A Fat Chance (Part FOUR): Fat, the Neuroprotector!

Cavin Balaster April 15, 2014 2


~ Part Four: Fat, the Neuroprotector! ~

Notice: This is the fourth article in an ongoing series. Make sure to check out the previous articles before reading this one.

The specific mechanisms that explain WHY a ketogenic diet is neuroprotective are not yet well defined, but there is no doubt that this diet IS neuroprotective 4, 13, 5, 18. In observations of those practicing a high fat diet, ketone bodies can make up more than half of the metabolic fuel for neurons (the other being glucose). Although ketone bodies are available from the bloodstream in a high fat diet, local brain made (astrocytic genesis) ketone bodies from fatty acids are available in large amounts within the brain when one practices a ketogenic diet 14. This means that the brain can obtain an abundant amount of energy from a high fat diet.


Bodyguard meets BRAINguard!

Based on several studies at Emory University School of Medicine, it seems like neuroprotection may result from the altering of genes that is involved in energy metabolism in the brain 15. Because the fuel source of glucose seems to be the metabolic fuel that is responsible for seizures and convulsant activity, changing the metabolism of the brain to use ketones, through a diet that is high in fat rather than sugar/carbohydrates, seems to be the main mechanism that prevents epileptic seizures 14. In addition to these proposed mechanisms, this alternate fuel source (ketones) may also provide antioxidant activity, which is able to “disarm” free radicals that oxidize, or age, the brain and body rapidly. What’s more, this pathway also seems to protect against the cell death of neurons from toxins that humans are now regularly exposed to, and which chemically overstimulate neurons to death (excitotoxicity) 4, 13.

Breaking it Down: Metabolizing this Article

Let’s imagine my brain and body as a car, and food as its fuel. A well practiced, ancestral based, high fat and low carbohydrate diet seemed to change the fuel source of my brain and body to a much more efficient and slower burning fuel that gave me better gas mileage, is neuroprotective in many ways, and that has seemed to have made me an even more efficient fat burner.

Transitions are difficult. In my opinion, this transition was certainly 100% worth it for my own overall personal health and well being. The bottom line is that the ketogenic diet that I adopted, one that incorporates a real food and evolutionary approach, seemed to be beneficial to my brain and body after I had minimized inflammation and was able to endure the stress of transitioning my metabolism.

The majority of the US population is currently fueled by carbohydrates and sugar, and it seems as though THIS is one of the reasons for the increase in obesity and chronic health problems 7. We seem to be able to change our metabolism so that, not only are we able to eat much more fat, but that we are also able to BURN FAR MORE FAT as well.

Many studies on the neuroprotective effects of a ketogenic diet imply that most people’s metabolisms (those which are adapted to use carbohydrates and sugar for energy) may be supplying fuel to the fire of seizure activity while also aging the brain at a faster pace. It also seems that the switch to a high fat diet, over time, may alter the genes to be able to more effectively obtain fuel from fat, while protecting the brain from damage.

I want to stress that I am not suggesting that everyone should eat in this manner. I believe that, without testing, each person possesses the most information as far as what works for them, and that an optimal diet must be personalized, as metabolism is influenced by genetics, neurological factors, digestive condition, bile production, and likely other factors. Since transitioning my own metabolism, the amount of fat and carbohydrates that I eat today fluctuates based on my cravings and activity levels. I probably eat far more non-starchy vegetables today, lowering the ratio of fat that I consume. I am sharing my experience and bringing studies forth to help others get over their fat phobias that have been instilled in our culture for a very long time. I hope that this article will support TBI survivors, caretakers, or anyone who is suffering, or who has a friend or family member who is suffering, from any neurological condition. I am also writing to anyone who may be interested in optimizing their brain function to look into the literature and to decide for themselves if a higher fat and lower carbohydrate diet makes sense for them to try. I very much encourage comments and questions below.

With my own brain injury, it felt, and still feels, very important to support my brain as much as possible. Again, I choose my therapies based on weighing the possible benefits vs. risks and unknowns. At first, it seemed risky to eat a very high fat diet, but after reading and understanding the literature about this high fat therapy, I became convinced that the possible benefits of it outweighed the risks and unknowns by a long shot! Many connections within my brain have been damaged, but I began to see that there were ways for me to supply even more of the nutrients that my brain seemed to need. The brilliant people that I had met and the enlightening information that they had helped me to gather had given me a chance… it had given me A FAT CHANCE.

 *An enormous thank you to Dr. Richard Feinman, Jimmy Moore, and Rachel Flowers for their assistance with this post series!

Notice: This is the fourth article in an ongoing series. Be sure to read the previous articles!

I have put key ideas, explained in simpler terms, in bold for your convenience.


  1. Resources:
    1. http://www.jlr.org/content/6/4/537.short
    2. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diet
    3. http://youtu.be/2_8D1hH7mzo
    4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16940764
    5. http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/109/5/780.short
    6. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/homeostasis
    7. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/ddt.htm
    8. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/carb-counting/carbohydrates-and-diabetes.html
    9. https://www.inkling.com/read/marks-medical-biochemistry-lieberman-marks-4th/chapter-26/section-five-carbohydrate
    10. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/7/1879.short
    11. https://www.inkling.com/read/marks-medical-biochemistry-lieberman-marks-4th/chapter-26/section-five-carbohydrate
    12. McHenry, H.M (2009). “Human Evolution”. In Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-674-03175-3.
    13. http://www.sott.net/article/249143-Ketogenic-Diet-high-fat-low-carb-Has-Neuroprotective-and-Disease-modifying-Effects
    14. http://www.jle.com/e-docs/00/04/37/EE/article.phtml
    15. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051114220938.htm
    16. Akoh, Casimir and Min, David. Food Lipids Chemistry, Nutrition, and Biotechnology. 2nd Ed. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2002. 273-276. Print.  <http://www.stu.edu.vn/uploads/documents/030509-215944.pdf>.
    17. http://www.jlr.org/content/6/4/537.short
    18. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165017308001045
    19. http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/acid-reflux-diet.html
    20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480864/
    21. http://fr.canolacouncil.org/media/515239/canola_oil_physical_chemical_properties_1.pdf
    22. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/14/9/824.short
    23. http://www.jlr.org/content/6/4/537.short


  1. Laura May 18, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Dear Cavin,

    I discovered your blog several months ago and found your four-part posting on fats and brain health to be very helpful & informative.

    I am also a brain-injury-survivor-traditional-organic-whole-foods-fat-loving-meat-eating-paleo-food-eating-person!

    Anybody who has had a brain injury is SO LUCKY that you are blogging about your experience and about you journey into healthy eating as a means to heal your brain. Your book will be an incredible (!!) addition to the tools people with brain injuries can use to heal themselves. And, you just may achieve your goal of changing how people with brain injuries are rehabbed in the US: diet and food may become a #1 issue …because you are making it so, Cavin.

    I acquired a brain injury 25 years ago. I wanted dietary help to heal my brain but back then nobody knew nuthin’! I got handed mostly prescriptions. It was unknown that those who had a brain injury also acquired a leaky gut, for example. Nobody considered food as medicine. I was on my own.

    For many years I was a brain injury advocate and assisted a lot of people with brain injuries as a support group leader, as a peer advocate and as a disability rights nonprofit director. I got to see first-hand how amazing brain healing can be; I told families to not listen to the doctors when they said things will never get better. I had seen plenty of first-hand evidence that brains get better and rewire and relearn and people (and their brains) strive for health, wellness, healing and balance.

    For example, they told me that my sense of smell and taste would never get better. Well, a few years later there I was walking in an autumn forest on a sunny day, and I suddenly smelt …leaves! The smell of autumn leaves decaying on the forest floor in the hot sun was heavenly. Another guy I know (he was about to become a major league baseball player ’til a baseball hit him in the head) got his sense of smell back years later while sitting on the back of his farmer friend’s manure truck!

    I am about to tell a brain injury friend – who totally lost her sense of smell and taste – about zinc. Zinc helps the sense of smell/taste recover! Why didn’t anybody tell me about zinc (and B6 and B3 and evening primrose oil and omega oils and fats!!! and amino acid supplements and diet) years ago when I was in rehab?

    As you know, most neurologists and neuro-psychologists have no interest in diet, food and healing the brain through food. It’s all about in-patient or out-patient rehab, neuropsych evals, cognitive rehab & retraining and plenty of meds. You are very fortunate that you sought out and found Dr. Thomas Culleton and that he got down to the details of healing the physical organ through orthomolecular (am I right?) means: food, vitamins, minerals and a well-functioning biome.

    But, you whetted my interest! Just exactly what did he tell you to do to heal the gut? Bone broths and soup stocks, for example? L-glutamine? Plenty of gelatinous meats? What foods did you find were better left out of your diet (i.e. wheat/gluten/beans/sugar/dairy?) I am dying of curiosity! Do tell, we readers won’t feel that you are treading on our own dietary paths! I wanna know how you are healing your gut and creating gut/brain communication that is healing up!

    And do we people with brain injuries have, in addition to a leaky gut, a leaky blood brain barrier, too? Do we have a double whammy? Can you please research and write about that?

    And just WHY, when you get a brain injury, to you also get a leaky gut? How does that happen?

    You may be very interested to investigate a diet that I am finding is very helpful to my own brain injury healing, albeit 25 years later. It is called the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet (GAPS diet). I went Paleo last year, but found I needed a plan that went slower and that set out clear steps to healing a leaky gut and accounted for those of us who have disabilities and/or autoimmune diseases. GAPS fit the bill for me.

    Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride created the diet after researching & creating a way to heal her child of autism. The first part of the diet – like yours – has you eliminating foods and eating very simply with lots of bone broths and soup stocks, so as to allow the gut to heal. The diet is high in fats (!), high-quality meat & fish proteins, vegetables, bone broths and a step-by-step way to work with your own body’s healing needs. You discover which foods do/don’t work for you and your biome.

    GAPS includes probiotics and fermented foods as a daily part of eating; I make my own 24-hour yogurt out of organic 100% full-fat cream and boy is it yummy …and healing for me. I eat a lot of homemade sauerkraut and we make kombucha tea (ancient fermented tea), water kefir and fermented veggies.

    The diet also relies upon detoxing by using healing baths (Epsom salts; apple cider vinegar; baking soda; clay…)

    I hope you will be interested in investigating this diet. I have found it incredibly helpful for my own brain injury issues. It is not dissimilar to a Paleo diet, just takes things slower and factors in the need to allow healing and accounts for the time needed to reorganize your internal bacteria/gut.

    There are many families on the web blogging about their GAPS experience as there are many kids nowadays who have not only autism, but ADHD, behavioral disorders and dietary issues. Many, many adults with disabilities and auto-immune disorders have also been helped by GAPS.

    Here are some essential GAPS websites:

    http://www.judytsafrirmd.com/gut-dysbiosis/gaps-diet/ (She is a psychiatrist in Boston who does GAPS: I like her style. She would have been great to have on my rehab team!)

    Dr. Campbell-McBride based her GAPS diet upon the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Here are two excellent SCD sites:

    (The families on this site REALLY know their probiotics / bacteria / biome and how these affect behavior.)

    If you haven’t already, you may want to also check out the Weston A. Price foundation for information on traditional foods, sources of high-quality, locally-produced organic foods, and cutting-edge research on real, whole foods. Local chapters can help you find the foods you need in your area:


    I will be following your blog and can’t wait to hear more about your journey. 25 years ago, there was no internet and there were no bloggers. Survivors had to rely upon the state head injury associations to meet up and share stories. These organizations were often co-opted by medical, hospital & brain injury rehab interests. We survivors had to fight for our voices to be heard …and to hear each other’s stories of struggle & healing.

    And here you are, simply putting your story up for the world to see ..and doing such an amazing job of it. You are touching lives.

    Cavin, what you are doing to help people with brain injuries through your blog, your writing and research (and your passion to help) is incredible. Keep it up! Get that book published sooner than 2016, we need it! And be very specific about what dietary things worked (and didn’t) because the neuropsychologists and rehab doctors are not tuned into this aspect (still, today this is true) and we have nowhere else to get it. The “medical model” still rules the day.

    Your words are golden to those who need them. You, as a survivor, have got valuable stuff to share!


    PS Here is a recipe for making your own 24-hour, 100% cream yogurt (the 24-hour ferment eliminates the milk sugars and alters the milk proteins: these two elements are what makes many people allergic to milk. You can also ferment for up to 29 hours, if you are really sensitive). This yogurt really packs a probiotic whollop!


    PSS If you wish, please feel free to email me privately, one survivor to another!

    PSSS I now render my own (organic) beef fat from suet. Easy-peasy to do. My brain loves it…

    …oh, and free-range, raw egg yolks, too, in soup stocks & freshly-juiced veggies.

    • Cavin Balaster May 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you so much for the info, the kind words, and the encouragement. I am so glad that you found the site and have been following. It’s always exciting to hear from another survivor, especially one with so much information and experience, and who speaks the same language!

      It’s funny to hear about your friend getting his sense of smell back surrounded by manure. I did not lose my sense of smell neurologically, but I couldn’t eat, walk, or talk for five months and – now that I think about it – I couldn’t smell either. This is from my post about when I had the surgery done that would allow me to talk and breathe through my nose again (Slitting My Throat to Save My Life):

      “I tried to do something that I hadn’t been able to do for months: smell. I tried to breathe through my nose and it worked!!!! It smelled of disinfectant and sickness in my recovery room, but it smelled like regaining my senses to me, which smelled amazing!”

      I am also very into The Weston A. Price Foundation as well and the Price Pottenger Foundation (http://ppnf.org/) and have learned an enormous amount from both. I get pasture raised meats, eggs, and fats so I can make my own suet and lard. That’s where it’s at! My brain loves that stuff took (but only because my digestion is working well)!

      Dr. Natasha Campbell Mcbride does fantastic work with the gut brain axis! I have heard her speak online for Wise Traditions, and I’ve heard her interviewed many times. Have you heard of Steve and Jordan from SCD Lifestyle.com? I helped them with their leaky gut program. They are good guys!

      I’m very lucky indeed. This is what I wrote in my 2 year anniversary post:

      “I am very lucky not only to have woke from my 12 day coma, to have dodged a bullet when I almost suffocated due to a closing airway that the hospital staff was foolishly throwing anti anxiety drugs at, or for my mental state being aware enough to follow instructions; but also for my aunt steering me in a direction to truly get better, for all of the social programs that made my recovery possible, hundreds of other things, and especially for my incredible mother. I know that I am lucky – or fortunate, as my driving instructor says – and I plan to pay my fortune forward so that others get a chance to recover as I did.”

      Dr. Culleton never used the term “orthomolecular,” but Linus Pauling (who coined the term) pretty much started what Dr. Culleton practices. The gut repair protocol I used consisted of L glutamine, and a blend of gut repair herbs. I now consume a whole lot of bone broth because it is delicious! I would love to chat with you sometime. Send me an email directly at [email protected].

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