A State of KetosisIn simplified terms, ketosis is a state in which the body's energy comes from ketone bodies in contrast to blood glucose as is the norm. Usually, there are two types of ketogenic states to take advantage of:
Benefits of KetosisThe proponents of ketosis and a ketogenic diet are vocal about the brain boosting effects, but research is somewhat scarce on the topic.Memory & Learning - One of the most interesting benefits of ketosis for nootropic enthusiasts is added brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. This part of the brain is largely responsible for memory formation and the cause of increased BDNF is the main ketone body called beta hydroxybutyrate.Unfortunately, this is the only experiment of performance enhancement with ketogenic diets or beta hydroxybutyrate. Like most products and methodologies, the research focuses primarily on sickness rather than optimal health.Neurodegenerative Protection - Far more well-researched are the effects of a ketogenic diet on neurodegenerative problems and those who have suffered brain trauma. Because ketosis can aid in mitochondrial health (more info below), it acts as a neuroprotective from problems.
An Evolutionary ViewA common refrain among keto-lovers is how focused and well-concentrated they are while undergoing a ketogenic state (or simply taking exogenous ketones like beta hydroxybutyrate). Unfortunately, there is no scientific literature that backs up the claim.However, there is a theoretical evolutionary explanation for the phenomenon. Our ancestors evolved for millions of years in a hunter-gatherer setting. As survival machines, the brain probably developed a mechanism to increase hypervigilance in a state of starvation (whether via fasting or no carbs).The increased focus and concentration some people feel may be the brain sending you a reminder to get out into the wilderness and hunt because what you are doing isn't helping! It is speculation at best, but one founded in evolutionary theory.
Where is the Ketogenic Hype?As with any fad diet (and the products that accompany them), there is plenty of hype and even some sobering evidence against a ketogenic diet.Brain Fog - When Tim Ferriss shared his experiences with the ketogenic diet, it was within the context of fighting brain fog he had because of lyme issues. While this may work for him (and even most people afflicted with lyme issues), that doesn't mean a ketogenic diet will help all brain fog.There are a host of causes for brain fog and only some are related to mechanisms that can be influenced with a ketogenic diet. To listen to Ferriss' experience, skip to minute 34:00 as he talks about lyme issuesand a ketogenic diet.Mitochondrial Health - While many studies and conventional wisdom suggests a ketogenic diet may aid in the health of mitochondria, this may not always be the case. The most recent 2016 study in Neurobiology of Aging suggests that animal models using a ketogenic diet had neurological damage worsened. If there is a grain of truth in this study, it has serious implications for people who do long-term ketogenic dieting.Even still, for many people, the feeling of a ketogenic diet is better than what they're used to. Given that each individual knows his or her own body, this section shouldn't be a deterrent, but only words of wisdom.
Kickstarting KetosisWhether you're planning to jump into starvation mode for a while or simply cut out the carbs, there are ways that you can kickstart ketosis. The most important ketone for your brain is called beta hydroxybutyrate (mentioned above), which can come in supplemental form.Usually the BHB (as it is referred) is not easy to find, but it must be chelated with some other element (usually potassium or sodium). Consuming BHB by itself is tantamount to self-torture. Dr. Peter Attia described it as "jet fuel" and mentioned in numerous places how terrible it tasted. Here is what he said:"The ketone esters are, hands-down, the worst tasting compounds I have ever put in my body. The world’s worst scotch tastes like spring water compared to these things…It tasted as I imagine jet fuel would taste. I thought I was going to go blind. I didn’t stop gagging for 10 minutes…”So what's a eager-keto to do? Luckily, there are alternative products like KetoOS or KetoCaNa, which both have flavorings that make it go down far easier.Before deciding on a ketone product, keep in mind that you'll see the best results when combining the beta hydroxybutyrate with some type of fat (usually MCT oil). The MCT oil helps the BHB cross the blood brain barrier according to Dom D'Agostino's research.However you choose to start a ketogenic diet to optimize your brain, be sure to check-in with yourself, truly feel the effects, and see whether it is something you want to continue in the long-term. If you have the means to do blood work and check blood ketones, it can go a long way in increasing the safety and viability of the ketogenic diet.