The rigors and stress of life often leads us astray when it comes to our diet. Whether it’s a lack of proper nutrients or consuming either too few or too many calories – this can put our bodies out of equilibrium.
With a failure to maintain an equilibrium, the body’s energy levels decline and performance on day to day tasks can suffer. We also observe deterioration in more complex tasks. Plus, as we age, it becomes more important to maintain a balance to perform and succeed in daily life.
The keto diet is the answer to this! We’ll go over three reasons why the ketogenic diet is great for you and your brain.
A lack of energy is an all too familiar feeling for most of us. As many of us try to squeeze more time out of each day, we find ourselves constantly running on fumes, nearing the end of our “tank”. As each day passes, we progressively become more fatigued and sluggish – we see that our mental performance and physical drive declines.
But, there’s good news! Research has shown that those who follow a ketogenic (ketone) based diet can develop an increase in mitochondrial function and a decrease in free radicals. (1)
What does this mean for you? In a nutshell, the major role of mitochondria is to process the intake of food and oxygen and produce energy from that.
An increase in the mitochondrial function equates to more energy for your cells – which leads to more energy for you.
Free radicals are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules in the body. They are highly reactive and the danger comes from the damage they’re able do to our mitochondria. When this occurs, cells may function poorly or die.
Reducing the production of free radicals can lead to better neurological stability and cellular performance, leading to more energy efficiency in the body. Instead of your body focusing on repairing the damage done by free radicals, it can focus on producing more energy. (6)
Bonus: Pairing the ketogenic diet with an exercise routine will not only help increase mitochondrial function, but will also produce new mitochondria to help offset any increased energy demands. (2)
Focus and Stress Relief
A common symptom of an improper diet is lack of mental sharpness – also known as brain fog. The inability to focus on a task or recall information is commonly a result of this.
Generally, there are two molecules that have a hand in this area: glutamate and GABA(gamma-Aminobutyric acid). Glutamate is the primary excitation neurotransmitter (promotes stimulation) in the body and GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter (reduces stimulation) in the body.
Brain fog and a lack of focus, among other things, can be caused by having too much glutamate and very little GABA. This will happen if your brain has to use glutamate and glutamic acid for fuel, which leaves little left over to be processed into GABA. When the brain solely uses glutamate, it will start to over-process without a way to reduce stimulation.
Research has shown that ketones have the ability to allow the extra glutamate to be processed into GABA efficiently. (1)
By giving the brain another form of energy when you break down ketones, you’re able to balance out the neurotransmitter production.
This balance (increase in GABA production) helps to reduce the excess firing of neurons in the brain, leading to better mental focus. An added benefit of more GABA production in the brain has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. I know we could all use a little less of that! (3)(4)
Tip: To help boost your focus, try starting your day with a ketoproof coffee. The Medium Chain Tryglycerides (MCT’s) that are inside of the coconut oil directly convert to ketones in the liver, giving you a great boost of energy and mental clarity early on.
Fatty acids, which include Omega-3 and Omega-6 type fatty acids, are a vital part of cognitive functioning. They also play an important role for a multitude of other things in the body, such as preventing heart disease. (7) These Omega Fatty Acids are part of a group known as essential fatty acids.
This means your body is not able to produce them on its own because humans lack the desaturase enzymes required for their production. They must be consumed by dietary intake or supplementation directly. This is where the ketogenic diet comes in – a diet rich in essential fatty acids.
Data has shown that the typical “Western diet” is deficient in essential fatty acids. More specifically Omega-3s.
Not only do fatty acids comprise the majority of brain tissue, they are equally important in the brain’s function, having a direct link to learning, memory, and sensory performance. (5)
Research has shown the need to not only supplement your diet with essential fatty acids, but maintain a proper ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s. (5) Typically, we try to aim at a ratio between 1:1 and 1:4 Omega-3s to 6s – which is great on the ketogenic diet because we consume plenty of healthy oils (like olive oil) that help balance this ratio.
Tip: This article gives a much more in-depth look at Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and the ratios we should be maintaining. You can also go here to see what to (and what not to) include on your grocery list to help supplement your diet with a proper ratio of essential fatty acids.
- Maalouf, M., Mattson, M. P., & Rho, J. M. (2009). “The Neuroprotective Properties of Calorie Restriction, the Ketogenic Diet, and Ketone Bodies.” Brain Research Reviews, 59(2), (293-315).
- Cobb, L. A., Gunn, D. R., Morgan, T. E., Ross, R., & Short, F. A. (1971). “Effects of Long-Term Exercise on Human Muscle Mitochondria.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 11, 87-95.
- Abdou, A. M., Hatta, H., Higashiguchi, S., Horie, K., Kim, M., & Yokogoshi, H. (2006). “Relaxation and Immunity Enhancement Effects of gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration in Humans.” Biofactors, 26(3), 201-208.
- Yudkoff, M., Daikhin, Y., Melo, T. M., Nissim, I., Sonnewald, U., & Nissim, I. (2007). “The Ketogenic Diet and Brain Metabolism of Amino Acids: Relationship to the Anticonvulsant Effect.” Annual Review of Nutrition, 27, 415–430.
- Yehuda, S. (2003). “Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and Brain-Related Functions.” World Rev Nutr Diet; 92, 37-56.
- Packer, L., Reznick, A. Z., Starke-Reed, P., Viguie, C. A., & Witt, E. H. (1992). “Exercise, Oxidative Damage and Effects of Antioxidant Manipulation.” Journal of Nutrition 122(3), 766-773.
- de Lorgeril, M., et al. Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Lancet. 1994;343:1454-1459.