By Holly Giles
Nutrition is an ever-expanding area of science with new guidelines into superfoods and foods to be avoiding being published every week. However this week a team in New York have found the diet you need to prevent brain deterioration.
As part of the study the team performed brain scans of nearly 1,000 people across all age groups to observe their brain function. They supplemented this with a food diary so could see the intake correlating to brain performance. Looking at the results it appears the biggest impact is the source of energy the brain uses; glucose or ketones. Glucose is the normal food source of the brain, obtained from foods and carried in the blood. However, when carbohydrates are removed from the diet this limits glucose intake and leads to the liver producing ketones. From these scans it suggests that ketones are a more stable energy source for the brain so means a low-carb diet increases neurogenic stability and improves brain function.
Lilianne R Mukica-Parodi, lead researcher from Stony Brook University in New York, explained these results further; “We think that, as people get older, their brains start to lose the ability to metabolise glucose efficiently, causing neurones to slowly starve, and brin networks to destabilise. So we tested whether giving the brain a more efficient fuel source, in the form of ketones, either by following a low-carb diet or drinking ketone supplements, could provide the brain with greater energy. Even in younger individuals, this added energy further stabilised brain networks”.
Before you go removing all carbohydrates from your diet it is important to realise the limitations of this research; we do not currently know the risks of a ketogenic (or low-carb) diet. Dr Katy Stubbs from Alzheimer’s Research UK highlighted this in her statement; “It has been shown that eating such high levels of fat, which generally goes with people eating less fruit and vegetables, has a detrimental impact on your heart, which has dangerous side effects. Also, there is a huge amount of evidence showing that the Mediterranean diet is the best diet we’ve got so far for brain and heart. That includes a lot of wholegrains. We’re going to need a lot more research if the ketogenic diet is going to be widely recommended as an alternative to that approach as a prevention against dementia”.
In light of this it is safe to conclude that while this new research suggests a diet including little to no carbohydrates may increase neuro-stability and lead to a decreased prevalence of degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, it is too early for any dietary changes to be recommended. Whilst the advantages have been highlighted in this paper, the scientific community do not currently know enough of the safety and impact of the alternative diets available. It is an exciting topic with many prospective avenues for more research to be done but until those avenues have been ventured down you are safe to eat carbs, although maybe not too many.