A low-carb, high-fat diet may sound like it demands results from the scale, but it does more than cause weight loss. A research team from the University of California at San Francisco found that the diet, known as a ketogenic diet or the keto diet, begins a process that alleviates brain inflammation as well.
By limiting carbohydrates and consuming more healthy fats, the body begins to operate differently, affecting brain inflammation. Raymond Swanson, senior author of the study and professor of neurology at UCSF, said brain inflammation is an important concern for health professionals.
“It’s a key issue in the field — how to suppress inflammation in the brain after injury,” Swanson said in a press release. “The ketogenic diet is very difficult to follow in everyday life, and particularly when the patient is very sick. The idea that we can achieve some benefits of a ketogenic diet by this approach is the really exciting thing here.”
The researchers discovered a new process that the body undergoes during the keto diet and identified a protein connecting the diet itself to reduced brain inflammation. By linking the protein to genes that influence inflammation, the researchers said that blocking the protein could have the same effects on the brain as the keto diet itself.
When introduced to a ketogenic diet, the body starts to break down fat into molecules and compounds known as ketones and ketoacids. The molecules and compounds are then used as alternative fuel sources for the body.
The study utilized a molecule known as 2-deoxyglucose, called 2DG, as a mechanism to block glucose metabolism in order to kickstart a ketogenic state in both rats and controlled lab cell lines. The 2DG was able to reduce inflammation levels almost to the same state as the control levels.
The study also found that a reduced glucose metabolism lowered a barometer of energy metabolism known as the NADH/NAD+ ratio. As the ratio was lowered, it stimulated a protein known as CtBP that suppresses inflammation.
The team was able to design a peptide molecule that acts like a drug by hindering the CtBP protein from becoming inactive, forcing it to block inflammatory gene activity and essentially imitating a ketogenic state.
By copying the effects of the ketogenic diet, the study can affect patients who suffer from many health issues, including other inflammatory conditions. Swanson said the results of the study were surprising and unexpected.
“I was most surprised by the magnitude of this effect, because I thought ketogenic diets might help just a little bit,” Swanson said. “But when we got these big effects with 2DG, I thought, ‘Wow, there’s really something here.’”