Nutritionists have found that the basic human nutritional process of eating burns fat and improves neuronal connections, in addition to reversing all metabolic disorders. This basic human nutritional process is ketosis—a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fats—which is the way we were all born and were fed through breast milk. Although this nutritional process is a natural human metabolic process, in our lives today, we tend to not spend much time thinking about how our eating habits affect our general health.
Researchers at Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University have also found that intermittent fasting, combined with the ketogenic diet, promotes weight loss, improves memory, and even fights and prevents neurological conditions, including migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.
The most common way to fast intermittently is to eat only within a 6- to 8-hour period each day, leaving 16+ hours for fasting. During this period of fasting is when health benefits occur, particularly longer-term fasting of 18 hours or more.
Eating provides the body with more energy than it immediately needs, so much of what we eat is stored in the liver, muscles, and elsewhere in the form of glycogen. After 12 hours of fasting, glycogen levels in the liver, the main storage organ, will be low enough to allow the body to switch to fat-burning rather than glucose burning. Although some organs always need some glucose (such as the blood and other organs that have no mitochondria), the human body and brain function best on ketones (fat-burning ketone bodies). Some common symptoms of the body switching over from fat-burning and entering into ketosis are irritability and fatigue, also known as “keto flu.”
However, a positive side of depleted glycogen is that the body turns to an alternative energy source: fat. When glycogen is low, stored fat is released by the liver and that is the energy for the body and brain. Essentially, the body can live on burning fat during normal everyday activity for life.
In a study with subjects who fasted for 12 to 24 hours, energy from fat increased by 60 percent compared to normal, according to subjects' blood samples. Fat was burned most after 18 hours of fasting. Once the body is in ketosis, and able to handle long-term intermittent fasting without hunger, major changes occur in the body—cell repair, cell replacement, and stem cell generation. These combined effects help reverse neuronal degeneration and have anti-aging properties.
When the body is in ketosis, ketones signal the brain to release a molecule known as BDNF. BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) creates and strengthens neurons in the areas of the brain used for memory and learning. BDNF also improves neuronal connections. This is why ketones reduce or may reverse dementia and why doctors find it an effective treatment of epilepsy.
The vertical axis is the level of ketosis measured in β-hydroxybutyrate (β-HB)—that is the ketone "particle" found in blood that we burn. On the chart, you can see that a newborn is born in nutritional ketosis, and never goes out of ketosis even when fed.
As you move to the right of the graph, you can see how many hours needs to pass fasting for older children and adults to get into ketosis. Note that if you don't eat after dinner, and if, 2 hours after dinner, you sleep 8 hours, you were without food for 10 hours; you are in very low-level ketosis even as an adult.
You can see that ketosis is the baseline to which we return every time we sleep or have no time to eat. It is a completely natural process and the default human state. Carbs is what throws off this natural state in many of our diets. But prior to the existence of lots of carbs in the human diet (small amounts of greens and berries do not take one out of ketosis) and lots of starches, like grains and potatoes, humans were in ketosis all the time.
Ketosis is the basic human nutritional process. As we age, many of us enter into ketosis less often than we did in early life because of what we eat and how often we eat. A ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting helps to place adults back on track towards the natural, basic human nutritional process and health.
Fasting is the most effective way of entering ketosis, though it is not required. Try intermittent fasting for a brain-healthy way to promote weight loss and improve general health.
While in ketosis, the body needs more water and more salt than it does on the carbohydrate diet, so be sure to increase your water and salt consumption. Since the ketogenic diet may be poor in magnesium, supplementing magnesium is also essential.
And remember, only well-hydrated brain cells can deliver nutrients and remove toxins from the brain. Electrolytes are needed for proper hydration, so be sure to check out our electrolyte and magnesium supplements for a healthy brain.