The Ketogenic Diet May Help Reverse Brain Aging

Communication between areas of the brain starts to break down when people approach their 50s.

Communication between areas of the brain starts to break down when people approach their 50s.

A ketogenic diet — one low in simple carbohydrates — may help to reverse brain aging, research finds.

Reducing the consumption of simple carbs can prevent or reverse age-related changes to the brain.

Simple carbs are contained in foods like soda, baked goods, cookies and some breakfast cereals.

Complex carbs are found in foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and whole grains.

Even in people below the age of 50, in whom brain aging has not yet taken hold, switching to a low-carb or ketogenic diet increases brain activity, the researchers found.

Professor Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, the study’s first author, said:

“What we found with these experiments involves both bad and good news.

The bad news is that we see the first signs of brain aging much earlier than was previously thought.

However, the good news is that we may be able to prevent or reverse these effects with diet, mitigating the impact of encroaching hypometabolism by exchanging glucose for ketones as fuel for neurons.”

The scientists examined almost 1,000 brain scans of people aged 18 to 88.

The results showed that communication between areas of the brain starts to break down when people approach their 50s.

The most rapid deterioration of the brain happened around 60-years-old.

This destabilisation was linked to worse cognition and accelerating insulin resistance.

However, further experiments showed that changing to a ketogenic diet can retard or even reverse the process of brain aging.

Professor Mujica-Parodi said:

“We think that, as people get older, their brains start to lose the ability to metabolize glucose efficiently, causing neurons to slowly starve, and brain networks to destabilize.

Thus, we tested whether giving the brain a more efficient fuel source, in the form of ketones, either by following a low-carb diet or drinking ketone supplements, could provide the brain with greater energy.

Even in younger individuals, this added energy further stabilized brain networks.”

A low-carb, or ketogenic diet works by providing more energy to cells in the form of ketones than glucose.

Ketones provide more energy, said Professor Mujica-Parodi:

“This effect matters because brain aging, and especially dementia, are associated with “hypometabolism,” in which neurons gradually lose the ability to effectively use glucose as fuel.

Therefore, if we can increase the amount of energy available to the brain by using a different fuel, the hope is that we can restore the brain to more youthful functioning.”

The study was published in the journal PNAS (Mujica-Parodi et al., 2020).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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