This Article At A Glance
– A well-structured ketogenic diet does more than further weight loss.
– Sugar is inflammatory, and can cause untold damage in the brain.
– Eliminating it is a big step towards a better brain.
– Ketones do more than simply supply fuel.
– They act through specific mechanisms to reduce inflammation and improve cognition.
– Therefore it’s worth approaching keto as a lifestyle upgrade rather than just a way to shift the scale.
If you’re shopping for diets, it’s worth factoring in the benefits that go past the numbers flickering on the scale. There’s nothing wrong with having weight loss has the major objective, but you should pick up a few extra bonuses along the way.
With keto, there’s a sizable shift in the mental game. This is something I’ve touched on before in a post about high protein keto. I’d go as far as to argue that the brain boost is keto’s greatest benefit, and the reason why many opt to stay even once they reach their goal weight. It can become more of a lifestyle tool than a weight manipulator.
For some quick background, keto can be defined by having a combination of high ketones and low glucose levels. This creates a fat-based metabolism where the body can live off its own stores. Ketones become the dominant fuel source, and even provide most of the brain’s energy needs.
If you’d like to understand what makes a ketogenic diet, check out my post about the difference between low carb and keto.
The point of this article is to show that these ketones do much more than simply providing fuel for the body. They act as signalling cells, changing the way your system functions, the brain in particular.
1. Improved Blood Glucose Control – Less Toxicity
Every time you flood the blood with an excessive amount of sugar, something that’s quite easy to achieve, the brain naturally experiences the same spike. This can be toxic to brain cells, with the creation of sticky, dysfunctional proteins called advanced glycation end products. Keto eliminates this problem by reducing the need for glucose considerably.
2. Lower Blood Insulin Levels – More Energy Availability
Acting through the same sugar swing mechanism, carbs repeatedly stimulate large amounts of insulin, to the point where the receptors in the blood brain barrier can become resistant.That essentially means glucose struggles to get through to the brain, limiting energy availability and starving it of essential fuel.
This is a major risk factor in developing neurodegenerative disorders. You’ll see at this point that the benefits of keto are partly down to what’s missing from the concoction.
3. No Hypoglycemia – No Post Meal Energy Dip
Blood sugar spikes are inevitably followed by hypoglycemia, which creates an energy crater that most people will experience after a big lunch. As a result, those early afternoon hours are generally a write-off for getting anything useful done.
This issue gets fixed by swapping to the ketone supply, as ketones are made in the liver from the body’s fat stores, which represents a huge amount of energy. Essentially, it’s an uninterrupted and unquenchable supply, a stable flow of energy that doesn’t fluctuate through the day.
4. Reduce Inflammation – Less Stress Damage
Inflammation is the result of a stress response, and isn’t always a bad thing. Lifting weights causes inflammation, and that’s amongst the healthier things you could be putting your body through. But in the case of blood sugar swings, which forces the body to recruit first-responder cells, the inflammation comes back again, and again. Inevitably it becomes chronic and causes the brain to deteriorate.
Chronic inflammation is seriously disruptive to cognition, fostering a brain that continuously drops into states of fog and anxiety.
Ketones on the other hand, are a clean-burning fuel source. They actively decrease Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). So they don’t just put the brakes on, they actively reverse the effects of inflammation.
5. Improve Gut Health – Stable Brain-Gut Connection
Brain health is intricately interwoven with the affairs of the stomach, and many cognitive issues, even mental disorders, can stem from imbalances down in the gut flora. Previously it was thought that fiber, a form of carbohydrate, was necessary for healing this environment. But the gut can actually draw its energy from ketones.
Beta Hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is one of two ketone bodies produced in the liver, and acts as the preferred fuel source for the cells that line the inside of the colon, and also as a signal to those cells’ genes to turn down inflammation pathways.
6. Boost Antioxidant Defences – Protection From Internal Attacks
High sugar diets cause unnecessary and excessive amounts of oxidative damage that can damage the blood brain barrier, leaving it vulnerable to internal attacks. Ketones on the other hand provide substrates that can help repair damaged neurons.
7. Energise Mitochondria – Increased Brain Energy Supply
Sugar can damage the energy powerhouses, which reduces the energy supply to the brain. And since the brain hogs 20% of the body’s energy needs, any issues here can be problematic. Ketones can actually improve the power output of the mitochondria, being a more efficient form of energy.
8. Stabilise Stress Hormones – Less Anxiety
Blood sugar swings come with an unhealthy aftermath, where adrenaline surges and places the brain in a fight-or-flight mode. Despite the fact that stress can be crucial for lifting heavy weights, it doesn’t put you in a great spot for the rest of the day. Cognitive tasks will typically take a knock, and decision making in particular gets negatively impacted.
Keto lowers the stress response by improving the GABA to Glutamate ratio. GABA is an inhibitory hormone, while Glutamate is excitatory. So a better balance between the two will put you in a relaxed, parasympathetic state, ideal for pretty much any scenario in your day.
9. Rebalance Neurotransmitters – Improved Mood
High sugar can disrupt the kynurenine pathway, which regulates the activity of serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate. It creates an imbalance that involves hiking glutamate levels, which can be seen as the brain’s gas pedal. Too much too often can put you in a state of chronic stress as I mentioned in the previous feature. Keto diets have been shown to regulate neurotransmitter activity, creating a positive environment that supports cognitive tasks and mental wellbeing.
10. Raise BDNF levels – Improving The Learning Process
Going carb crazy lowers the levels of this important hormone. BDNF is a key player in neuroplasticity, helping the brain with all stages of stress management, and improves the working memory and learning process. Low-carb diets increase BDNF levels, facilitating a state of resilience and adaptation.
11. Lowered Appetite – Less Distractions
Sugar swings can cause constant cravings as the body tries to rescue itself from hypoglycemia. This can make dieting incredibly difficult, as food occupies front and center in your mind. Willpower can only get you so far, if you’re constantly having to make the decision to turn down the cake. Eventually, even if you get to the sixtieth time of asking, you give in.
Keto doesn’t just help appetite by eliminating this mechanism. The sensitivity to leptin, which suppresses hunger, goes up. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, goes down. The diet boosts satiety, letting you focus on something else for a change.
I’ve reached a point where I shun carbs altogether, not even trying to bring them into refeed days. Because staying in a state of ketosis has helped me feel sharper, less stressed, and more positive in my approach to dieting.
This isn’t to say that everyone should join me down in ketosis, or that the benefits are exclusive to staying low carb. You can easily experience many of these perks by moderating carbs somewhat and bringing in an intermittent fasting regime. Fasting naturally restricts carbohydrate, and will build up a good measure of blood ketone levels by the 16 hour mark. So it makes for an ideal compromise between going carb crazy and choosing a lifestyle of abstinence.
I’ve written many other articles on optimising ketogenic dieting, and I dropped a few in earlier in the article. But here are several more you’ll want to check out. Thanks for reading.
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