The Ketone-Fueled Brain
Improvements in cognitive function, endurance and more
You have heard of ketosis before. The impact of a ketogenic diet (KD) on athletic performance has sparked much interest and self-experimentation in the past 3–4 years. Many of the studies on ketogenic diets and athletic performance shows improvement in VO2max scores which is great but I am more interested in the cognitive benefits of maintaining a ketogenic diet.
For those who don’t know too much about what I am speaking out, ketone bodies are metabolites that replace glucose as the main fuel of the brain in situations of glucose scarcity, including prolonged fasting, extenuating exercise, or pathological conditions such as diabetes. Dietary modulation can increase and maintain circulating ketone bodies, especially β-hydroxybutyrate (β-HB), which is one of the most abundant ketone bodies in human circulation. Increased β-HB has been reported to prevent or improve the symptoms of various age-associated diseases.
Beyond their role as an alternative fuel for the brain, the impact of ketone bodies on neuronal physiology has been highlighted by the use of the so-called “ketogenic diets,” which were proposed about a century ago to treat infantile seizures.
These diets mimic fasting by reducing drastically the intake of carbohydrates and proteins and replacing them with fat, thus promoting ketogenesis. The fact that ketogenic diets have such a profound effect on epileptic seizures points makes me want to investigate them further because beyond their complex biological effects, ketone bodies play a role as a source of ATP and energy.
This newsletter will detail the latest science on ketones and brain health, if you want to dig into the research further I highly suggest you check out my latest episode of The Neuro Experience Podcast which is all about ketones, brain health and metabolism.
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Ketones and Brain Health
The brain is a particularly greedy organ when it comes to energy requirement. To put this comment in perspective consider the following: though our brain represents only about 2% of our body mass, it accounts for about 20% of our energy expenditure.
When you are on a keto diet, or fasting, your brain can switch from using glucose as its main fuel source to using ketones. There are however portions of the brain that do require glucose for function. The brain will use some of the carbohydrates consumed on a ketogenic diet (~5-10% of calories is the usual range of carbohydrate consumed when eating a ketogenic diet) and the rest will be produced through gluconeogenesis in the liver. During gluconeogenesis, the liver will create glucose using amino acids from protein. Glucose can also be created through gluconeogenesis by using the backbone of fatty acids, glycerol. This process ensures that the portions of the brain that rely on glucose will have their preferred energy substrate in times of fasting or very low carbohydrate intake.
Dietary manipulation or supplementation to induce β-HB elevation
Dietary manipulation, such as calorie restriction or a ketogenic diet, alleviates these age-associated diseases through upregulation of circulating β-HB. The increase in β-HB, as depicted by the redshift of the arrow in the figure, improves metabolic complications caused by insulin resistance, reduces cellular aging phenotypes, including senescence and inflammation, and regenerates sciatic nerves.
A ketogenic diet and calorie restriction are the most well-known dietary manipulations used to stimulate lipolysis. Since ketone body metabolism is highly activated during calorie restriction or in glucose-deprived metabolic conditions, ketone bodies are considered crucial metabolites for calorie restriction-induced anti-aging phenotypes
Until next time…
This Week On The Neuro Experience Podcast
I interview Michael Brandt- CEO and founder of HVMN- Health via modern nutrition and the research lead for his company- Dr Latt Mansor. Together, these two gentlemen are on a mission to solve many dysfuntions in the body and brain with the help of ketones.
Michael believes ketones are a nutritional primitive; a tool for everyone’s toolkit, akin to Omega-3, caffeine, or CBD. H.V.M.N. launched the world’s first ketone ester in 2017, secured a $6MM contract with U.S. Special Operations Command, and has since worked with elite athletes and researchers to determine the effects of its ketone formulas on everything from athletic performance to recovery to metabolic health and longevity.