How the keto diet can keep your brain healthy and young

You’ve probably heard of the numerous benefits of the ketogenic diet — a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein food trend people everywhere have been raving about. 

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Previous research has noted the keto diet can be effective for weight loss and can help lower the body’s demand for insulin, improve blood pressure, lower levels of unhealthy cholesterol and lower your overall risk of obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Another pair of studies published this year in the journals Scientific Reports and Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found the keto diet, when tested in mice, can also protect neurovascular function, metabolic function and help maintain cognitive function.

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For the first study, scientists at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky administered keto diets or regular diets in two groups of nine mice, all 12-14 weeks old. Each group received one of the two diets for 16 weeks.

“We demonstrated that KD enhanced neurovascular functions and increased beneficial gut microbiota in young healthy mice,” researchers concluded, adding that the mice following the keto diet also experienced improved blood flow to the brain, lower blood sugar, lower body weight and improved clearance of the beta-amyloid protein in the brain.

According to Medical News Today, beta-amyloid proteins are considered the “building blocks” that stick together and form toxic plaques to interfere with neuronal signaling in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

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Researchers said they were “delighted” that the diet may be used to mitigate risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Neurovascular integrity, including cerebral blood flow and blood-brain barrier function, plays a major role in cognitive ability,” study author Ai-Ling Lin said. “While diet modifications, the ketogenic diet, in particular, has demonstrated effectiveness in treating certain diseases, we chose to test healthy young mice, using diet as a potential preventative measure.”

“Our earlier work already demonstrated the positive effect rapamycin and caloric restriction had on neurovascular function,” Lin added. “We speculated that neuroimaging might allow us to see those changes in the living brain.”

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So to better understand the role of the different interventions, including the keto diet, on cognitive functions, the scientists worked with young and aging mice and either restricted their calories, exposed them to the keto diet or administered the enzyme rapamycin, which is known to have an impact on aging.


Neuroimaging showed that restricting calories improved neurovascular and metabolic functioning in older mice. The scientists’ work is the first to use neuroimaging to show the effects of such interventions in a living brain “and the potential link to changes in the gut microbiome,” Linda Van Eldik, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, told Medical News Today.

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Gut bacteria play an important role in human health and provide the body with essential nutrients. They also help synthesize vitamin K, aid in the digestion of cellulose and promoting angiogenesis and enteric nerve function, a previous study published in Molecular Sciences noted. 

Negative effects of gut microbial activity may increase risk of chronic diseases caused by dysbiosis. Such health issues may include inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and more. Gut bacteria also affects heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Read the full Scientific Reports study at nature.com and the full Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study at frontiersin.org.

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