The ketogenic diet was originally developed to treat children with epilepsy and has been successfully used since the 1920s: it has significantly reduced the frequency of seizures in patients.[1] Unfortunately, the original version did not pay attention to certain details (like the quality of the fats) and could have become unhealthy in the long term. Fortunately, today we are aware of these factors, and according to recent medical research, this new version has no known adverse side effects even when following it for a longer time.

Now, if it has such a positive effect on patients with epilepsy, it is worth investigating how it exactly works and whether it can be beneficial for the cognitive function of healthy people.

Let’s see the details of its surprising mechanism.

Wide Variety of Health-Promoting Effects

Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain how the ketogenic diet prevents seizures, yet it still remains a mystery.[2] We only have the positive results for now and a series of clues that can explain this beneficial effect.

One of these clues is that on a ketogenic diet, the brain increases the concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA),[3] which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain. At first, this might seem like an undesirable effect, but the truth is quite the opposite. When we eat carbohydrates, our brains are often overwhelmed and our thoughts race just like the ball in a pinball machine: bouncing around in our heads restlessly. However, when GABA concentration increases, mental clarity, calmness, and better focus appear.[4],[5] Many people describe this feeling as if cool water were running down on their heads in very a relaxing and calming way.

Ketones are antioxidants which protect the nervous system and the brain from the harmful effects of free radicals.[6] Ketones also provide more efficient fuel to most brain cells than glucose. Ketones are known to increase mitochondrial efficiency.[7] (Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cells. If these work well, the cell will be healthy too, if they lose their efficiency, the cells will not get any more energy and will eventually die.) But the diet not only improves the function of the existing mitochondria, it also increases the number of mitochondria in general, which is called mitochondrial biogenesis. Altogether, these factors highly enhance the capacity of brain cells.

The ketogenic diet (and also fasting) triggers the expression of BDNF.[8] BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor’s main purpose is to protect neurons, support their survival, create new neurons, and improve cognitive function in general. Not all parts of the brain can run on ketones, some parts always need sugar. However, when you are fat adapted, this is not a significant amount and the liver can produce it at any time.

The Type of Food You Eat Matters a Lot

Our brain, the nervous system and the cell membranes (which play the most important role in cellular communication) are primarily composed of cholesterol and fats.[9],[10],[11] When we eat good quality fats, we’re supporting the recovery of the nervous system by providing them with the highest quality raw materials.

As you can see, the ketogenic diet can be very beneficial not only for people with epilepsy but for everyone who wants to boost their brain function and protect their nervous system. In addition to epilepsy, the diet was successfully used on patients with

Have I piqued your interest? Do you want to boost your brain and try the ketogenic diet?

How is your mental health? Do you frequently have brain fog like I used to have? You may have already tried to improve your cognitive function in various ways. I’m curious about your experience, please share your story in the comments below!

References

1. History of the ketogenic diet
2. The Neuropharmacology of the Ketogenic Diet
3. The ketogenic diet and brain metabolism of amino acids: relationship to the anticonvulsant effect.
4. The effects of the ketogenic diet on behavior and cognition
5. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans.
6. Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet: New Perspectives for Neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s Disease
7. The Ketogenic Diet: Stoking the Powerhouse of the Cell
8. Mechanisms of Ketogenic Diet Action.
9. Essential fatty acids and human brain.
10. Structure of the Plasma Membrane
11. Cell Membranes
12. Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study.
13. d-β-Hydroxybutyrate protects neurons in models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
14. D-beta-hydroxybutyrate rescues mitochondrial respiration and mitigates features of Parkinson disease.
15. A modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT improves behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder
16. Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel.
17. The ketogenic diet as a treatment for traumatic brain injury: a scoping review.
18. Ketogenic Diet Provides Neuroprotective Effects against Ischemic Stroke Neuronal Damages
19. Ketogenic diet as a metabolic therapy for mood disorders: Evidence and developments.
20. The Therapeutic Potential of the Ketogenic Diet in Treating Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
21. Inflammation-mediated memory dysfunction and effects of a ketogenic diet in a murine model of multiple sclerosis.
22. The Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment Paradigm for Diverse Neurological Disorders

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