While popular culture simply groups ketones with a ketogenic diet, understanding the benefits of endogenous and exogenous ketones –– as well as their overall relationship to cognitive function, metabolic health, and weight loss –– will help you better understand why the keto diet really works, and why it is considered biohacking.
Today, “biohacking” has become increasingly popular, and refers to an idea of harnessing “do-it-yourself biology”. Those empowered by the practice often take medical research and insight into their own hands to begin slowly making changes to their diet and lifestyle in order to optimize their physical or mental performance. As they begin to see the effects from these small changes, biohackers will often further tailor their diet or day-to-day to maximize their results.
So whether you’re an experienced biohacker looking to improve your cognitive performance, or just want to learn more about the ketogenic lifestyle, read on to learn how ketones can impact your brain health.
This article will explore the physiology behind keto nutrition, the effects it has on brain health and function, and explain the benchmarks you can use to measure success (e.g. pounds lost, inches lost, blood sugar levels and exercise performance) so you can track your progress and better maintain your keto efforts.
How Your Brain Uses Ketones
Few know that despite its recent surge in popularity, the ketogenic diet was originally used over 100 years ago -- perhaps longer -- to mitigate epilepsy in children. Since then, other disorders have responded to this low-carbohydrate and higher fat regimen, and the ketogenic diet has been harnessed in brain repair as well as used to treat a wide host of issues like neurological problems, brain cancer, bipolar depression and other related maladies.
Normally, your brain is powered by glucose, but depriving the body of carbohydrate macronutrients removes this primary source of energy. In the absence of glucose, the body turns to ketones -- which are organic compounds generated by the liver from fat storages in the body.
In this state, the brain and body can benefit from the powerful effects of ketones, which have been found to support cognitive function in ways that carbohydrates alone cannot. For example, many athletes rely on ketones because they can aid executive functioning in the brain (i.e. the brain’s ability to plan, focus, and remember instructions), which is essential during strenuous workouts and competitive sports.
However, ketones can power a variety of cognitive perks on and off the court. In fact, today’s research demonstrates that the brain benefits from ketone generation because ketones can reduce oxidative stress, combat inflammation in the brain, and decrease overall mental exhaustion or “brain fog”.
Ketones have also been harnessed for their neuroprotective benefits as they can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF is essentially Miracle-Gro for your brain cells, or neurons. It’s been shown to help the development of new connections, repair injured brain cells and protect healthy brain cells which all play a crucial role in learning and memory. This is why the ketogenic diet is sometimes recommended to expedite brain repair after a traumatic brain injury.
Yet it is in the production of energy where ketones truly outshine glucose. Brain energy takes the form of Adenosine 5'-triphosphate, or ATP. When running on ketones, the brain mitochondria create ATP more efficiently than when fueled by glucose. And so what does this mean for your brain? Well, this heightened energy production often results in a stronger ratio between GABA and glutamate –– which ultimately means less brain fog. In addition, stabilizing blood sugar is linked to improved memory.
The Keto Diet and Neurological Disorders
Increasing ketone presence in the bloodstream through diet has shown promise with patients suffering from both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. According to the International Journal of Molecular Science, these pathologies are characterized by a breakdown in the brain’s glucose metabolism. Augmentation of ketones through diet or direct ingestion appeared to stimulate brain energy that had been in decline due to Alzheimer’s.
Additional research has found that ketones could help with other neurological disorders and remain beneficial to overall brain function. For example:
- Studies suggest that ketones may help bypass degraded energy neural pathways and fortify alternative channels in patients with Parkinson’s.
- Bipolar disorder patients appeared to experience greater mood stability while in a state of ketosis.
- Children with autism saw some improvement in three core features – imitation, body use, and fear and anxiety – after 90 days on a mostly ketogenic eating program.
How Keto Benefits the Brain
Of course, the benefits of ketones are not restricted to combatting degenerative diseases. Cognitive, analytical, and memory activity is often lifted in healthy subjects who turn to endogenous or exogenous ketones.
This is in part because of the anti-inflammatory benefits ketones offer the brain. By helping to reduce inflammation on the brain, ketones help improve overall cognitive function and promote greater mental clarity. This in turn results in sharper cognitive performance, which can help users cut through harmful brain fog or mental fatigue.
This becomes especially important as we grow older. Around age 40, brain function begins to decline as our body undergoes impaired glucose metabolism; or struggles to efficiently convert glucose into energy. If left unchecked, this can quickly lead to brain energy deficit, brain cell death, and other cognitive issues. Cognitive decline doesn’t necessarily translate into a serious medical condition, but having a “young,” sharp brain becomes more difficult as we age.
Consequently, more and more people have turned to ketones to nourish their brains during this natural, age-related cognitive decline. Couple this with the fact that cancer cells use glucose to grow and replicate, and you can see why switching from a glucose-heavy to careful ketogenic diet can make a world of difference as you age.
Today, because of the benefits a keto lifestyle delivers, it is often considered “biohacking.” Fans of the keto diet use the term to describe their ability to access greater energy stores, more restful sleep, and improved cognitive function, all thanks to the power of ketones.
Metrics to Track
Ketone levels represent the most obvious indicator of ketosis and are usually measured with test strips or urine samples. Because beneficial ketosis represents a range of ketone levels, it helps to use this measurement regularly, but other quantifiable observations can also help gauge overall keto brain health.
The next, perhaps most conspicuous, touch point is weight loss. Ketosis occurs when fat is burned instead of sugar. While weight is individual and affected by other variables, some decline on the scale can confirm that a ketogenic diet for brain repair has additional weight loss benefits.
Likewise, sleep quality can reflect better keto brain function. More hours of uninterrupted sleep, with regular REM phases, have been noted in scientific inquiries connecting ketogenic diets and sleep patterns, which could also be due to keto-adapted people having more energy during the day.
Additionally, it’s also important to pay attention to other factors like a satiated appetite, enhanced cognitive performance, or even better workouts. Experiencing any of these benefits may be another signal that your brain and body are benefiting from the power of ketones, so make sure to take note of any such changes.
Keto Tips for Best Results
There are a few actions that any keto enthusiast can take to optimize how ketones fortify brain function. For one thing, exercise can put an individual into ketosis faster than dieting alone. High-intensity interval training, for instance, has a reputation for burning off glucose reserves efficiently and rapidly.
Meanwhile, intermittent fasting helps control insulin production, which will indirectly lower excessive blood sugar and help mitigate issues like memory loss and dementia –– both of which have been linked to insulin resistance. Additionally, intermittent fasting can be a great way to optimize your keto diet and can help users maintain a longer period of ketosis. Finally, those new to the keto lifestyle will also do well to take in electrolytes, as these can prevent or soften the uncomfortable symptoms of keto flu.
In addition to relying on endogenous ketones, you can also turn to exogenous ketones to quickly access the physical and mental benefits of ketones. Exogenous ketones can be an especially helpful tool for those who are either too busy or simply unable to maintain a ketogenic diet or workout regimen strict enough to launch them into ketosis. So if you’re curious to experience the benefits of ketones, consider giving exogenous ketones a try today.
How Drinking Exogenous Ketones Helps Brain Function
Frankly, it can be a challenge to consistently maintain a ketogenic diet. One slip-up can kick a dieter out of ketosis, but that does not have to be the end of it.
While the body naturally achieves (endogenous) ketosis by restricting sugars and carbohydrates, you can also quickly access ketosis by simply drinking exogenous ketones. This is good news for busy, but health-conscious, people whose schedules and travel pose a challenge to traditional low-carb dieting. In fact, few know that you can actually reach ketosis even while in the presence of trace carbohydrates, which can allow you to access and exert the same powerful brain benefits. Some athletes today even use ketones in conjunction with carbohydrates to push their workouts over the edge with this powerful dual-fuel.
Today, new research has also enabled the development of tastier ketone beverages which come without the challenging taste of ketone esters while still supplying all the brain-boosting measures of exogenous ketones. Kenetik is revolutionizing these products with its delicious ketone beverage, which is powered by exogenous ketones derived from entirely renewable plant sugars.
So to experience all the brain-boosting benefits of exogenous ketones for yourself, check out Kenetik today!