Keto & The Brain
The keto diet has a long history of being used to help the brain. It was invented in the 1920s to treat epilepsy, a rare neurological condition.
While most people today eat keto for other reasons, it can still provide numerous benefits to brain function. It can help with:
- Memory and cognition
- Brain-gut health
Switching to keto can produce short term cognitive problems, like brain fog, whiled the body adjusts. But in the long term, people on keto often report better mood and cognition compared to before they started.
Your Brain on Keto
What happens, exactly, when you switch to keto?
On a typical carbohydrate-filled diet, your brain consumes tons of carbohydrates. This is largely because your brain is the most energy-dependent part of your entire body. Even though it only takes up about 2% of the entire mass of the body, it consumes about 20% of the calories.
This is the price we pay to be conscious, highly-intelligent primates.
On a normal diet, most of that energy comes from glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. But when you switch to keto, all those carbs go away. Instead, the body shifts into ketosis, and consumes ketones instead of glucose.
At first, this can be quite a shock to your entire system. Many people experience the “keto flu” when they first try the diet. This can include symptoms such as:
- low energy
- brain fog
Not surprisingly, your brain has a hard time adapting to ketones at first- hence the brain fog and headaches.
But eventually, it does adapt. Most people leave this phase after a couple weeks, and report feeling more energetic and awake than before.
Another reason why keto can help your brain: gut health. Your brain is strongly connected to the colony of bacteria in your GI tract, and when they’re happy, you’re happy.
For many people, switching to keto improves their gut health, because it cuts out all the sugary junk food. They experience better brain health as a consequence.
This experience is not universal, however- if you already cut out the junk food, keto might not be as much of an improvement.
As we mentioned at the start of this article, keto helps with epilepsy. But why?
Epilepsy is a condition in which people experience sudden, unpredictable seizures. Its causes are not well understood. And the fact that keto helps reduce seizures is also, unfortunately, not well understood. But it is known to reduce the rate of seizures for many patients.
One plausible hypothesis is that removing carbs somehow reduces the excitability of the brain, making it less likely to induce seizures.
This condition is common among the elderly. As we age, our body deteriorates, and our brains degenerate as well.
In particular, the brain can lose its ability to effectively metabolize glucose. This is a big problem, because it ordinarily gets all of its energy from glucose.
Switching to keto means switching from glucose to ketones. For some patients, this improves their condition.
There is believed to be a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy, so whatever mechanism makes keto help epilepsy is probably at play here.
Conclusion: A Better Brain Through Keto?
Keto is commonly thought of as a weight-loss solution, but as we’ve discussed, it can provide many other benefits as well.
You might be wondering: should I switch to keto just for the brain boost?
If you have a diagnosed neurological condition like epilepsy or Alzheimer’s, it might be a good idea. But that is a conversation you should have with your doctor.
If you just want to experience stronger cognition- for example, to win your next chess tournament- then keto might be a bit of an extreme solution. A good idea would be to start by simply throwing out the junk food and eating fewer carbs.
A low carb diet, without being fully keto, can provide many of the same benefits without the same costs. And it gives you a wider range of dietary options to choose from.
But whatever your diet, you should know that you don’t have to avoid sweet snacks entirely. There are plenty of keto and low-carb friendly options that use alternative, non-glucose sweeteners.
CanDo offers a wide range of healthy, low-carb, sugar-free protein bars. Next time you want a snack, consider a CanDo Krisp bar instead of a candy bar. Your brain will thank you!