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What the Keto Diet Does to Your Brain – Thomas DeLauer
There is a lot of content circulating the internet talking about how the ketogenic diet is powerful for the brain but I haven’t seen a single piece of content that truly explains what’s happening in your brain and why you feel so clear and why you have such awesome cognitive ability while you’re on a ketogenic diet. I want to break down the science, but first up, I have to help you understand really quick what is happening when you’re in ketosis and if you’ve heard this before, just bear with me for about 20 seconds.
The ketogenic state is when your body is no longer utilizing carbohydrates as a primary source of fuel so the liver starts creating ketone bodies. We’re talking about acetyl acetate, beta hydroxybutyrate, and acetone. These ketone bodies are a backup to carbohydrates because your body is deprived of them. So that would typically mean that our body is always using ketones when we’re in this state but believe it or not the body still uses glucose quite a bit. In fact, even when you are deep, deep, deep in ketosis, your brain is only getting 75% of its energy from ketones. It’s still getting 18 to 25% of its energy from glucose, so don’t be mistaken. Even when you’re in ketosis, your body is still finding a way to create blood sugar and have glucose in the system, no matter what. We will always have glucose demands. When you’re in ketosis, it’s not an inverse relationship with ketones and glucose. Your ketone levels don’t go up and your glucose levels don’t plummet. You’ll never be at zero glucose unless you’re dead, so you’re still gonna be in that healthy of range that you need, your body’s just creating it one way or the other.
However, when you’re in ketosis, you can make it so that ketones are the preferential form of energy, and in this case, we’re talking about the brain. So when it comes down to the brain, we have to understand the brain and the mitochondria. See, the mitochondria is the energy powerhouse inside of a cell. It’s what allows us to create energy, what literally allows us to create power within the body and every single cell. So what we have to know is how ketones affect the mitochondria. You see, ketones like beta hydroxybutyrate end up eliciting a lot more of a response then glucose does inside the mitochondria. There is more energy per unit of oxygen combined with a ketone than there is energy that is created when oxygen combines with glucose, so therefore, when you have ketones present in the brain and you breathe in and you get oxygen in, you create more energy per unit than you would with glucose. This means the mitochondria has literally become more efficient. It creates more power, but it doesn’t stop there. You see, what’s really interesting is studies are starting to show that we can actually increase the amounts of mitochondria within our brain. So we’re not just getting more efficient, we’re creating more of the mitochondria as well.
Visualize it like this. You have a power plant. I like to think of Homer Simpson at the nuclear power plant falling asleep. Very inefficient, just causing chaos. So you’ve gone from a cruddy little power plant into a very efficient power plant that actually works. That’s step one, but now you’ve taken this efficient power plant and you’ve multiplied it. You’ve created more of them so you went from decrepit facility to functioning facility to multiple functioning facilities. That’s how your brain is working and why you feel so clear. According to the Journal of Molecular Brain Research, it was actually found that ketone bodies increased the amount of actual gene expression that occurred with mitochondrial enzymes in the brain.
1) Fan, S. (2013, October 1). The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous? Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/
2) 6 Ways A Ketogenic Diet Improves Brain Function – DrJockers.com. (2017, September 19). Retrieved from https://drjockers.com/ketogenic-diet-improves-brain-function/
3) Your Brain on Ketones. (2011, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201104/your-brain-ketones
4) Noh HS , et al. (n.d.). A cDNA microarray analysis of gene expression profiles in rat hippocampus following a ketogenic diet. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15469884
5) Lutas A and Yellen G. (n.d.). The ketogenic diet: metabolic influences on brain excitability and epilepsy. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23228828