t entirely known as of yet).
Fact 4- The Ketogenic Diet May Help Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the most common forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease occurs when plaque develops in the brain and causes memory loss. Many researchers believe Alzheimer’s should be called “Type 3 diabetes” because the brain can’t use glucose properly, which leads to massive inflammation.
Studies in animals over the last few years have shown that a ketogenic diet might be effective against Alzheimer’s. However, as with epilepsy, scientists aren’t exactly sure of the reason why as of yet. They theorize that ketones protect the brain by reducing inflammation and reducing harmful proteins that accumulate there also. However, another study showed that a high intake of saturated fat could cause an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, so the jury is still out on this one.
Fact 5- Studies Show a Keto Diet Improves Memory and Brain Function
Although there aren’t a large number of studies, smaller studies have shown that a ketogenic diet has several significant benefits for the brain, including:
After following a ketogenic diet for approximately 12 weeks, one study showed promising memory improvement in people prone to Alzheimer’s disease. (Those over 55 years of age.)
Reduced Migraine Headache Symptoms
Several studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can provide some relief to people suffering from migraine headaches. The exact mechanism, like many others, isn’t known yet.
Improved Brain Function
One study with rats showed that when on a ketogenic diet, brain function improved significantly.
Reduced Parkinson’s Symptoms
One small study showed that people with Parkinson’s disease had reduced pain and other symptoms when on a ketogenic diet.
Fact 6- The Keto Diet Does Have Side-Effects
Although the ketogenic diet is safe for most people to use, some may develop specific side effects. Usually, they’re temporary, but they still should be kept in mind. They include:
- Constipation. Interestingly, people on a ketogenic diet suffer from constipation over 60% of the time.
- Elevated cholesterol levels.
- The possibility of kidney stones.
Fact 7- The Keto Diet Can Make You Feel ‘Sick’ at First
When transitioning to a ketogenic diet, some people get what researchers refer to as the “keto flu.” They feel tired and lightheaded, at least for the first few days on the diet. There are a few methods, though, to help you get through these early days. Below are some excellent suggestions to do just that, including:
- Reduce your exercise routine for a few days. Most experts recommend that you don’t exercise at all for the first week and, after that, take it easy for another week or two until your body is ready.
- Increase the amount of salt you eat. A lot of salt is lost in your urine when on a ketogenic diet. To replace it, you can add a little bit of salt or drink bone broth.
- Supplement your diet with magnesium and potassium. Some people experience muscle cramps on the ketogenic diet. To reduce this painful symptom, supplementing with potassium and magnesium is a good idea. You can also try eating foods higher in both, including avocado, tomatoes, cold-water fish, and Greek yogurt.
- Drink plenty of fluids. When you initially start a ketogenic diet, you lose a lot of fluids. Replacing them is vital, which means that you need to drink plenty of water during the first few days and weeks on the diet. Experts recommend at least a half-gallon (2 liters, approximately) per day.
There’s a lot of scientific evidence showing a ketogenic diet has powerful healing benefits for the human brain. It’s been shown to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, help with weight loss, and can also help you manage diabetes. In children with epilepsy, the ketogenic diet has also shown excellent results in terms of reducing seizures.
If you plan to start a ketogenic diet, we recommend talking with your healthcare provider first. It’s not for everyone, but the ketogenic diet may offer more than a little relief for people suffering from brain-related health problems.