People tend to think of dieting primarily as a pathway to better physical health, but some eating patterns can work wonders for mental health and cognition as well. According to various studies, there are two popular diets that make a difference when it comes to boosting brain power: ketogenic and low-carbohydrate diets.

The therapeutic effects of a ketogenic diet relate primarily to the characteristics of ketones, according to a review published in the journal Nutrition, in 2019. Factors like oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction are central features of brain degenerative diseases. An increase in ketones, however, can protect against these by increasing mitochondrial respiration and reducing the production of free radicals.

The therapeutic effects of a ketogenic diet relate primarily to the characteristics of ketones, according to a review published in the journal Nutrition, in 2019. Factors like oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction are central features of brain degenerative diseases. An increase in ketones, however, can protect against these by increasing mitochondrial respiration and reducing the production of free radicals.

Ketones may also have a number of other neuroprotective mechanisms, like decreasing inflammatory and proapoptotic activities and increasing levels of neuroprotective agents like neurotrophins and molecular chaperones.

On this basis, research has indicated that a ketogenic diet may be an effective intervention for those facing mental decline—from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer disease.

Research using animal subjects has suggested that a boost in ketones can enhance cognitive function. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports, which examined the impacts of a keto diet in mice over 16 weeks, found that it helped reduce levels of amyloid-beta, a hallmark of Alzheimer disease. The study also found that its subjects had increased brain vascular function and healthier gut microbiomes. The study authors concluded that a keto diet could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease if used as an early intervention.

Some studies on humans have also begun to yield results. Another 2018 study, published in Neuroscience Letters, looked at the impact of administering medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are ketogenic, to 20 patients with mild-moderate Alzheimer disease over the course of 12 weeks. The subjects underwent neurocognitive tests monthly. Researchers noted that the first test showed no significant cognitive difference between those taking MCT supplements and those on placebos. After 12 weeks, however, patients with MCT supplements demonstrated huge improvements in both immediate and delayed logical memory tests, and digit-symbol coding tests. The study’s authors concluded that a ketogenic diet may have beneficial effects on verbal memory and processing speeds in dementia patients.

Other recent studies have reached similar conclusions, with a ketogenic diet being linked to improved memory performance and general cognitive function—and may help improve blood pressure, blood glucose regulation, and HDL cholesterol levels.

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