Low Carb Brain Power Flat eCover

Low Carb Brain Power

For decades, the battle cry for losing weight and eating healthy in general has been, “Fat is bad.” Every food item imaginable is now offered in a “Low fat” or “No fat” version … Or both! We have been told to eat smaller meals packed with carbs for energy and to snack in between to keep the energy going. This somewhat logical yet misguided dietary advice led to the nutritional disaster we have today.

It has resulted in higher obesity rates as well as an increase in diabetes and an upswing in the incidence of conditions involving mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Worse, this dietary trend correlates to an increase in severe neurological disorders such as epilepsy and disorders involving mental acuity such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and age-related cognitive deterioration.

This result could have been, should have been, and likely was foreseen, but ignored. The body needs fat. Without fat, and protein, the body would die. However, there is one thing that the body can live without just fine. That is carbohydrates.

As a matter of fact, the majority of the world lived just fine without them, for the most part, until the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought factories that could turn out processed goods just loaded with carbohydrates. These treated, processed, and packaged “foods” led the way to generation after generation of people who had strayed far from their dietary roots and were growing increasingly less and less healthy.

According to a report by the US Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, “The lower limit of dietary carbohydrates compatible with life apparently is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed.” It is important to note however, that a zero-carb diet is not recommended as this eliminates some truly healthy foods.

The life we live today does not resemble that of our not so distant ancestors in many ways, some good and some bad, but few worse than the unhealthy way we view food and the role it plays in our health. Our ancestors lived a simpler life filled with long periods of fasting, either due to scarcity of food or working in the fields.

After this they would gather for large filling meals made up of animal and plant products that they had gathered themselves … and the fattier the meat the better. As for between meal snacks, they consisted of fruit or greens gathered while working or even a grub they’d dug up if they felt really peckish.

While it is true that body needs the glucose which carbohydrates produce for the energy to function, it is not necessary to get that glucose from carbohydrates alone. Thanks to the process of gluconeogenesis, our bodies can turn protein into glucose. This exclusion or limiting of carbohydrates in your diet will lead to another dietary condition, ketosis.

Ketosis

Ketosis is a normal metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose. The body then burns fat stores for energy building up ketones in the body. These ketone bodies can be burned in place of the glucose for up to 75% of the brain’s fuel. These ketone bodies are produced in the liver in response to the low glucose caused by a fasting or carbohydrate purge.

Ketone bodies are defined as; any of three related compounds (acetone, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and acetoacetic acid) which are produced during the metabolism of fats. Alone and unused, these chemicals would be toxic to a person but since they are burned up as energy they become beneficial.

The majority of metabolically healthy people shift into some amount of ketosis every day. For example, overnight as they sleep. People often wake up with “funky” slightly sweet smelling breath from the burning of the acetone. This is a good sign as it is the hallmark of a healthy metabolism.

In the brain, energy is essential. The brain requires large amounts of energy to keep pulling potassium in and pushing sodium out. One recent study found that although the brain is less than 2% of the total body weight of an average adult, it uses 20% of the body’s oxygen and 10% of the glucose stores.

Ketogenic and Low-Carb Diets

Ketogenic diets and low-carb diets overlap in many ways. Both have been known for many years to promote weight loss and to help fight diabetes.

Another reason to opt for low-carb over low-fat is that low-carb & ketogenic diets lower glucose levels, which is associated with a higher seizure threshold and less neuronal excitability.

While they share these commonalities and others, there are some distinct differences between these two dietary lifestyles.

A true ketogenic diet limits the intake of carbs to less than 50 grams a day whereas the Low-carb version allows carbohydrates to vary between 25 and 150 grams per day. Also, the ketogenic diet often restricts the intake of protein. The classic ketogenic diet is a 4:1:1 dietary plan with the parts being fat:carbs:protein. The low-carb diet however, does not usually restrict the protein intake of its users.

This means that while the main goal of the ketogenic diet is to increase the levels of ketones in the blood to be used as a replacement for glucose as an energy source for the brain. In a low-carb diet, ketones may or may not reach those levels and is not the main focus.

Both versions have their benefits and pitfalls. Ketogenic diets are extremely difficult to follow and are highly unappetizing. The best way to describe some of the staples of that diet is “vile.” Yet it is the surest way to put the body in a state of ketosis and to use the ketone bodies produced for fuel for the brain.

Low-carb diets are easier to follow, do not disrupt your life as much, and are able to be turned on and off to suit the situation. Still, they do not provide consistent ketone production and thus the body is popping in and out of a state of ketosis.

Benefits to the Brain

In a medical research study, patients with Type 1 Diabetes who were experiencing reduced cognitive functioning due to extended periods of high blood sugar. The study found that these deficits could be erased by increasing the amount of Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) – one of the three compounds produced by ketosis – in the body.

This mental benefit is an unexpected bonus to the physical advantages that a ketogenic or low-carb diet promises and not just for those with mental health issues. There are numerous testimonials of healthy people who reaped cognitive rewards from their limiting of carbs in their diets. They all claim that the brain’s utilization of ketones improves mental clarity, focus, and performance. While there have been no conclusive studies on healthy brains, it is reasonable to deduce that ketogenic upregulating on the mitochondrial level will do the same there.

That is just the beginning.

Ketone metabolization has shown excellent results with epileptic seizures, migraines, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions marked by cognitive impairment. Let us look at that more closely.

Seizures

Ketogenic diets have been used for nearly 120 years to treat patients with epilepsy. It seems that having a ketogenic brain is a vast improvement for seizure sufferers.

The two main neurotransmitters in the body are glutamate and Gamma-amino Butyric acid (GABA). These two are intimately connected but serve opposing purposes. GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter. Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter; it is also where GABA comes from. Glutamate can either become GABA or aspartate which is excitatory in nature and in excess, is a neurotoxin.

Too much excitement in the brain caused by high levels of glutamate unchecked by GABA and producing aspartate and other destructive free-radicals means neurotoxicity. In extreme cases this manifests as seizures but it has also been linked to other neurological diseases such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, migraines, dementia, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Ketogenic diets favor glutamate becoming GABA because ketosis favors using acetate (like aspartate) for fuel during metabolism.

On a mitochondrial level, ketosis, in “unhealthy” brains, upregulates mitochondrial biogenesis. This literally creates new sources of power in the brain that are skilled at burning ketone bodies as fuel. This upregulation is also responsible for anti-convulsing benefits in epilepsy patients. It seems that providing a brain that does not run well on glucose an alternate fuel supply gets the gears turning and the fat burning.

Migraines

While there are few scientific studies examining the connection between migraines and ketosis there are numerous personal accounts of the benefits of ketosis for migraine sufferers. With a ketogenic diet, migraine sufferers have no choice but to avoid catalysts (like carbs) in their diet. They no longer have to feel like they “deserve” the pain because they chose to eat a carb loaded trigger.
Elena Gross, a lifelong migraine sufferer, explained her experience with this eloquently, “So, in addition to having that pain and fatigue you also have the guilt component, you think it’s your fault. And that’s also a big aspect of what ketone bodies can do for you. They can show you it’s not your fault, migraine isn’t anyone’s fault. It is the genes. And when you realize that it is a gene defect in some form and you can just swap the fuel, change your diet, and you get your control back, it also takes away that guilt component.”
Studies and experience suggest that avoiding carbohydrates will help migraine sufferers reduce and avoid these debilitating headaches.

Brain Fog

Everyone has felt it, that frustrating feeling of not being able to concentrate or an inability to come up with a simple word or even just forgetting why you entered a room. It is Brain Fog, also known as, Mental Fog, Fibro Fog, Pregnancy Brain, clouding of consciousness, and more scientifically, mild cognitive dysfunction.

The most common and hallmark indicators of this symptomatic condition are a lack of mental clarity, inability to focus, confusion, forgetfulness, and fatigue, both mental and physical. People also report feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping and insomnia, feeling disoriented and scattered, stuttering or stammering when speaking, low motivation, and poor executive function like processing new information.
Studies have shown that elevated ammonia levels in the brain contribute to this condition. Ketosis increases the amount of glutamine sythetase which is responsible for mopping up any extra ammonia. It also bumps up the signaling for glutamine to become GABA. The depression of GABA levels is another contributing factor leading to Brain Fog and thus, the increase will help with the symptoms known to make up the condition.

Depression and anxiety

While there have been no studies regarding the effect of ketone bodies on depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, there are some answers that we can deduct from what we already know of ketosis. Ketone bodies are known to produce feelings of euphoria as well as relaxation. It is not hard to see that these two characteristics might have beneficial effects on conditions involving mood regulation. This is an area that bears further research and study. It is possible that the secret to curing mood disorders of the brain is locked within the science of ketogenics.

Alzheimer’s & other examples of neurodegeneration

Mild cognitive impairment has become so common that it has earned its own name and acronym, MCI. This is the general decline in cognitive abilities associated with aging and is marked by impairment of memory and thinking abilities. Mild cognitive impairment is also considered by the medical community as a precursor for more serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia … all of these words are enough to strike fear and regret into the heart of any patient who hears them. These serious chronic conditions are marked by severe cognitive impairment.

Ketones are starting to present themselves to the medical world as a possible treatment and even a chance for a cure. It is known that in the more severe neurodegeneration conditions, the brain has lost or is losing the ability to turn glucose into energy. Despite the glucose availability; aging, epileptic, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s brains cannot make use of it. When the dominant fuel for the brain is no longer glucose but rather ketone the glucose-starved brain will be able to power those areas which have been starved.

Ketogenic diets have been shown to improve, and in some exceptional cases abolish, the cognitive symptoms of all four of the major cerebral conditions; aging-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s. Even before the cognitive decline – that is the benchmark of those conditions – sets in, people with benefit from the effects of a ketogenic diet.

In one study of subjects with memory impairment, including some with Alzheimer’s, BHB showed a marked improvement in cognition. This improvement seemed to run parallel with rising levels of ketones. Promising findings, this study is a catalyst for further research and understanding of the effect of ketones on cognitively impaired brains.

Another ketone study showed improved cognition in all subjects who all had a mild to moderate form of Alzheimer’s. In fact, a very low-carb diet seems to benefit the memory of older adults without any signs of serious cognitive dysfunction. It would appear from this data that a ketogenic diet is beneficial for the brains of everyone, not just those who suffer from one of the big four conditions described earlier.

Easy Way to Switch to Ketones

Now that we, very roughly, know what a ketogenic diet can do for the body and the brain, what next? How does somebody help their body enter ketosis? Do not worry; there is no need to begin the grueling endeavor of beginning a classic ketogenic diet. Here are some shortcuts to give your body an influx of ketone bodies.

First is fasting. Everyone goes thorough periods of fasting but most of them do not realize it. When we sleep, we enter a stage of fasting that puts our bodies in a state of ketosis. This is a very brief period of ketosis and yet it still has benefits. If you extend that period those benefits are compounded.

Second, do not eat too late in the day. This helps step one, fasting. If you do not eat after dinner then you will be fasting from that moment until you eat breakfast. This is enough time to induce a little ketogenics. As a sign of good metabolism, those who enter into ketosis while sleeping will awake with ketone breath. This is described as a little “funky.” The easiest way to avoid snacking is to eat early and eat a filling meal heavy in fat with protein as its backer and not carbohydrates. By avoiding these unnecessary snacks, you are allowing your body to start burning fat and converting it into ketones to fuel your body and brain.

Third on the list of cheats to jump start your ketone producing and burning is the consumption of medium chain triglycerides or MCTs. The best sources for MCTs are palm kernel oil and coconut oil. By adding these to your current diet, you spur the creation of ketones.

The last step is primal endurance training. This is the workout system designed to build health through sensible training patterns. Low level aerobic activity is a cornerstone for primal endurance training and is remarkable for starting ketosis. If you do this on an empty stomach it will speed up the kick start you are giving to ketosis even more. Primal endurance training is further design to work in conjunction with a ketogenic or low-carb diet.

Warnings

Nothing in the world is either all bad or all good. Ketosis and ketone bodies are no different. Euphoria Infusion is likely the biggest possible draw back to a ketogenic diet. An overabundance of ketone bodies which are not burned off as energy may cause increased feelings of euphoria. This feeling of extreme joy is akin to the manic swing of bipolar disorder. This intense feeling of happiness is counterproductive and might actually decrease mental performance and productivity. To avoid this, make sure that you are experiencing enough physical activity to burn the ketones you are creating.

Ketosis for the body means fat-burning and thus, healthy weight loss. It further means lowered levels of glucose in the blood and thus, helps diabetics keep their blood sugar levels in check. Additionally, ketone bodies are a viable alternative to glucose for providing energy for the body and the brain.
These ketone bodies in the brain have been shown to aid in the areas of memory, cognitive function, and mood stabilization. With all the benefits that a ketogenic or low-carb diet appear to provide to not only the body but the brain as well, ketosis warrants further research and close study. It is possible that the secret to curing many of today’s brain based conditions may lie within the benefits of ketone bodies.

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