Ketogenic Diet and Motor Function

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet


A ketogenic diet demonstrates the ability to be neuroprotective, protecting nerve cells against damage, degeneration, or impairment of function.1 This isn’t the first time we have heard this theory as numerous studies have confirmed the impact a ketogenic diet has on neurometabolism and bioenergetics.1 How can a diet simply change the way neurons interact? Can a ketogenic diet, that has been explored as a possibility to treat numerous neurological diseases, improve motor function? While the molecular mechanisms involved in the ketogenic diet might not be fully understood, studies have shown promise that a ketogenic diet can have neuromuscular effects.1

  • A ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, and low-carb diet with a ratio of (70% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates).1
  • A ketogenic diet increases ketone bodies as a result of ketosis: a natural metabolic state that burns fat for energy as opposed to blood glucose (sugar).1
  • This type of energy supply allows the brain to alternatively use ketones, which enhance oxidative mitochondrial metabolism.1
  • The neuroprotective effect of a ketogenic diet can control neuronal membrane excitability, inflammation, or reactive oxygen.1
  • A ketogenic diet shows improvement in studies of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and spinal cord injury.1

Studies of the neuroprotective mechanisms of a ketogenic diet suggest that the diet can be beneficial in relevant diseases including motor dysfunction.1 Motor function is controlled by the nervous system using muscles and tendons.1 It gives us the ability to reach for a pen or sit in a chair. A ketogenic diet has been shown to affect the neuromuscular system through a few different mechanisms:

  1. Metabolic shifts: due to a high ketone count in the bloodstream combined with carbohydrate restriction (ketosis).1
  2. Modifies nutrient- integrating pathways: involved in autophagy (consumption of the body’s own tissue during starvation) and mitophagy (break down of mitochondria) related mitochondrial renewal (promoting of mitochondrial biogenesis and function).1
  3. Neurotransmission: a process by signaling molecules (neurotransmitters) to bind to receptors.
  4. Oxidative stress: an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects).1
  5. 1

In an article published by the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI), a ketogenic diet is examined in previous clinical studies on its impact on motor function. The following are findings of numerous studies where patients with different neurological diseases are treated by means of a ketogenic diet.

  • A ketogenic diet can create longer maintenance of motor function by decreasing motor neuron death in patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).1
  • A ketogenic diet shows improvement of motor coordination in patients with Angelman syndrome (AS).1
  • A ketogenic diet delays disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease and improves motor function along with the improvement of energy metabolism.1
  • A ketogenic diet improves functional forelimb in Spinal cord injuries (SCI).1
  • A ketogenic diet improves motor function in patients with Parkinson’s disease while protects neurons from degeneration.1
  • A ketogenic diet improves motor behavior and reduction in anxiety in patients with Rett syndrome.1
  • A ketogenic diet improves motor disorders in patients with GLUT1 deficiency.1

What is common in the studies mentioned is that the increased levels of ketones in the blood combined with the reduction of blood glucose allows the body to find different signaling pathways (IGF-1/AKT/mTOR, AMPK).1 It makes sense that motor function could be restored because in a person being treated with a ketogenic diet, the brain is able to use different routes of communication.1 A ketogenic diet shows neuroprotective mechanisms that play a role in injury and disease proving that this diet shows promise for neurological and neuromuscular diseases.1

1 Veyrat-Durebex, C., Reynier, P., Procaccio, V., Hergesheimer, R., Corcia, P., Andres, C. R., & Blasco, H. (2018). Retrieved from

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experiences with the diet.

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