Do ketones make the brain more powerful in low carb diets?

Do ketones make the brain more powerful in low carb diets?

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Are Ketones the Better Fuel for the Brain?

A change in diet, which minimizes the consumption of simple carbohydrates, seems to prevent or even reverse neurobiological changes associated with aging.

The latest study from Stony Brook University found that low-carbohydrate diets can stop or reverse neurobiological changes associated with aging. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS).

Does Our Diet Affect Brain Aging?

To better understand how our diet affects brain aging, the research team focused on the so-called presymptomatic phase, in which prevention could be most effective. The researchers found that functional communication between brain regions is destabilized with age. This destabilization correlates with poor cognition and accelerated insulin resistance.

Brain aging can be modulated

Targeted experiments showed that this biomarker for brain aging can be reliably influenced with the consumption of various fuel sources: glucose is reduced and ketones increase the stability of the brain networks. This effect was reproduced both with changes in total nutrition and after consuming a fuel-specific, calorie-adjusted dietary supplement.

This is how we can protect our brains from aging

The first signs of brain aging appear much earlier than previously thought. However, these effects seem to be prevented by our diet or reversed. A key element here could be the exchange of glucose for ketones as fuel for the neurons, reports the research team.

The brain is less able to metabolize glucose in old age

The researchers assume that the brain loses its ability to metabolize glucose efficiently with age. This process slowly starves the neurons and destabilizes the brain networks. The team therefore tested whether ketones are a more efficient source of energy for the brain. The ketones were made available to the brain either by a low-carbohydrate diet or by drinking ketone supplements. Even in younger people, this extra energy stabilized the brain networks.

Destabilizing brain networks leads to reduced cognition

To carry out the experiments, the stability of the brain networks as a biomarker for the aging process was determined. The destabilization of brain networks has been associated with cognitive impairment and accelerated in type 2 diabetes, a disease that blocks the neurons' ability to effectively metabolize glucose.

Ketones are the primary fuel of a low carb diet

In a typical diet, the primary fuel is glucose, while in a low-carb diet, ketones are the primary fuel that is metabolized. However, there could also have been other differences between the individual diets that influence the observed effects, the researchers explain.

What led to differences in the brain?

An independent group of participants was considered to identify glucose and ketones as the crucial difference between the diets. These subjects received a small dose of glucose one day and ketones the other day. This group also confirmed that the differences between the diets were due to the type of fuel that was supplied to the brain.

Nutritional ketosis increases brain activity and stabilizes brain networks

The study found that the effects of brain aging occurred at the age of 47, with the fastest degeneration occurring at the age of 60. Even in younger adults under the age of 50, dietary ketosis (whether reached after a week's diet change or 30 minutes after drinking ketones) increased overall brain activity and stabilized functional networks.

Do ketones provide cells with more energy?

Ketones appear to provide the cells with more energy than glucose, even when the fuels are matched. This benefit has previously been demonstrated for the heart, but the current series of experiments provides the first evidence of equivalent effects in the brain. This effect is important because aging of the brain, and especially dementia, is linked to hypometabolism, in which the neurons gradually lose the ability to use glucose effectively as a fuel.

Positive effects from an increased amount of energy for the brain?

So if the amount of energy available to the brain can be increased by using another fuel, there is hope that some kind of rejuvenation effect can be achieved. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, Anar Amgalan, Syed Fahad Sultan, Botond Antal, Xiaofei Sun et al .: Diet modulates brain network stability, a biomarker for brain aging, in young adults, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (published 03.03 .2020), PNAS

Video: Dr. Stephen Phinney - Inflammation, Nutritional Ketosis and Metabolic Disease (November 2022).