How a keto diet may improve mental and cognitive function as one ages

How a keto diet may improve mental and cognitive function as one ages

A plausible mechanism supporting the benefits observed in aging male mice on ketogenic diets, or “keto diets,” has been identified by researchers. It has been shown that switching between a control and a ketogenic diet for male mice leads to an enhancement in the communication between brain synapses. One of the paper’s authors, John Newman, MD, PhD, previously published a proof-of-concept study demonstrating that feeding male mice a cyclic ketogenic diet decreased their risk of dying in midlife and avoided the typical aging-related deterioration in memory.

The lead author of the new study on keto diets and aging, Christian Gonza lez-Billault, is a professor at the Universidad de Chile, the director of the Geroscience Center for Brain Health and Metabolism (GERO), an adjunct professor at The Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and he said, “We decided to study the effect of the ketogenic diet after reading two seminal papers published in 2017 that showed its beneficial roles in the overall health of aged mice, including brain performance.” He went on, “The authors demonstrated improvement in these two [prior] works in particular behavioral tasks that are routinely used in animal experimentation to evaluate memory and learning.”

Gonza lez-Billault, who worked with Newman on the most recent study, continued, “Such an improvement convinced us to go deeper into the molecular mechanisms that explain that positive response on one side, but also prompted us to include several other assessments at different levels, ranging from the whole organism level to the molecular functions, to understand why the diet was beneficial in aged animals.” The team’s most recent findings are published in Cell Reports Medicine. In order to explore the earlier results more thoroughly, the researchers maintained 19 male mice, which are considered to be of “old age” in mice, for 20–23 months. They were either fed a control diet or a ketogenic diet that alternated with the control diet every other week.

The mice’s metabolic parameters were examined for the first twelve weeks, and then they were kept on their diets and had behavioral testing for five weeks. The findings showed that in older animals, the ketogenic diet was linked to reduced blood sugar, enhanced memory, and enhanced motor function. Researchers observed that the hippocampal area of aged mice’s brains had more flexibility. Subsequent investigation revealed that the enhanced plasticity observed in mice maintained on a ketogenic diet and alternated with a control diet was caused by a ketone body, a molecule generated when glucose levels are low, activating a signaling channel between the synapses.

We concentrate on older mice since prior research indicated that the influence of diet on juvenile animals was less pronounced and occasionally did not differ significantly from a control diet. These earlier findings imply that preserving resilience in elderly mice and enhancing their physiological processes as they age would be among the diet’s advantageous effects, according to Gonzá lez-Billault. The distinction between lifespan—which is our entire vital trajectory from the moment of our birth until the day of our death—and healthspan—which is the portion of our vital trajectory free from chronic diseases—makes this idea crucial to the study of aging, the speaker said.

Small human studies have also revealed that the ketogenic diet may improve cognition in addition to animal research, especially in older persons with dementia. The mechanisms, which include reduced inflammation, enhanced blood sugar regulation, and the potential for ketones to boost brain function, may be similar to those observed in animal research. To validate these possible advantages, larger clinical trials are necessary, although the research is still in its early phases. A drawback of ketogenic diets, aside from the paucity of solid human studies, is that many people find it difficult to maintain their diets without including carbohydrates.  

Ketogenic diets are linked to lower intakes of plant-based foods because they drastically limit carbohydrate intake. This may lead to a reduction in the consumption of nutrients crucial for general health, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Experts typically advise older persons to adhere to diets for good aging that are backed by more thorough human studies rather than the keto diet. Two of the most well-recommended and scientifically supported diets for good aging are the DASH and Mediterranean regimens.Trusted Source. To guarantee sufficient nutritional intake and the greatest possible health results, it is advisable for someone who is interested in trying a ketogenic diet to do so under the supervision of a doctor or qualified dietitian.

Both this investigation and earlier ones have focused exclusively on male mice. Because single-gender use improves the power of comparison and makes it difficult to examine the influence on the entire population—one of our study’s limitations—we chose to focus first on the intervention’s effects in male mice. Gonza lez-Billault clarified, “Yet, the results of this study call for additional analysis of the ketogenic diet’s effects on female mice. Given that women’s metabolisms digest fats differently than men’s, concerns have been raised in the past regarding the efficacy of ketogenic diets in this population. Research is now being done with this in mind.

But because the current research was done on mice, this means that the latest study is not only limited in its applicability to our understanding of ketogenic diets in humans, but it is also limited in terms of its applicability across biological sexes, as it was only conducted on males. Gonza lez-Billault concurred that more investigation into the findings is absolutely necessary.

“We plan to further investigate the molecular processes underlying the advantageous effects of food on elderly animals in our upcoming research. Our goal is to determine if the impacts we see in the brain are limited to the brain alone, or if some of the responses we assess are connected to broader systemic effects or the operation of other pertinent organs. Furthermore, we aim to gain a deeper comprehension of the metabolic alterations that enhance the brain’s cellular activities,” he informed us. While this study produced intriguing and surprising results, additional research in humans is necessary to validate these benefits, as other experts have also pointed out.

“This study suggests that repeatedly going on a short-term keto diet can have benefits to memory, motor function, and neuroplasticity, but doesn’t suggest any particular reason why,” said Catherine Rall, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Denver, CO, and a certified nutritionist at Happy V. Rall was not involved in the research. The fact that this study was conducted on male mice means that there is limited application of the findings to women and other human populations.

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