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KETOSIS, MITOCHONDRIA & THE BRAIN

In a previous post, Weight Loss - Ketosis, I gave you a primer on the benefits of the keto diet for weight loss. However, the keto diet can do SO much more for your health than help you lose weight. In this post, I am diving into ketosis for cognitive and mental health. I’ll do this by introducing you to a fascinating new research discovery that is a product of a ketogenic diet: mitochondrial biogenesis, the process of creating more abundant and healthier mitochondria in the cells.



First: What are Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are famously known as the energy creators of the cell (Ring a bell from high school biology?). Previous understanding of this organelle states that the mitochondria have one job: to take food and oxygen and turn them into ATP, the fuel for other cellular processes. We now know they do so much more! Below is a laundry list of just some of the excellent work carried out by the hardworking mitochondria.


1. Mitochondria play a vital role in producing, releasing and regulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. If we have a mitochondrial disturbance, we can become either deficient or in excess of these powerful neurotransmitters. This is really, really bad news because these neurotransmitters are in charge of mood and energy regulation, learning and memory, and a vast amount of the body’s physiological processes from the heart to the intestines and beyond. Simply put, imbalanced neurotransmitters = unhealthy mind + body.

2. Mitochondria are primary regulators of epigenetics, so healthy mitochondria are vital for proper gene expression. What does this mean, you ask? If there are errors in the translation of genetic information within your cells, disease forms in the body.


3. Mitochondrial function impacts our body’s necessary stress responses by helping it to increase cortisol and adrenalin production and aiding in the process of inflammation.


4. Mitochondria help to create hormones like estrogen, cortisol, progesterone and testosterone.


Neurotransmitters, epigenetics, and hormone production all have significant roles to play in our mental health. Read on to discover how to induce mitochondrial biogenesis in your body and improve your mental well-being!


Supercharge Your Mitochondria


If you are on the wellness train, the word “keto” is likely plastered across your social media feeds and on the lips of many of your wellness gurus. This is for good reason! Research into ketogenics is showing it to be more and more beneficial not only for weight loss (read our post on keto for weight loss here!) but for the treatment of major diseases, improving cognitive function, and improving mental health. But it isn’t enough to say that a keto diet can help improve mental health. Let me explain the mechanisms by which this is possible.

When the body is deprived of carbohydrates, its fastest and most accessible energy source, it will enter a metabolic state called ketosis. During ketosis, the body burns fat for energy rather than sugars. Additionally, the liver will begin to produce ketone bodies, another source of energy that can be utilized very efficiently by the brain. The production of ketone bodies stimulates higher production of mitochondria in the cells, including in the brain. Essentially, your brain starts making more and more tiny little power plants that are incredibly well adapted to using the already present ketones as fuel. Imagine what extra brain fuel can do for your cognitive and overall mental functions! This process has also been shown to be responsible for successfully treating epilepsy and other significant diseases in the brain.


Ketosis also helps to strengthen existing mitochondria and eliminate old and dysfunctional mitochondria. If you revisit the list above, you’ll remember mitochondria's role in producing neurotransmitters and hormones. Healthy mitochondria do their job well, powering the biological processes that provide your body with all the right things at the correct times. Poor mitochondrial function will inhibit those vital processes.


People who have successfully transitioned to a keto diet report improved memory and cognition and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. Is it any surprise why? The discovery of the role healthy mitochondria play in keeping us well is truly revolutionary! Healthy mitochondria=healthy human!


What damaged your mitochondria in the first place?


We are lucky to have clear evidence about the factors that damage our mitochondria, therefore harming our stress response, genetics, hormones and inflammation processes. Unsurprisingly, poor sleep, stress, trauma, and substance abuse contribute to impaired mitochondrial function. It goes without saying, then, that improving your sleep, reducing stress, relieving past traumas, and dropping drugs and alcohol should go hand in hand with the keto diet.


So should you go keto?


Keto isn’t for everyone, but it can be the golden ticket for some. Everybody is different, and the needs of each individual fluctuate all the time. If you are interested in trying a keto diet, we recommend first speaking to a health professional and then doing your own research using some of our most trusted sources on the subject, linked below.


Resources


Mark Sisson’s Keto Beginners Guide


Robb Wolf’s Weight Loss Archive

Peter Attia’s Ketosis Archive


Kayla Brazier







*Disclaimer*: The following post is intended as a rough guide to the ketogenic diet. This information was not written by a medical professional and is not intended as medical advice. There is, however, plenty of information on the keto diet by medical professionals widely available on the internet. As with any significant lifestyle change, please consult a medical practitioner before starting a ketogenic diet.

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