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Understanding Ketones as a Better Brain Fuel

It is quickly becoming common knowledge that ketone bodies are a better fuel for the brain than glucose. But it’s one thing to believe and another thing to understand. If you’re reading this, we figure you want to understand. Be warned, the next paragraphs get a little bit technical. But we credit your intelligence and have confidence you’re up the challenge.

Let’s start with the big picture. Imagine your brain cells are like cooking devices. Brain cells running on glucose are like a carbon grill. They are clunky, inefficient, and produce a lot of pollution. By contrast, brain cells running on ketones are like a gas stove. They are faster, more efficient, and produce very little pollution.

Your brain cells’ power their processes with the help of their “mitochondria.” Mitochondria are what turn glucose and ketones into energy. How they do so is complicated but involves converting the energy stored in glucose and ketone molecules’ chemical bonds into “high-energy electron particles.”

Now, let’s imagine these high-energy electron particles like balls. To produce energy, your mitochondria roll these balls to make them collide with each other. Each bump transfers energy that your brain cells can use to do work.

When your brain is using glucose, the balls are made of clay. Therefore, when these clay balls crash, some energy is transferred from one ball to the other and some energy is lost due to the softness of their material. Therefore, less energy is transferred, and the balls are damaged in the process. (In brain cells, these processes are respectively referred to as a short “electron transport chain redox span” and elevated “reactive oxygen species” production.)

Contrastingly, when your brain is using ketones, the balls are made of stainless steel. Thus, energy is transferred more efficiently, and what’s more, the balls are now stronger and resistant to damage. (In brain cells, these processes are respectively referred to as an expanded “electron transport chain redox span” and decreased “reactive oxygen species” production.)

Let’s review. At the big picture level, brain cells on glucose are like inefficient and dirty carbon grills and brain cells on ketones are like efficient and clean gas stoves. This is because, at the molecular level, glucose produces clay balls that bounce and crash, creating less energy and more damage. By contrast, ketones produce stainless steel balls that bounce and crash, creating more energy and less damage.

No medical advice

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.



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