The ketogenic diet is sweeping the country. There has been so much discussion and hype around the new diet that we wanted to discuss some of the benefits, specifically where brain injury and neurological conditions are concerned.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The Ketogenic diet is a high fat diet consisting of consuming 70-75% fat, 20% protein and 5-10% carbohydrates. Despite the recent surge in interest, the ketogenic diet was actually developed back in the 1920’s to treat epilepsy in children. However, research has shown it to have many other health benefits as well, in particular, for neurological conditions including Parkinson disease, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury.

The recent popularity of this diet is largely due to the weight loss benefits and significant changes in body composition with burning fat and gaining muscle mass. However, there are actually many other health benefits to consuming a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet, including:

  • balancing hormones
  • reducing sugar cravings
  • balancing blood sugars by lowering blood glucose levels
  • reducing inflammation
  • improving cholesterol profiles
  • improving mental clarity and cognition
  • boosting mood and increasing energy levels¹

What are Ketones?

Ketones are chemicals made in your liver. You produce them when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. You need another source, so your body uses fat instead. Your liver turns this fat into ketones, a type of acid, and sends them into your bloodstream. Your muscles and other tissues such as your brain can then use them for fuel.

Ketogenic Diet & Brain Injury

Many of my brain injury clients experience issues with hormone imbalance, sugar cravings, imbalanced blood sugars, inflammation, high cholesterol, mental fog, low energy and mood. The ketogenic diet is thus a potential therapeutic diet for them as well as other people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury.

Following a brain injury there is a cellular energy crisis with increased energy needs in the brain. At that same time, the injury impairs the brains ability to use glucose. This results in an energy crisis that causes secondary injury to the brain.

Because TBI results in impaired glucose uptake by the brain; providing an alternate energy source such as ketones maybe beneficial. Moreover, ketones are more than 25 percent more efficient than glucose as a fuel source.

Ketones actually help to lower free radical production, first by improving mitochondrial function (the battery of your cell that gives you energy) and then by reducing free radical damage.² What this means is that ketones can help spare neurons, or nerve cells, from further damage from free radicals.

Free radicals are unpaired electrons that can travel around the body wreaking havoc and can contribute to various health issues. Free radicals can be caused by trauma, inflammation, pollution and toxins in the environment, smoking, cell phones, consuming hydrogenated oils and believe it or not even naturally occur with eating and exercise

Ketones also lower inflammation in the brain. By reducing inflammation in people with TBI, a ketogenic diet can help maintain healthy neurons.³

Following the Ketogenic Diet

In conclusion, the ketogenic diet is a great option for people who have experienced a brain trauma although it can be difficult for some people to implement and follow through with the macro nutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) ratios if they don’t have the support or are unable to plan.

Ensuring that people with TBI, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions get the support, education and guidance to help implement the diet and address their nutrition goals will ultimately help to optimize their success with this program.

A couple of helpful tools to help track your food intake include:

MyFitnessPal – This is a great and easy way to determine if you are hitting your macronutrients.

Diet Doctor – This is a one stop shop for information, videos, documentaries and a whole host of recipes. You can also create weekly meal plans that populate a grocery list which helps to reduce the planning and calculating of meals and foods.

Talk to a Health Professional Before Starting Any Diet

Despite all the positive effects of the ketogenic diet it is not appropriate for everyone, this includes people with kidney disease, or any pre-existing liver, pancreatic or kidney issues or conditions. Some rare conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy and other conditions may complicate and severely distress the pancreas, liver or kidneys. This diet may not be appropriate or safe for people who are pregnant, nursing or who have Gestational Diabetes and for anyone suffering or recovered from an eating disorder. Please check with your doctor or health professional before starting this diet to make sure it is safe and right for you.


¹(Holland et al, 2016) (Fontan-Lozano, 2008) (Brown, 2007).

²(Zeiegler et al., 2003)

³(Veech et al 2001)

Written by guest blogger

Kylie James
Kylie JamesCertified Nutritional Practitioner and Owner of Koru Nutrition
Kylie James is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and owner of Koru Nutrition. Her nutrition area of expertise is working with clients with multifaceted problems predominantly involved in motor vehicle accidents (MVA), including brain injury, spinal cord injury, and other neurological disorders. She provides comprehensive, realistic, individualized nutrition services in an easy, user friendly way to maximize a person’s recovery and rehabilitation as well as optimize their health so that they can live their lives to their fullest. She is also the co-author of “Eat well, Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury and other Neurological Conditions: A practical guide to help address secondary health complications in SCI through nutrition.”