Update: An update about why I personally stopped following the ketogenic diet can be found here
The Ketogenic Diet has shown unique benefits in the treatment of some neurological conditions. Here I share about my experience with the diet at the etime and talk about why it could also be a diet of choice for those with visual snow.
My First Experience With Ketosis
On the third day of a recent water fast I stank of acetone and was therefore fairly reliably in a state of ketosis…
Having gone without any carbohydrates for that long my body had started to convert fatty acids into ketones and use those as a main energy source in place of glucose. Acetone actually being a ketone itself, explained why I smelled of nail polish remover.
A Ketogenic Diet intends to place you in a state of ketosis without having to go through fasting, it is a diet high in fats, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Although I’d been aware of the Ketogenic Diet before I hadn’t taken it seriously as I perhaps should have done. However, on this third day of fasting I did feel strangely good and so I decided to give the Ketogenic Diet a proper go.
Benefits Of A Ketogenic Diet For Visual Snow
Energy, Mitochondria, Adenosine
Fatigue and brain fog are two fairly commonly described non-visual symptoms for those with visual snow. Their prevalence is probably not insignificant, and may among other things point to issues with how our bodies use or produce energy.
Mitochondria are the key in our bodies’ energy equation. Mitochondrial mutation, damage, or dysregulation could very well play some role in visual snow as it does in other neurological conditions. A fact worth remembering is that the visual system is very demanding when it comes to energy. Neuronal activity, ATP generation, blood flow, oxygen consumption, glucose utilization, and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism are also all interrelated.
Normally the body uses glucose to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy currency then used throughout the body. This process with glucose can however face several pitfalls and is less efficient than if the body makes use of ketones.
When mitochondria convert glucose into ATP, this creates more free radicals than through using ketones. The mitochondria then also have to work more to fulfill an additional duty in clearing up these free radicals. The result relative to ketosis is more oxidative stress and less energy efficiency.
Ketosis upregulates mitochondrial biogenesis. Increased mitochondrial biogenesis translates as more mitochondria being created and greater mitochondrial activity. This in turn promotes increased blood flow to the brain, more oxygen and energy, more scavenging of free radicals.
Ketosis also produces more adenosine. This adenosine promotes vasodilation and blood flow (also in the eyes, and while reducing intraocular pressure), it is anti-inflammatory and has an inhibitory effect upon neuronal excitability. The benefit of the diet to those with epilepsy is sometimes linked with this regulation of adenosine
The increase in adenosine probably explains the most undeniable change that I myself have experienced. In the past my hands were usually always cold, but now they are consistently warm. I’ve gone from feeling like a lizard to being a human-being again 🙂
GABA, Glutamine, Ammonia, Insulin
Two further possible contributions in brain fog may be an excess of ammonia and a lack of GABA. During ketosis it is possible that there is a more efficient conversion of glutamine to GABA, and a more efficient removal of glutamate.
Not only might this reduce neuronal excitation but also any excess ammonia floating around in the brain (though still generally unlikely, excess ammonia for whatever reasons will also potentially be worsened if you are overeating protein).
Some people with visual snow may also have impaired glucose utilisation and diminished insulin sensitivity. Impaired glucose metabolism is sometimes a marker in certain neurological conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s. Ketosis can provide an alternative energy source in these cases, helping to fuel an energy starved brain, providing neuroprotective benefit, and also helping to increase insulin sensitivity.
BDNF, Microglia, Microbiome
A Ketogenic diet can additionally bring about beneficial changes through several other effects.
- A greater production of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) from ketosis may help to keep existing neurons and their connections healthy, as well as create new ones.
- Reduced neuroinflammation caused by the activation of microglia, microglial dysfunction being something which could presumably play a role in visual snow.
- Positive changes to the gut microbiome.
Ketogenic diets have been used for treatment in diabetes, migraine, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Autism, depression, epilepsy, cancer, and more. For epilepsy in particular the ketogenic diet is now well recognised as an effective treatment but benefit for a wide-range of conditions comes potentially through various effects, some of which may also apply for visual snow, or specific cases of visual snow.
Since starting the diet as mentioned my circulation improved but I have also definitely noticed periods of clearer thought and have at times speculated that my light sensitivity in particular may have got better. As always however, the best way to discover any benefits is to try it out for yourself…
How To Eat Keto
It’s quite simple – Healthy fats, moderate protein, low carbs.
Each person will have slightly different requirements for their fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. I’d suggest starting with a limit of 40-50g total carbs/day ( I am currently following 25-35g).
The Ketogenic Diet is not high in protein, it is protein moderate/appropriate – you should make sure that you aren’t overeating proteins as this can interfere with ketosis and cause other issues. This study found that with an inappropriate ratio of fat:protein did not bring about ketosis. A general guideline would be to consume between 0.6 – 1.2 g per lean pound of body weight, depending on your level of activity, however you will probably need less than you imagine.
As long as a food quantity doesn’t contribute to you going over your daily carbohydrate (or protein) limit, it is generally fine to eat. Though not all fats are advisable either: you should avoid processed trans and processed polyunsaturated fats (e.g. margarine).
You can check if you are in ketosis with a blood ketone kit, although the acetone smell is also a fairly reliable and cheaper measure.
Here are some Ketogenic friendly foods that I was eating regularly:
Peanut butter, Ground almonds, Chicken thighs, Lamb and beef mince, Lamb liver, Salmon, Salad leaves and lettuce, Cucumber, Eggs, Mayonnaise, Olive oil Coconut oil, Coconut milk/cream, Ghee, Broccoli, Feta cheese, goat cheese (yes, I eat dairy again but am still a1-beta casein free).
Obviously you may have to work around foods such as eggs or nuts if you have an intolerance or allergy (if you aren’t sure try an elimination diet first). There are also health conditions which absolutely rule out starting a ketogenic diet, so it is critical that you consult with your doctor before starting such a diet. You may experience some slight side-effects on a ketogenic diet as your body starts to adapt, this is normal. However, if you do have concerns please speak to your doctor.