Two independent studies published in Cell Metabolism found that a ketogenic diet- high fat, low protein and extremely low carbohydrates- significantly improved memory performance and reduced early mortality in aging mice. These studies are one of the first to examine long term effects of ketogenic diets on the longevity and health span of normal mice. The goal of ketogenic diets is to force the body to burn fats, rather than carbohydrates. Typically, our bodies convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used for energy. However, if very few carbohydrates are consumed, the body will be in a state of ketosis, and the liver will convert fat into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies replace glucose as the body’s energy source.
The UC Davis study found that aged mice fed a ketogenic diet had a 13% increase in median lifespan versus mice fed the control diet. In addition, mice receiving the ketogenic diet displayed improved memory, motor function, and muscle mass. The Buck Institute study found that aged mice given a ketogenic diet, alternated with a control, non-ketogenic diet, also had reduced early mortality, and improvements in memory tasks. Interestingly, the improvements in memory where observed when the aging mice were on the control diet, suggesting that a cyclic ketogenic diet may have long lasting effects. While the exact mechanism of how a ketogenic diet improves memory and health in aged mice is unknown, the authors hypothesize that the elevation of the ketone beta-hydroxybutryrate (BHB) may alter the expression of genes involved in aging and insulin regulation.
But don’t abandon your plate of spaghetti just yet. Most health professionals caution against individuals starting a ketogenic diet without consulting a doctor, and research has even found that a continuous ketogenic diet leads to obesity. Future studies need to examine these ketogenic diets in different strains of mice, as well as determine if the timing of the diets produces similar effects. However, these findings get researchers one step closer to better understanding dietary interventions that impact aging. So while there’s no need to avoid spaghetti, maybe spoon an extra helping of meatballs on top.
A Ketogenic Diet Extends Longevity and Healthspan in Adult Mice http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(17)30490-4
Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(17)30489-8
Both articles published September 5, 2017 in Cell Metabolism