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The Ketogenic Diet & Brain Health

Image of Ashley van Biljon
Updated on 15 November, 2020
Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Alina Fong

The Ketogenic Diet & Brain Health

What Is The Ketogenic Diet?

The Ketogenic diet was developed in 1921 to treat epileptic children. This diet was originally designed for 80 to 90 percent of calories to come from fat, 5 to15 percent to come from protein, and 5 to 10 percent to come from carbohydrates.

When you consume foods that contain lots of carbohydrates, the body converts those them into glucose, or blood sugar, which it then uses for energy. Because glucose is the simplest form of energy for the body, it’s used as a primary source for energy before your body uses stored fat for fuel.

On a ketogenic diet, the goal is to restrict the carbohydrate intake so that the body breaks down fat for energy. When this happens, fat is broken down in the liver, producing ketones, which is a by-product of the metabolism. These ketones are used to fuel the body in the place of glucose. The ketones produced from fatty acids are burned differently than glucose. This difference is beneficial to the brain because:

  1. Ketones are a neuroprotective antioxidant. They have been discovered to act as an antioxidant in animal cases, they prevent damage to brain cells.
  2. Ketones increase mitochondrial efficiency and production. The ketogenic diet causes an upregulation of mitochondrial genes and genes utilized in metabolism while stimulating the increase mitochondrial mass. These enhance the capacity of brain cells, to protect them from strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

How Do You Follow The Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet requires you to achieve a state of ketosis. To achieve and maintain ketosis, you have to severely reduce the number of carbs you eat. It is suggested the average American man over age 20 consumes about 47 percent of his daily calories from carbohydrates, and the average American woman over age 20 consumes about 50 percent of her daily calories from carbohydrates.

Benefits Of The Keto Diet

1. Weight Loss

Initially, the weight loss comes from the loss of water, because you cut down on the carbohydrates in your diet and your body uses up the carbohydrates stored in the liver, which hold onto water. The diet results in further weight loss because it pushes you to load up on whole foods and satisfying healthy fats.

One study suggested the keto diet can increase fat loss in obese individuals when used for a couple of weeks and up to one year. A review of the ketogenic diet noted that one reason for weight loss is likely that the diet suppresses hunger due to the encouragement of consuming higher levels of healthy fats.

2. May Protect Brain Functioning

A study completed in 2012 found that children with epilepsy following a ketogenic diet had improved alertness and cognitive functioning when compared to traditional anti-epileptic pharmacotherapeutics. This study also discovered that the Ketogenic diet may also be beneficial for the treatment of other central nervous systems (CNS) disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

It has been proposed that further investigation into the ketogenic diet is needed to understand its potential benefits for traumatic brain injuries and its role with neuroprotection. Overall, this will help support the brain function and more efficiently use its energy.

3. Possible Disease Prevention

There is more to the keto diet than weight loss. It has been shown to help Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that causes enlarged ovaries with cysts. A high-carb diet can negatively affect those with PCOS.

There aren't a lot of clinical studies on the ketogenic diet and PCOS. One study followed 5 women over a 24-week period found that the ketogenic diet increased weight loss and assisted in hormone balance. Research also suggests the diet could help people with type 2 diabetes and can lead to improvements in A1C levels (it can also lead to hypoglycemia if you take medication to lower your blood sugar).

Potential Risks of The Keto Diet

It is common for individuals starting the diet to experience flu-like symptoms, like headaches and muscle aches. This side effect is SO common there’s a name for it: keto flu. To counter the keto flu it is recommended staying hydrated and keeping up with your electrolytes by using electrolyte tablets or Pedialyte. Other potential risks include kidney stones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and gastrointestinal distress. While some fats are healthy, there’s a risk in following a high-fat diet, you’ll increase your intake of unhealthy trans and saturated fats. These bad fats are found foods like red meat, poultry skin, cheese, and butter. They can lead to an increased risk of bad cholesterol and heart disease. A physician or dietitian should monitor your levels while on the keto diet to help prevent any negative effects from changing your diet.

If you are looking for the benefits of a keto diet, remember that the diet most likely requires a complete overhaul of the way you normally eat and a lot of dedication. But, it may be worth it if you’re looking to improve the overall health of your brain. At Cognitive FX, we understand the importance of having a healthy brain and its significance on your everyday life.


 Before starting any diet, it is strongly recommended you discuss any significant dietary changes with your physician or dietitian.


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