New research points to the effectiveness following a ketogenic diet may have on bridling brain inflammation — the same type of inflammation implicated in epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Ketogenic diets are high in good fats and extremely low in net carbs. The group of scientists, from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), found that following a ketogenic regimen may be the molecular key to suppressing damaging brain inflammation, especially after stroke and brain trauma.
Senior study author Dr. Raymond Swanson, a professor of neurology at UCSF and chief of the neurology service at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said suppressing post-injury inflammation in the brain was the impetus for the study, as the condition has been a key issue in the field.
The researchers believe they have uncovered the mechanism for why a ketogenic diet is so effective at reducing brain inflammation — even going so far as to suggest it may one day be possible to gain some of its benefits without changing your diet.
Medical Xpress explained the defining moment of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications,1 came when the team "identified a pivotal protein that links the diet to inflammatory genes, which, if blocked, could mirror the anti-inflammatory effects of ketogenic diets."2
Swanson's belief is that a ketogenic diet may be difficult for some to follow, especially when someone is very ill, so the fact that it may be possible to achieve some of the effects without it, he stated, was especially exciting. That being said, you can gain the advantages now by changing your diet for the better, which will yield body-wide benefits for your overall health and longevity.
The Advantages of Eating a Low-Net-Carb Ketogenic Diet
The result of sticking to a ketogenic diet by adhering to an eating pattern emphasizing healthy fats along with low net carbs is that it literally changes the way your body uses energy. A ketogenic diet will convert your body from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as your primary source of fuel.
When your body is able to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates ketones that burn more efficiently than carbs, thus creating far less reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals that can damage your cellular and mitochondrial cell membranes, proteins and DNA.
Animals (rats) used in the study were found to have reduced inflammation when the researchers used a molecule called 2-deoxyglucose, aka 2DG, to block glucose metabolism and induce a ketogenic state, similar to what would occur if you followed a ketogenic diet.
Key Molecule for Glucose Metabolism: 2DG
To produce a ketogenic state by blocking glucose metabolism, scientists used the 2DG molecule. This was done both in the rats and in controlled laboratory cell lines, bringing inflammation down to "almost control levels," Swanson explained. His reaction:
"I was most surprised by the magnitude of this effect, because I thought ketogenic diets might help just a little bit. But when we got these big effects with 2DG, I thought wow, there's really something here. The team further found that reduced glucose metabolism lowered a key barometer of energy metabolism — the NADH/NAD+ ratio — which in turn activated a protein called CtBP that acts to suppress activity of inflammatory genes."3
In what was later called a "clever experiment," the researchers designed their own peptide molecule to block the CtBP protein's ability to become inactive, which resulted in it essentially blocking inflammatory gene activity continuously. That's how it duplicated a state of ketogenic-like effectiveness. Peptides are small proteins that aren't used like drugs as they're considered unstable and antibodies can be made against them, plus they're expensive.
Swanson also explained that other molecules working in a similar manner could also mimic ketogenic advantages without requiring extreme dietary changes.4 Beyond lowering brain inflammation, the study is said to have possible applications for diabetics in regard to its association with excess glucose and eventual atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This condition is caused by a buildup of artery-blocking plaque, that the described inflammation-fighting effect could benefit or possibly prevent.
It's likely that much more research will continue to emerge highlighting the profound health benefits of a ketogenic diet; this is only the beginning. And as mentioned, you don't have to wait for a new drug to come out that mimics the effects of a ketogenic diet (if that is even possible remains to be seen) — you can experience the advantages now simply by changing the way you eat.