Do you find it hard to stick to your low-carb regimen over the holidays? Just reviewing the benefits of carb restriction is enough to renew my resolve in the face of temptation. Here are some of the stories that have been making news recently about the advantages of low carb living. Be sure to read all the way to the end of this post; I saved the best for last.

And, in case you missed it, here is the link to a great article that appeared in the LA Times, titled, A Reversal On Carbs:,0,5464425.story?page=1.

A 2010 study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati found that those eating a ketogenic diet saw significant improvement in their “verbal memory” (memory of words and abstractions involving language). The higher the ketone level, the more the verbal memory improved.

Researchers randomly assigned 23 older adults with mild cognitive impairment to either a high-carbohydrate or a very low-carbohydrate diet. After 6-weeks, they observed improved verbal memory for the low carbohydrate subjects as well as reductions in weight, waist circumference, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin. This suggests that ketones provide superior fuel for the body as well as the brain and that carbohydrate restriction provides significant benefits and may improve cognitive function.

*A ketogenic diet is one that limits carbohydrates to under 50 grams a day, the level at which most people switch from burning sugar for energy and storing fat to burning fat. Ketones are by-products of fat burning.

Footnote: Krikorian R, et al. Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Aging, December 2, 2010 (epub ahead of print).

A study reported in the December issue of Cell Metabolism found that the brains of those with diabetes suffer from a LACK of cholesterol. According to C. Ronald Kahn, of Harvard’s Joslin Diabetes Center, people with diabetes have a lot of problems with brain function. The assumption has been that this was the result of poor glucose control, but this study suggests a totally new explanation for the neurologic and cerebral complications of diabetes, including cognitive dysfunction, depression, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The discovery came from the exploration of changes in gene activity in the brain’s hypothalamus in insulin-deficient, diabetic mice. The researchers found changes in the genes that involve appetite and feeding, as expected, but they also found changes in many genes involved in cholesterol synthesis.

The brain contains more cholesterol than any other organ in the body. It is essential for normal brain function and most of it is produced within the brain itself. The mice in the study showed a reduction in a gene called SPEBP-2, a master controller of cholesterol metabolism. The change reduced the production of cholesterol in the brain and lowered the amount in cell membranes that play an important part in communication between brain cells. Kahn explained that the test animals showed changes after just a week or two of insulin deficiency and these changes were traced to the direct effects of insulin on brain cells. Cholesterol synthesis was restored to normal after the animals were injected with insulin.

Kahn said that for those with diabetes, “This is another reason to think that keeping good control over blood sugar might make a difference.” He added that we need to learn more about cholesterol metabolism in the brain and that these results raise the prospect that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, some of which can cross the blood-brain barrier, might have unintended consequences for brain function. Indeed.

Footnote: Ryo Suzuki, Kevin Lee, Enxuan Jing, Sudha B. Biddinger, Jeffrey G. McDonald, Thomas J. Montine, Suzanne Craft, and C. Ronald Kahn, Diabetes and Insulin in Regulation of Brain Cholesterol Metabolism, Cell Metabolism, Volume 12, Issue 6, 567-579, 1 December 2010

A geneticist at University of California at San Francisco has apparently discovered the secret to a long, healthful, and energetic life. A simple change in diet is all it takes to activate the genes that control aging.

Scientists already knew they could make laboratory animals live longer by cutting their food intake down to ¾ of what they normally ate. Dr. Cynthia Kenyon discovered why this works when she tweaked the genes that control insulin production in round worms. She discovered that carbohydrates directly affect two genes that regulate youthfulness and longevity. By turning down one gene, she coaxed the worms to live up to six times their normal life span.

The genes that control insulin in worms are also found in rats and mice and researchers around the world who have successfully repeated Professor Kenyon’s work are finding evidence that they work the same way in monkeys and humans. When one gene is turned down, it activates a second gene which acts as a restorative “elixir of life.” The scientists dubbed the first gene, “the Grim Reaper.” The second one, whose proper name is DAF 16, they called, “The Sweet Sixteen” gene, because it kept the worms active and youthful long past their normal life expectancy.

The report in the Daily Mail says, “Discovering the … [first] gene has prompted the professor to dramatically alter her own diet, cutting right back on carbohydrates. That’s because carbs make your body produce more insulin (to mop up the extra blood sugar carbs ­produce) … so the vital second gene, the ‘elixir’ one, won’t get turned on.”

What this new study shows is that the positive effects of low-calorie diets are due to the reduction in insulin. But you don’t have to reduce calories to cut down on insulin. You only have to reduce the carbohydrates that provoke the release of insulin.

This research may come as quite a shock to the members of The Calorie Restriction Society who have been starving themselves for years in an effort to live longer. It looks like they could have been eating a big juicy steak topped with butter along with their kale and sprouts without provoking the Grim Reaper after all.
Read more:
© 2010, Judy Barnes Baker, Carb Wars; Sugar is the New Fat

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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13 years ago

The info about ketogenic diet are pretty helpful.
My sister is pregnant………..

Judy Barnes Baker
13 years ago

Hi Tffany.

It seems that everyone is afraid to give advice about ketosis and pregnancy. My own opinion is that it would be wise to at least avoid grains, sugar, and sweet fruits during pregnancy. I think being in mild ketosis would actually be beneficial for both mother and baby, but I can't back it up with any research. I will continue to look and see what I can find.

Dr. Jay Wortman may have an answer on his blog. He has a baby girl who has never been exposed to sugar, not even before birth because her mother didn't eat it. I'm not sure how low she went in carbs, but it would be interesting to find out.

13 years ago

Great article – great reading.

Do you have anything on ketogenic diet while pregnant? I'm trying to dig up some info, and I keep falling short. Thanks!