The Ketogenic Diet – The Food for Thought
A ketogenic diet or ‘keto’ is nothing complex, except for the high fat and protein and low carbohydrate content. Contrary to the popular belief, keto has been adopted by the growing number of people seeking mental wellness and weight loss. Odd, isn’t it? The keto diet seems unorthodox, even most nutritionists wouldn’t approve of it, and yes, it defies common sense. What if you’re told that keto has a successful history dating back 1920s when it was used to treat epilepsy and cancer without evident side effects? (1) Too good to be true? Let’s take a deeper insight into the hidden perspective of what keto has to offer as the ultimate food for thought.
The Ketogenic Diet and Ketosis – What’s the Link?
You must’ve come across the popular belief that our body feeds mainly on carbohydrates and our diet must contain more carbs than fats and proteins. Upon consumption of carbs, our body is programmed to break down these into simple sugar or glucose, utilize them as primary sources of energy, and store as glycogen in the liver and muscles. The brain – the center of our functioning body – utilizes most of the energy for the regulation of its activity. The interesting thing is that the brain cannot use fat directly as an energy source. However, when the body is deprived of glucose, fats are burned as an alternate energy source. As a result of this process, also known as ketosis, ketones are produced. To our surprise, these ketones are moved to the mitochondria or ‘the powerhouse of the cell’ to liberate energy. An excess of these ketones is excreted out via urine and exhalation. Also, it helps avoids low blood glucose level after releasing certain amino acids and fatty acids from broken down fats. Hence, the ketogenic diet improves the chances of energy production in your body – especially your brain (2).
How does the Ketogenic Diet Modify Your Brain Functioning?
So now that your brain makes use of ketone-derived energy, why should you actually prefer the keto diet over a normal carb-based diet? The answer is simple – more energy. As a matter of fact, ketones might be a better energy fuel than glucose, since they provide more energy per unit of oxygen utilized (3).
However, a keto diet provides energy that not only maintains normal brain functioning, but also increases the number of mitochondria in your brain cells. Ketones also help inhibit energy depletions occurring as a result of metabolic and neuronal stress, which is the root cause of many brain-related diseases. The enhanced brain activity and improved energy metabolism as a result of the keto diet lead to better cognitive functioning (4).
Ketones vs. Toxic Molecules: Time For Breakdown and Inhibition!
As a part of their nature, ketones prevent the production of toxic molecules, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism and are capable of damaging DNA and proteins. These ketones also enhance the breakdown of these toxic molecules as a part of the body’s antioxidant system. Moreover, thanks to their high fatty nature, the ketones are capable of inhibiting stress and inflammation. They increase polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as DHA or EPA, which reduce inflammation and prevent oxidation.
Balancing the Neurotransmission with Ketones
Have you ever thought why you keep forgetting things or simply can’t focus on a task at hand? The reason might the imbalance between the concentration of two main neurotransmitters: glutamate and gamma-amino butyric acids or GABA (5). Glutamate is responsible for hyperactivity in the human body, while GABA inhibits over-excitation. Glutamate stimulates intelligence and cognitive thinking, but its increase is rather detrimental than beneficial. Due to excess glutamate and low concentration of GABA, brain fog can occur. According to research, ketones come into play by converting excess glutamate into GABA (6).
The Keto Diet and the Brain: A Win-Win Situation
Last but not the least; the paradoxically promising effect of a keto diet is quite astounding, as it has been known to reduce neurological disorders through a specific diet for several decades (7). Moreover, the idea that the keto diet is beneficial, both physically and mentally, invites more temptation for anyone seeking food for thought and well-being.
(1) Wheless, J. W. (2008). History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia, 49 Suppl 8, 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x.
(2) Masood, W., & Uppaluri, K. R. (2018). Ketogenic diet. In StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/.
(3) White, H., & Venkatesh, B. (2011). Clinical review: ketones and brain injury. Critical Care (London, England), 15(2), 219. https://doi.org/10.1186/cc10020.
(4) Ketogenic diet reduces midlife mortality and improves memory in aging mice. (2017). Cell Metabolism, 26(3), 547–557.e8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2017.08.004.
(5) Petroff, O. A. C. (2002). GABA and glutamate in the human brain. The Neuroscientist: A Review Journal Bringing Neurobiology, Neurology and Psychiatry, 8(6), 562–573. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858402238515.
(6) Yudkoff, M., Daikhin, Y., Horyn, O., Nissim, I., & Nissim, I. (2008). Ketosis and brain handling of glutamate, glutamine and gaba. Epilepsia, 49(Suppl 8), 73–75. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01841.x.
(7) Bostock, E. C. S., Kirkby, K. C., & Taylor, B. V. M. (2017). The current status of the ketogenic diet in psychiatry. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00043.