De-Mystifying the Ketogenic Diet's Effects on the Brain



The Ketogenic Diet is a popular eating regiment that is increasingly gaining traction for its ability to help people lose weight and lower risk factors for disease. The standard meal for someone on this diet would be food that is high in fat and low in carbs; meats, cheese, olive oil, and nuts are popular picks. On top of the other possible benefits, the keto diet has been shown to be an effective intervention for reducing seizures in epilepsy patients that don’t respond to medications. Despite these benefits, this diet is fairly challenging to maintain and unrealistic for many people. This has brought some researchers to wonder if there is any way to receive the great results from the ketogenic diet without the drastic eating and lifestyle change.  


The Scientists

Xingyu Amy Chen, BSc Student

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Principal Investigator:

Dr. Jong Rho

University of Calgary

Dr. Rho's Website


The positive benefits of the ketogenic diet are thought to arise when the body enters a physical state called ketosis. This state is characterized by high levels of ketone bodies (where the diet’s name comes from) and low levels of blood sugar. Unfortunately, we don’t know if the positive benefits come from these ketone bodies themselves, or if ketosis causes other more important changes in the body. To answer this question, this study explored if a ketone body supplement is a viable alternative to initiating the effects of the keto diet without the need of a drastic diet change. To do this, researchers made a “synthetic ketogenic diet” for mice using an artificial sweetener (to keep blood sugar low) and ketone bodies mixed with mouse chow. While the blood of the mice seemed to show some promising initial results, the mice did not seem to enjoy the taste of the food (despite the sweetener) and didn’t end up eating very much of it. 




This study looked at if a ketone body supplement could replace the need for a drastic ketogenic diet change. We now know that an artificial sweetener isn’t enough to entice mice to eat the ketone supplement, which means kids might not like this approach either. Future research will explore other ways to make the ketogenic diet more palatable, moving towards a “Ketogenic Diet-in-a-pill” approach that further illuminates the effects of ketones in the body. 

Amount Funded: $8,000


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