Keto and Brain Function: How Low Carb and Ketogenic Diets Boost Brain Health

Keto and Brain Function

There are three ways to regrow both the brain and nerve tissue. Neurogenesis, [1] from the root word “genesis” meaning to create something new, is the formation of new nerves.

It is stimulated by a compound known as, brain derived neurotropic factor or, BDNF [2]. How do we trigger neurogenesis? There are three ways to do this. First, neurogenesis happens when BDNF is stimulated.

The process is similar with growth hormone in the human’s body – the anti-aging. People can also regrow brain cells, increase protective pathways of the nervous system, diminish and protect against damaging pathways that can cause dementia (an oxidative damage).

We can also build and grow synapses dendrites – a part of the nerve. Moreover, increase memory, learning, cognitive enhancement, and overall, mood elevation. Through Keto diet (lowering your carbs), the BDNF will be stimulated. In contrast, consuming or increasing carbohydrates intake, shuts down BDNF.

Another thing that can stimulate this compound is through practicing intermittent fasting. If a person can go for at least 18 to 23 hours of fasting, (18 hours in average for beginners) the BNDF will be set higher. There is also very specific type of workout – not just the general ones – that helps increase and boost the compound BDNF (i.e., 30second sprinting – a high intensity, short duration – is the ultimate exercise to enhance and boost the brain derived neurotropic factor with 90 second rest and can be done once or twice in reps).

Overtraining or exertion of stress may lead to injuries. However, this is the ultimate workout for maximum stress as the body activates all the muscles and stopping at 30 seconds allows the system to recover a little bit and may increase endurance and adherence to the activity.


How does a low carb and ketogenic diets supply energy for the brain?

There are cognitive effects of doing Keto and intermittent fasting although, there are also very little studies that surrounds the topic.

Also, there is no standard keto diet – and most can be found are configured or modified.

We may hear traditional ketosis [3] – this utilizes margarine and oil, a lot of unhealthy food stuffs. There are studies that correlates employing the keto diet and epilepsy [4, 5] being improved. If we look at the studies involving people with high blood glucose or insulin, we can clearly see that by doing high carb is not good for the brain causing dementia (atrophy or shrinkage of the brain). High carb consumption also destroys part of the brain hippocampus – the part which is responsible for memory.

Bottomline is that being a diabetic is not good for the brain, memory and mood. If someone has hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, the mood will be affected. There will be irritability, anxiety, sadness, and depression. These comes from the insulin resistance.

The brain does not store sugar. It does not have glycogen, unlike the liver. It does not have its own reserve of sugar or glucose. It gets fuel from the blood. So, when there’s low blood sugar, the brain suffers giving us headaches, migraines and mood disorders. When you normalize the blood sugar levels, the mood elevates greatly. When there’s insulin resistance – the insulin is not connecting the cell – humans will not be able to absorb the amino acids which are supposed to build the neurotransmitters [6].

When you are deficient in neurotransmitters such as, serotonins or dopamine or GABA (Gamma Amminobutryic Acid), there is a great impact with our moods and cognitive functions.

The cognitive function, focus, memory, concentration and overall emotional state will be greatly affected by the blood sugars. And that’s why Keto can help people.

Keto diet is powerful because first and foremost, it stimulates GABA (a neurotransmitter), it reduces inflammation in the brain and throughout the body.

When you add up fasting, you can greatly improve insulin sensitivity thereby absorbing amino acids in making these neurotransmitters. In fact, intermittent fasting or, IF will cause the regrowing of neurons. In IF, we can build brain tissue and reduce the amyloid plaque involved in dementia.

What happens when you don’t eat any carbs?

Where does brain fog come from? It can come from lack of sleep, but most of the time it is a problem with insulin resistance – a pre-diabetic state wherein the blood sugars or glucose are a problem.

In diabetes it can either be insulin resistance (insulin is too high but not connecting with the brain – due to the consumption of wrong foods) or it can be a case of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia is the state of not getting enough insulin or blood glucose in the brain. People think that eating sugar is important to get energy in the brain.This is not true. What is best is actually getting the sugar out of the diet and force the body to live off of the other non-carbs sources of fuel like fat fuel or even some protein fuel.

To get rid of brain fog is actually really easy. First, cut out all the sugars including honey, agave, nectar. Also, start reading food labels especially the sugar grams or content.

By doing so, you will be surprised to figure out that there are foods with high sugar or carbohydrate content.

Even plain yogurt has 10 grams of sugar which is too much.

The question is, how much sugar can we have? It should be close to zero as possible. The protein bars also contain sugar as proteins plus sugar can spike up the insulin levels thereby contributing to brain fogs.

Hidden sugars like fruits, juices, alcohol or liquors contains much. Moreover, including to the list of foods that has high sugar content are pastas, breads, cereal, crackers, biscuits, etc. In fact, oatmeal falls in this category too.

Salads are said to have high vitamins and minerals but also, it can contribute to brain fogging. The body and the brain need potassium and the nutrition to feel clean.

Combining food groups is vital. With that, we need a healthy amount of protein but not by overdoing or overconsumption. Just three to six ounces big salad with some healthy fat like olive oil, peanut butter, brie cheese.

These healthy fats will allow the system to go longer without eating. These simple things will help you improve brain fog unless there are other health problems associated with this phenomenon.


Are ketones good for brain health and function?

The brain does not need to adapt to ketosis. Starting ketogenic diet may induce brain fog and some people believe that it takes a while or to be in the transition phase to achieve full ketosis. This is partially true; however, the brain is the exception.

The brain does not need to adapt anything. It does not need to create new enzymes. It has the capacity to run on ketones immediately.

The brain prefers ketones as certain portions will run on glucose – in fact, 1/3 of it; 2/3 run on ketones. 23 percent of all the energy that we generate is used by the brain.

Why is this significant?

When you start ketogenic plan, you want to feel well. You don’t want to feel dullness. You want high-powered energy, focus. But, once you are getting brain fog, mental fatigue, depression or any lowered-emotional state, realize that there’s just not enough ketones available as a fuel source.

It’s not that the brain needs to adapt and that it takes time to adjust to the diet. If the ketones are present, it will be absorbed right away. Ketones come from endogenous sources which means that the body or system can create them by lowering the carbs.

What determines the number of ketones are in the brain is the blood ketone level. It means, the level must be high.

The amount of insulin determines this.

It needs to be normal but on the lower side, also glucose needs to be low.

Insulin plus glucose level determines how many ketones and it does take some time, in average 3 to 5 days to start developing and breakdown fat more efficiently.

More ketones in the blood means, the brain will have them available and make them work right away. Individuals can assist this process by taking some ketone salts for a few days or MCT oil which will help generate faster ketones. In that manner, a person can have brain energy right away. This will be an outside source or exogenous.

An infant can absorb ketones fifteen times faster than an adult and this is a survival mechanism. Because of this, the brain needs a lot of energy to work. To help the brain survive, it has a mechanism to absorb both types of fuel and especially that the infant’s brain is still developing.

The interesting thing is the parts of the brain that uses ketones. These includes cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal gland.

This is why a lot of people are improving their cognitive function. If an individual has memory problems like dementia, or neurodegeneration or Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, they will not be able to absorb glucose efficiently.

Ketones bypass the whole mechanism and drive fuel right into these certain parts of the brain. The hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal are endocrine glands and so ketones feed the endocrine system.

It is very important to restore endocrine hormone and function through ketosis. As well as the autonomic nervous system.

That is the combination between the sympathetic and parasympathetic. People with problems with ANS has too much stress, flight-or fight, or they cannot sleep.

When they go into ketosis, they do and feel better. The tremendous number of ketones goes to the pituitary and pineal gland. Pineal helps people sleep.

Bottomline is that, when we want to prevent brain fog or keto fatigue, MCT oils can be a good idea. If you know someone who has memory problems like Alzheimer’s, this oil and exogenous ketones as way to supplement and speed up results of getting more ketones into the brain.


Other keto benefits for the brain.

Practicing an extremely low-carb diet for 6 weeks improved cognition [7, 8] in elderly individuals at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Also, offering a ketogenic diet to elderly and obese rats improves mental function [9, 10]. Keto diet also helps with fetal hyperinsulinism [11].

This disease results in low blood sugar and can trigger brain impairment A ketogenic diet has been shown to be effective in the treatment of congenital hyperinsulinism. [12]

The ketogenic diet also aids with migraine [13] and headaches. According to studies, low-carb or ketogenic diets may give migraine patients some respite. [14, 15]

Furthermore, in a limited, experimental trial, five out of seven patients with Parkinson’s disease [16] who followed a four-week ketogenic diet improved their self-reported complaints by 43 percent. Meanwhile, in individuals with serious head injuries who were given a carb-free diet were able to eat while preventing hyperglycemia, which can impede healing.

The bottom line is that low-carb and ketogenic diets offer several other brain-health advantages. To mention a few, they can assist enhance cognition in elderly people, minimize migraines, and alleviate Parkinson’s disease complaints.

What are the best nutrients to improve thinking? Choline was once considered as a part of the B-vitamins but now it is a stand-alone vitamin.

This is a lemon tasting vitamin, that is a required nutrient by the body because it is a primary building block of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter for the brain).

Neurotransmitters work like hormone and instead of traveling thru the blood, they go to the nervous system. These are involved in communication as improving new memories, reasoning process, concentration or focus, cognition (understanding things), sleep, growing synpases in the brain cells and coordinating movements especially those involving speed and accuracy. A research found that people taking choline noticing some significant improvements in brain fog, neurotransmitters, etc.

Founder, Certified Ketogenic Diet and Ketosis Health Coach.

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