BB2019, Sunday 1 – Actual Fuels for the Brain

Hi hi !

So you’ve officially completed your first week on the Brain Boost Challenge. The good news is, you’ve figured out some of your personal pain points. The opportunity for improvement abounds. 🙂

(for all of us)

Tonight’s collection of videos center on the different kinds of Fuels the brain can use. Our brains are able to use multiple fuel sources but there are some norms that govern the fuel choice.

What your Brain can use for Fuel:


If you have a carb rich diet, your brain will run on glucose. Glucose is easy to use and can power almost any body cell. Your body must have glucose in the blood to power the red blood cells, but turns out you can make all the glucose you need without ingesting carbohydrates through a process in the liver and to a lesser extent the kidneys called gluconeogenesis.

When glucose levels dip, you get the hangry signal. If you are regularly hungry you are probably glucose driven. The keto diet or a low carb diet – related but not the same thing – can help you break the glucose dependency. If you are currently running on glucose, you may also be a bit insulin resistant which means (in my lay terms) your body will fight you a bit to give up the dependency. Expect cravings as you make the switch. Those cravings are less from your brain and more from your gut. The bugs you have in your gut are the ones signaling your brain for the food it wants. For more on this, see the works by Dr. Perlmutter, including Brain Maker. If you stop feeding the current bugs what they want, they will exit. They know how to find the door. 😉

The biome bugs that help you process fats and proteins will gladly pick up the slack. We seem to be very adept as a species at fully utilizing the molecules from saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as well as proteins. Steak (or a piece of fish etc.) isn’t what exits your system. Most of what exits your system is related to your gut biome, aka bacteria. If you consume fiber rich foods you will also see those exit the system because your body cannot process it. You’re just sending it through. **That said, there are nutrients often coupled to fiber rich real foods so I’m not trashing real foods, I just need more time to think of a better way to convey this.**


Once you start making ketones regularly and your insulin levels are low-steady through the day, various internal organs will switch to using predominantly ketones. You’ll see evidence of ketone production and usage in your blood or a decent indicator of ketone production on the sticks. That’s the beginning of the cool stuff. Three to six weeks later, your brain will both start using ketones as a predominant fuel and start making more mitochondria throughout your brain in order to capitalize on the ketones. More energy in and more power to use the energy. Double+ level up!

Dr Cunnane gets into the specifics of power potential in a short study in his talk on Alzheimers. The video should start around min 23 where it fits this best. If you’re really interested, the whole talk is excellent. Mind blowing.


Okay, okay, first, I am NOT suggesting that you convert to alcohol as a main use but it would be dishonest – and frankly, that’s what got the US and the rest of the “west” into this dietary mess in the first place (carefully curated data sets rather than the whole deal) – to not mention all the fuels your brain can use. While you aren’t using alcohol directly, it was the #1 reason the folks who were curious about the Brain Boost experiment pre-determined that they could not participate. After all, what diet allows alcohol?! Right, I get it.

But this one does allow it. So . . . no excuses. 🙂

When you imbibe, your liver will convert the ethanol alcohol into acetate, a chemical most commonly found in vinegar. The acetate then circulates throughout the body in blood. What does not get used is excreted as urine via the kidneys. It is worth noting, that acetate and ketones can simultaneously fuel the brain. Again, warning, please avoid getting carried away, but yes, you can indeed be in nutritional ketosis – even a pretty “high” level of ketosis – and drink low carb alcohol without thwarting ketone serum levels.

How Alcohol is digested in your body – impacts digestive tract, liver, lungs, heart then brain.

There’s a lot going on here. But some sources for you: sheep on booze, ketones formed (yes, formed) via acetate in kidney. The main point is, you don’t have to give up alcohol to stay in ketosis. You may WANT to give up alcohol because you’re concerned about it’s feature in your life. But that’s a private adult decision.

To add fuel to the fire – just had to –  “Ethanol consumption can cause rapid drops in blood glucose levels, but acetate can compensate for low glucose by providing replacement fuel for the brain and other organs.” This gets into the mechanisms of how some people come to depend on alcohol because it is a regular and or main part of their brain fuel. That is part of the metabolic reason why giving up alcohol is difficult to those with prolonged usage. Final caution, prolonged alcohol usage is highly correlated with certain areas of the brain going “offline” based on Spect scans.

Guess what gets those parts back online, remember Cunnane’s talk above . . . ketones. 🙂

Another worthwhile watch:

Alcohol choices that fit keto: Champagne! (obv), Dry Wines, Liquor no mixer

Thanks to DietDoctor for the images.

Fatty Acids

Long chain fatty acids seem to be spurned by the brain for reasons discussed here – in brief, ROS, Reactive Oxygen Species, aka oxidative stress. So the long chain fatty acids are not likely a useful fuel. Surprisingly perhaps, the medium chain fatty acids may provide the assist on creating brain energy.

Medium chain triglycerides seem to be appreciated by the brain because they facilitate the citric acid cycle in the mitochondria. Pounding Coconut oil isn’t likely to provide you an immediate boost, but adding it to your diet may have some brain health impact.

Fatty Acids for the Nervous System