Keto has also been studied as a treatment for memory loss in aging, specifically in two neurodegenerative disorders: Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The reason for the benefit here is the way that keto changes energy metabolism in the brain.
One feature of Alzheimer’s disease is a decline in glucose (carbohydrate) metabolism in some areas of the brain. Basically, some parts of the brain can’t use glucose for fuel as well as they need to. Thinking and remembering is hard work, and without enough fuel, your brain can’t do it right. Enter keto: ketone bodies provide an alternative to glucose, so these researchers thought that by increasing the level of ketone bodies in the brain, they could help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They found that in human Alzheimer’s patients, mild ketosis really did help improve cognitive function.
This study is smaller but still interesting: 5 patients with Parkinson’s disease ate a ketogenic diet for 1 month and their symptoms all took a turn for the better. Parkinson’s disease is another neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s but horrible in slightly different ways.
Other Ways Keto Improves Brain Health
Keto also has some other valuable benefits for brain health – here are a couple:
Keto protects against oxidative stress: A ketogenic diet increases the levels and activity of a group of proteins called mitochondrial uncoupling proteins, which may reduce oxidative stress in the brain. Another review noted that keto has other antioxidant effects as well. Oxidative stress is involved in brain aging, neurodegenerative disease, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders.
Keto changes blood flow in the brain. This review compared a ketogenic diet to a typical Western diet, noting that keto increased blood flow in two brain regions, the dorsal thalamus (important for processing sensory information and motor function and the hypothalamus (important for hormone health and for maintaining temperature and blood pressure). The researchers noted that “there is indication that [the ketogenic diet] fortifies various memory and sensory functions.”
In other words, keto makes your brain work better and protects your gray matter against oxidative damage.