How you eat affects virtually every aspect of your health, including the health of your brain. When it comes to the brain, low-carb and ketogenic diets are both helpful in ensuring a healthy brain. Low-carb diet have a fascinating way of providing your brain with energy via processes called ketogenesis and gluconeoegenesis, on a very low-carb diet, up to 70% of the brain can be fueled by ketones. The rest can be fueled by glucose produced in the liver.
How Low-Cab Diets Boosts Brain Health
The brain is a powerful organ and its main source of energy is carbohydrate, glucose to be exact. The brain needs glucose for energy and diets low in carbs can be detrimental to learning, memory, and thinking, the brain likes to compute on glucose, after about four days of carb deprivation it sates about 70% of its hunger on ketone bodies and the brains can run pretty efficiently on this fuel once it grows accustomed to it after a few weeks.
In fact, researchers have shown that low-carb diets can bring about improvement in cognitive functioning in humans. This happens when we change the main fuel of the brain from glucose to ketones, we change amino acid handling, this reduces the levels of glutamate in the brain, an amino acid and neurotransmitter that can cause harm in excessive amounts. Less glutamate leads to a lower seizure risk and a better environment for neuronal recovery and repair.
How Ketogenic Diets Boosts Brain Health
Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that results in the cells of the brain becoming insulin resistant. It is believed that once brain cell become insulin resistant, they become highly inflamed due to a lack of energy. People in this state will typically experience a rapid decline in memory formation and retention. Many Alzheimer’s sufferers have characteristics of hyper-excitability in the brain which may be due to excessive glutamate. Ketones do not require insulin to enter the cell and a majority of brain cells have the ability to metabolize ketones. It is because of this that the ketogenic diet has become a potential therapy for helping to combat Alzheimer’s. A study of 152 humans with Alzheimer’s saw significant improvement in brain function after ketone levels were raised.
Migraines: Chronic migraines and headaches are common in today’s society. Many believe that chronic inflammation may be at the root cause of these unpleasant sensations. Consequently, a ketogenic diet has been shown to lower the frequency and severity of migraines and headaches, potentially by up-regulating energy production and lowering inflammation in the brain.
Depression: Depression is another mental state that is all too common in our society. While there are emotional factors involved, it can also be a by-product of neural inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, neuro-toxicity or glutamate imbalance. Many people report a huge boost in their mood when following a ketogenic diet. It is likely that this occurs due to a mitigation of every one of the factors mentioned above. Although a ketogenic diet cannot change emotional trauma, it can help calm and clear your mind to help give you a better chance to do so.
Mitochondrial Biogenesis: The body needs energy to perform its functions. This energy comes in the form of ATP that is produced primarily by structures called mitochondria that inhibit just about every cell in your body. Cells in certain areas of the body have way more mitochondria than the rest and this reflects the amount of energy they need to function properly. Among these areas is the brain. By improving the number and energetic output of the mitochondria in your brain, you provide a significantly higher amount of energy. This provides much of the brain boosting benefits. And a ketogenic diet are some of the most promising methods for upregulating mitochondrial biogenesis.
Reduces oxidative stress: Oxidative stress is the natural byproduct of energy production in the mitochondria. Oxidative stress is beneficial in small amounts, however in excess it can be very damaging to your mitochondria. Excessive oxidative stress creates inflammation and hampered mitochondrial energy output. Because oxidative stress causes damage on the mitochondria level, this can negatively impact every cell in the body. Also, because your brain is so reliant on healthy mitochondria, it is the first to suffer consequences of excess oxidative stress. Ketone metabolism has been shown to create much lower levels of oxidative stress in comparison to glucose metabolism, effectively lowering inflammation and support mitochondrial health. Ultimately the result is improved energy production. Neurodegenerative disorder that are characterized by demyelination, such as multiple sclerosis, are thought to be heavily influenced by chronic inflammation, making the ketogenic diet a desirable therapy for yet another reason.
Side Effects of Low-Carb or Ketogenic Diets
People response to ketogenic or low-carb diets in many different ways. Here are a few potential adverse effects:
Kidney stone: this condition is uncommon but have occurred in some children on ketogenic diet therapy for epilepsy. Potassium citrate can be used in managing kidney stone.
Elevated cholesterol: this condition may be experience by adults, and children may have increases in both cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, this may be temporary and doesn’t appear to affect heart health.
Constipation: this is a very common side effect on ketogenic diet. It is usually very easy to remedy with stool softeners or dietary changes.
Tips for Adapting to The Diet
You may experience some adverse effects when transitioning to a low-carb or ketogenic diet. You may feel weak, develop headaches, or lightheaded for a few days. This is known as “keto flu” or “low-carb flu”. These are some suggestions for getting through the adaptation period.
Eat more salt: Add one to two grams of salt each day to replace the amount lost in your urine when carbs are reduced. Drinking broth will help you meet your increased sodium and fluid needs.
Get enough fluid: Drink at least two liters of water a day to replace the water loss that often occurs in the initial stages of ketosis.
Moderate your physical activity: Do not do heavy exercise for at least a week. It may take a few weeks to become fully keto-adapted, so don’t push yourself in your workouts until you feel ready.
Supplement with potassium and magnesium: Eat foods high in potassium and magnesium to prevent muscle cramps. Fish, Greek yogurt and tomatoes are good sources.