AIR DATE: July 11, 2013 at 7PM ET
FEATURED EXPERT: Dr. Nannette Yount
FEATURED TOPIC: "Ketones & Brain Health"
NOTE: Audio for this episode will be posted on Friday afternoon
Since you listen to this podcast, you probably are already well aware of the tremendous benefits of low-carb, high-fat living on your overall health and longevity. But did you know that eating this way can actually make you smarter? Old-school thinking regarding the brain tells us that glucose is the sole source of fuel it can use. However, we are now learning through the very latest in nutritional health research that the brain can not only be fueled well by the ketone bodies produced by eating a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, but these ketones may actually be a better fuel for the brain than glucose. That's the primary focus of the work our guest expert this week has been exploring.
Nutritional scientist Dr. Nannette Yount from the University of California at Harbor-UCLA has become intricately involved in investigating the role of ketogenic diets on brain health ever since she stumbled across the cognition-enhancing properties of ketones when she personally started consuming a ketogenic diet. What she has discovered in her research is how ketones may prevent the neurocognitive deficits such as memory loss and dementia typically chalked up to the aging process, the therapeutic effects of ketones on patients with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and how elevated blood sugars levels are quite possibly contributing to a significant cognitive decline leading to neurodegeneration. Dr. Yount theorizes that human beings are meant to run most effectively on a ketogenic diet and that our hunter-gather ancestors millions of years ago not only survived but thrived in this keto-adapted state. That's what we'll be exploring further in Episode 41 of "Ask The Low-Carb Experts" addressing the topic "Ketones & Brain Health."
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Here are just a few of the questions addressed in this podcast:
Does the brain need glucose?
I have worked as a caregiver in an assisted living facility taking care of Alzheimer's patients for several years. So I have seen the devastating toll Alzheimer’s disease has taken on so many precious senior citizens. The diet they feed these people is absolutely horrendous—low-fat, low salt, high-carb and low-protein. It’s so tragic. I understand that brain cells may die if they are glucose dependent and also insulin resistant and that ketone bodies can fuel the brain in the absence of glucose by preventing more brain cells from dying. Would ketone bodies rejuvenate brain cells that were close to death and create new ones that would then improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's? In other words, given enough time, can someone completely or nearly completely recover from advanced stage Alzheimer's disease with the therapeutic use of ketones?
FRANZISKA THE RD ASKS:
What level of ketosis is required to achieve improvements in memory and prevent cognitive decline as we age? Does a person gain further benefit from being in a deeper state of ketosis due to significant carbohydrate restriction (ie
Why is there so much variability regarding the need for protein restriction to enter into and remain in ketosis? I've heard of people needing to reduce their protein intake significantly in order to achieve ketonemia or ketonuria, while others eat very large amounts of protein yet manage to stay in ketosis.
JOHN FROM THE UK ASKS:
My 78-year old father has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and his family has witnessed a very rapid mental decline over the past 3-4 years. He has no symptoms of shaking at all, but seems to suffer from muscle wastage and dementia. I personally think that his symptoms match those precisely of dementia with Lewy bodies. From the research you have come across, do you think a ketogenic diet could help him at all or is he too far gone?
RICHELLE FROM AUSTRALIA ASKS:
What does Dr. Yount know about Huntington’s disease and the ketogenic diet? Everyone always refers to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as the key neurodegenerative diseases. But Huntington’s is a genetic condition with a huge variation in the age of onset and disease severity indicating epigenetic and environmental factors at play. I am a 46-year old female and I have Huntington’s (CAG mutation of 42). I have been using a ketogenic diet for 10 years off and on. The research I have found relates to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and brain cancer--but nothing for Huntington’s. Are you aware of any? I am sure I am on the right track but it would be good to read scientific studies that are specific to my problem.
In addition to the effects on brain health you report for a ketogenic diet, do you detect a key component involved due to the addition of coconut oil, particularly with regard to Alzheimer's Disease?
I sometimes feel a little foggy or lightheaded while eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. My carbohydrate intake is generally 20g or less daily. I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now and even restricting my protein intake to around 60g daily. I am 54 years old and currently weigh 170 pounds. In the two months I’ve been doing this, I have not lost any weight yet but I'm seeing that my fasting blood sugar levels have come down to around 100 or less while my blood ketones today readings are 2.5 millimolar. Is it normal to have brain fog with numbers like these?
It’s my understanding that MCT oil is good for the brain, especially for patients with Alzheimer's disease. But what about MCT oil for people who don’t have Alzheimer's? I’ve done some research and discovered that there are two types of MCT oil--C8 and C10. Unfortunately, there’s nothing about this on the bottle. Is there any benefit to choose specific type or brand of MCT oil over another?
Is the amount of ketones in your blood proportional to the benefits received by the brain? In other words, is having 3 millimolar of blood ketones better than having 1 millimolar? I have tried hard to stay in a 2+ millimolar level of blood ketones. But even when restricting carbs well under 50g, keeping protein low and eating quality fats I have a very hard time maintaining anything over 1 millimolar. Is my brain receiving the full benefits of being in ketosis? And how long do the ketones stay in your blood? I am considering trying to cycle carbs so I would do something like 5-7 days of a ketogenic diet, 3 days of higher carbs, 3 days moderate carbs then repeat. Assuming I only consumed nutrient dense carbs (not pizza and ice cream), would I keep enough ketones in my system to experience the brain health benefits?
With the brain consisting of large quantities of fat, how does the process of breaking down fats into ketone bodies affect the brain or does it have an impact at all? So if the body breaks down fats from other areas to create ketones for fuel, then would it convert any unused ketones back into fat that could then be used to bolster the brain, build it up and recover from damage?
PAUL IN AUSTRALIA ASKS:
My mother was recently diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy. She is falling frequently and I am concerned that she will soon need to be confined to a wheelchair. It is unlikely that I can get her to make significant changes to her diet (she’s just too old and too stubborn) but I was wondering if coconut oil, MCT oil or any supplements can help her at this stage. Any suggestions you can make regarding food or would be appreciated.
I suffer with depression and attention problems and in desperation started taking 40 ml of flaxseed oil daily after reading a post about it on the Internet. After two days I experienced a strange little emotion I’d completely forgotten about: joy. The following morning while getting dressed I was in the middle of putting on my jeans when I stopped, one leg on the ground and one leg in the air–I was balanced and didn’t need to touch the airborne leg down to avoid falling over. This felt odd to me. A while ago I noticed I couldn’t put my socks on without having one foot up on the bed or by leaning up against the wall. So I tried putting on my socks “stork style” and did so with ease, even putting on my shoes in the same manner. It felt great to have my balance back. I have cut back on the flaxseed oil because of concerns over blood clotting with a daily aspirin regimen. I’ve tried adding fish oil and coconut oil but can’t seem to get as much benefit as I was getting from 40ml of flaxseed oil. Can you please explain what might be going on with the flaxseed oil to improve my balance?
Can you cause harm to the brain if you don't consume enough calories on a ketogenic diet? One of the problems I have eating this way is that I'm not really hungry very often so I forget to eat. When I go too long without food I start to get a dull ache sort of like pressure in my skull. I try to consume lots of calories from quality fats when I do remember to eat along with moderate protein and minimal carbohydrates. I like being ketogenic but I can’t help but wonder what impact this is having on my brain health.
JEN FROM AUSTRALIA ASKS:
I am brand new to low-carb and already feel much more energetic and thinking clearly--I must say I am loving how this feels! I’d like to hear what Dr. Yount says is an optimal day of eating for maximizing ketones to keep my cognitive function and physical health in the best shape possible. I’m an older mother who will be working into my late 60’s and need to be looking to the coming years of raising my child now at the age of 53.
GREG FROM NEW ZEALAND ASKS:
I am a 50-year old male and have been on low-carb, high-fat diet for the past seven months. Early on I was getting ketone levels around 1-2.2 in the evening. But lately they have dropped back down to barely 0.5, although I still have steady energy levels and fast intermittently for 16-20 hours at a time. In other words, I believe I am still keto-adapted. One significant aspect of my personal lifestyle is circadian dysrhythmia from long-haul flying and missing out on sleep. I also take the occasional sleeping pill (Triazolam) to help with the time zone changes at hotels. Does the brain function better with more ketones or is it fully satisfied at some particular level? Is the brain’s choice of energy source influenced by circadian dysrhythmia? And finally, do you have an opinion on raspberry ketone products for raising blood ketone levels?
According to the book The Brain Trust Program by neurosurgeon Dr. Larry McCleary, ketones are the secret to remedying hot flashes, Alzheimer's, and a whole host of other brain illnesses. But I don’t think there's near enough information out there as to how to TRULY fight the effects of menopause--conventional wisdom says to eat your soy, take hormone replacements, and hope for the best. I've been taking the advice out of Dr. McCleary’s book, and along with coconut oil and the recommended supplements, have kept hot flashes at bay for months now. Hot flashes themselves are the brain's cry for more glucose, but the glucose can't get there any more, because the lack of estrogen to coat the glucose means it can no longer pass through the blood-brain barrier. So in order to feed the brain what it needs without using glucose it instead relies on ketones--and boy DO THEY WORK! Does Dr. Yount have any corroborating experience with using ketones for menopausal issues?