We spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep our body healthy, but we often miss the most important part of our body — the brain. Our brain typically accounts for just two to five percent of an adult’s body weight, yet it consumes as much as 20% of our total body energy, 20 to 25% of the body’s oxygen, and it contains 25% of the body’s cholesterol.
Our brain requires a steady source of glucose to work properly, including the maintenance of axons and dendrites, nerve impulse transmission, and synthesis of neurotransmitters. The major structures of a neuron are the cell body, and the axons and dendrites, which can be thought of as the “senders” and “receivers”. Nerve impulses are transmitted through the axon and out through the axon terminals of one neuron, and received by the dendrites of other neurons. The axon is wrapped in myelin, a substance consisting primarily of fatty acids and cholesterol. Key nutrients for the synthesis and structure of myelin include cholesterol, omega-3 fats, iodine, and the B-vitamins, especially vitamin B12.
Any disruption or alteration in the availability of glucose to the brain has significant implications for cognitive function. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is a condition characterized by reduced glucose metabolism in the hippocampus and other areas associated with memory and learning — fuel shortage in the brain cells results in failure to maintain axons and dendrites. All neurodegenerative disorders have reduced brain energy metabolism.
More and more research is now supporting a role for the ketogenic diet in improving symptoms, and/or slowing the progression of many neurological conditions. Ketogenic diets are high in fat and low in carbohydrates, which leads to the production of fat-derived ketone bodies within the liver that enter the Krebs cycle for ATP production. The ability of these diets to bypass glucose/insulin signaling, which becomes compromised as we age, suggests a strong potential for enhancing brain function at any age.
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes referred to as “type 3 diabetes”, is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by decline in cognitive functions, and driven by factors such as excessive intake of refined carbohydrates and easily oxidized polyunsaturated vegetable and seed oils, inadequate sleep, psychological stress, disrupted circadian rhythms, and insufficient physical activity. Since these common modern diet and lifestyle factors are easy to change, there are good reasons to believe that the course of Alzheimer’s can be altered.
Increasing evidence indicates that Alzheimer’s is more likely caused by high insulin than by high glucose. Chronically elevated insulin or “brain insulin resistance” may well contribute to the glucose deficit in the brain. The brain prefers ketones, yet the popular modern high-carbohydrate diet that most people in North America are eating prevents the brain from using ketones and instead puts it in a glucose-dependent state. Increasing evidence is showing that impaired brain glucose uptake and metabolism is already present in insulin resistant conditions, and mild cognitive impairment decades before a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The brain is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Vitamin B12 is also critical for myelin synthesis and healthy neuronal communication. Adding coconut oil in your diet (around 2 tablespoons per day) can improve and maintain cognitive function. Coconut oil is rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) which the body can use directly as an energy source, and it helps produce ketones.
The ketogenic diet might have a more powerful impact if implemented much sooner than after Alzheimer’s disease has been diagnosed and progressed to a point where it is truly irreversible. Unfortunately, it is often seen only as a last resort for neurological and neurodegenerative disorders — something to be tried after all other possibilities have been exhausted. I’d suggest to not be afraid to eat healthy fats, such as avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter. Avoid all processed oils, such as vegetable oils.
Keeping our body and mind healthy is not difficult to do, we just need to focus on nourishing the body. When you consume any food, ask yourself how you feel after you eat, and what benefits it is giving you. Your body will tell you if you’re eating the correct food or not.