Does the brain need carbohydrates? An important question before starting any diet

Does the brain need carbohydrates? You may have heard that the brain needs carbohydrates to function well. You could say that the brain is the most working organ in the body. You can make decisions, read, speak, and perform hundreds of other actions at once.

It is also responsible for many involuntary processes necessary for survival. These processes include breathing , regulating body temperature, and releasing hormones. The brain is the main seat of the central nervous system, where it receives and sends messages throughout your body. Which allows you to do things like detect a car that’s suddenly driving in front of you, and veer off the road to avoid it.

The brain and its source of energy

Although it represents only 2% of your body weight, your brain uses 20% of your daily energy. Therefore, in order to carry out its important functions, the brain may need a constant source of fuel. The brain can rely on two main types of fuel, glucose or ketones . Both cross the blood-brain barrier.

For people who follow a diet that is moderate or high in carbohydrates, glucose is a major source of energy for the brain. For people on a low-carb diet , the brain relies on ketones to meet a large portion of its energy needs.

What happens when you don’t eat any carbohydrates?

Some studies indicate that when the brain is fed carbohydrates, it needs approximately 110-145 grams of glucose. This glucose comes from the process of breaking down the carbohydrates you eat each day. And so it works optimally. Most people on a high-carbohydrate diet in modern times eat nearly twice as much carbohydrates as their brains. This provides them with an ample supply of glucose.

What happens if you eat less than 110 grams of carbohydrates per day?

Glycosine is the storehouse of muscle and liver. Although the amount varies from person to person, the average man (who weighs 70 kg) stores about 100 grams of glycogen in his liver.

So, when you stop eating carbohydrates for several hours, glycogen in the liver breaks down into glucose. It is then released into the bloodstream to prevent the blood glucose level from dropping too low. Although more glycogen is stored in the muscles than in the liver, it remains in the muscles to meet energy needs and cannot be released into the bloodstream to raise blood glucose levels.

After 24-48 hours without any carbohydrates, glycogen levels decrease and insulin levels decrease. At this point, the liver increases its production of water-soluble compounds known as ketones. Ketones can come from the fat you eat or from your body’s fat stores. This means that another fuel source is available to the brain when the level of carbohydrates in the body is low.

Can your brain rely on ketones only?

The brain always requires glucose to be obtained. However, researchers have shown that for some individuals who follow a strict diet, ketones can be used in a keto diet to get about 70 percent of the brain’s energy needs.

As for the rest of the brain’s energy needs. The liver manufactures glucose by a process called making new glucose. Compounds that the liver uses to make glucose include:

  • Amino acids from protein intake.
  • Glycerol (part of the triglyceride molecule) produced by the breakdown of body fats or dietary fats.
  • Lactate and pyruvate, which are molecules that form when the body metabolizes glucose. These molecules can be linked together to reconstitute glucose.

Therefore, your liver can meet its energy needs from stored glucose or ketone production, whether or not you eat any carbohydrates.

Reliance on glucose alone versus reliance on glucose and ketones as fuel for the brain

If you’re on a moderate to high-carb diet, your brain won’t adapt to using ketones. Therefore, glucose will be the main source of brain fuel.

Once your body adjusts to a low-carb or zero-carb diet . The brain will use ketones for a large portion of its energy needs. While the liver manufactures the necessary amount of glucose to meet the remaining amount. Thus, blood sugar levels remain stable and the brain gets all the fuel it needs. Although not consuming carbohydrates.

Are ketones useful for brain health and functions?

Some experts believe that using a combination of ketones and glucose may be beneficial for the brain. Especially in people who suffer from mental and neurological disorders. Research indicates that in certain situations, this combination can be very beneficial. Here are some of these health conditions:

  • Epilepsy: Some trials have shown that reducing carbohydrate intake may be very effective in reducing or even eliminating seizures in children and adults.
  • Mental health conditions: Some anecdotal evidence suggests that a keto diet may improve symptom control for some mental health disorders.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: In Alzheimer’s disease, there is documented insulin resistance in the brain. Where it hinders the absorption of glucose in the brain. So much so that some researchers call Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes.” And some studies confirm that although glucose absorption is impaired in cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The brain can rely on ketones as its main source of fuel.
  • Control of hunger: A carbohydrate-free diet reduces mainly the hunger hormone secreted by the stomach. This hormone has multiple effects in the body, but it has one effect on the brain region, which is the regulation of appetite control. This means that if ketones are burned in the body, the brain receives reduced signals of hunger. Which enhances the process of losing weight and controlling diabetes.

last word

Although the brain can rely on ketones for energy, it may need some glucose as well. However, the brain is not at risk on a low-carb diet (such as the keto diet). Thanks to the gluconeogenesis that takes place in the liver, your body will produce the glucose your brain needs.

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