Ketogenic diets are all the rage right now, but can they help brain injury survivors?
In today’s article, we’ll take a look at some of the research concerning the ketogenic diet for traumatic brain injury and see what all the fuss is about.
We’ll also show you what foods you can and can’t eat if you’re interested in trying the ketogenic diet for traumatic brain injury recovery.
Let’s dig in.
Ketogenic Diet for Traumatic Brain Injury
The ketogenic diet is gaining popularity as a natural remedy for brain injury.
Before we can understand why that is however, it will help to have a little background on the keto diet.
The keto diet was originally developed in the 1920s to treat pediatric epilepsy, for which it proved effective.
Why a keto diet is helpful in treating epilepsy is still unclear, but it seems to drastically reduce seizure frequency.
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to essentially force your body to burn fat for energy instead of sugar.
The best way to do this is to get your body into a state of ketosis. You can trigger ketosis by cutting off the primary source of sugar: carbohydrates.
When your body senses there are not enough carbs in your system, it goes into a heightened metabolic state to make sure you can still function despite the loss of fuel. This state is called ketosis.
Once ketosis is triggered, all the fat your liver produces is converted into ketones, which are acids your body can use for energy.
The traditional ketogenic diet consists of 4 parts fat and 1 part protein. While on a ketogenic diet, a person must eliminate nearly all carbs. That means no bread, no pasta, and definitely no sweets.
So that’s the ketogenic diet, but how does it offer any benefits for brain injury patients?
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet for Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery
A major concern in traumatic brain injury recovery is getting your brain enough energy to help itself heal.
Unfortunately, the brain can’t process its natural source of energy, glucose, as efficiently after a traumatic injury.
This means you’ll either need to eat A LOT of carbs and sugars just to function normally, or find an alternative energy source.
That’s where the ketogenic diet comes in.
Since ketones are one of the few molecules that can cross the blood-brain barrier, they have the potential to be a great source of energy for the brain.
Plus, unlike glucose, the brain can still process ketones after injury.
But is there any evidence that the ketogenic diet is helpful for brain injury patients?
There is plenty of evidence supporting keto’s effectiveness at reducing seizures. This means people with epilepsy after TBI could surely benefit from the diet.
However, there currently are no human studies on the keto diet’s benefits (or lack thereof) for brain injury recovery in general.
With that said there have been studies on animals with TBI that show a significant improvement in cognition while on the ketogenic diet, so there definitely is some promise.
How to Follow a Ketogenic Diet for Traumatic Brain Injury
Following a keto diet means only consuming foods that are low on carbs but high in fat and protein.
Luckily, many of the foods you can eat on the ketogenic diet are also great foods for brain injury recovery in their own right!
That’s because foods that are rich in healthy fat and protein nourish the brain and promote BDNF, a neurotrophic factor that stimulates the growth of new brain cells.
So even if you decide not to do the full ketogenic diet, you should still eat these foods if you want to help your brain heal.
Some foods you can eat on a keto diet include:
- Seafood, especially salmon and other fatty fish
- Low-carb veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
- Plain Greek yogurt
But Are Ketogenic Diets Safe for Traumatic Brain Injury Patients?
Ketogenic diets are mostly safe, but some health risks and possible side effects can come up.
The following are complications you should be aware of before deciding to try keto.
The “keto flu”
When the body starts transitioning into ketosis, some people can experience certain flu-like symptoms. These can include vomiting, stomach pain, and fatigue.
This “keto flu” doesn’t happen to everyone, and only lasts a few days when it does. But for people with brain injury who already struggle with fatigue, this could be problematic.
Drinking plenty of water and getting enough rest can minimize these effects though.
So if you do decide to try the diet, just make sure you stay hydrated and take anti-nausea meds if needed.
People with diabetes after brain injury should definitely NOT follow the keto diet. That’s because they are at a much higher risk of developing ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis occurs when the body stores up too many ketones and the blood becomes too acidic.
Symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- Dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Sweet, sugary breath
- Breathing difficulties
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away.
Ketogenic Diet and Traumatic Brain Injury Patients
To sum everything up, the ketogenic diet has a lot of promise for brain injury patients.
It offers a good alternative source of fuel for the brain, which is crucial for recovery. And it has proven effective at reducing seizures, something many TBI survivors experience.
If you are a diabetic however, you should avoid going on the diet to prevent risks of ketoacidosis.
Even if you do not think you have diabetes, you should consult your doctor before starting the diet, just to make sure everything is all good.
We hope this article on ketogenic diets for traumatic brain injury helps you find the right nutritional approach to boost your recovery.