Ketogenic Diets Improve Memory

weight lossIt has been known since the 1920’s that ketogenic diets have beneficial effects on patients who have seizures. Epilepsy, particularly in children, responds well to a ketogenic diet. It is unclear why ketosis is beneficial at reducing the frequency of seizures, but it is known that levels of ketones (acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate) are elevated during ketosis, and these ketones can have neuroprotective effects. Another possible benefit from ketogenic diets is their ability to lower blood glucose and blood insulin levels. Insulin plays a central role in memory through the regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain. As blood levels of insulin rise, insulin in the central nervous system can become reduced and this may negatively affect memory. Lowering blood insulin levels concomitantly raises levels of insulin in the central nervous system, returning metabolic regulation to normal, and improving cognition. Therefore the blood insulin lowering and ketone raising effect of ketogenic diets may benefit cognition.

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Ketogenic diets may have memory enhancing effects. Eating lower carbohydrate foods such as fish, meat and eggs may therefore provide significant health benefits with regard cognition.

A number of studies have investigated the effects of ketogenic diet on cognition and memory. For example, in one study, researchers randomly assigned 23 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment to receive either a high carbohydrate diet or a low carbohydrate diet for 6 weeks. Those subjects following the low carbohydrate diet had significant improvement in verbal memory. This improvement in memory was accompanied by reductions in weight, waist circumference, fasting glucose levels and fasting insulin levels. There was a tend for a correlation between the lowering of insulin levels and the improvements in memory seen in the subjects, suggesting that the lower blood insulin levels may have played a role in the improvements in memory. However, ketone body levels in the blood were strongly associated with improvements in memory. This supports evidence that suggests that ketogenic diets have beneficial effects on memory in human subjects mainly because of increased krone synthesis.  

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Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Dangelo, K., Couch, S. C., Benoit, S. C. and Clegg, D. J. 2012. Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of Aging. 33(2): 425.e19–425.e27

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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