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Alcohol use disorder accounts for approximately 2.8 million deaths worldwide. It’s a chronic condition marked by a strong desire to drink and persistent alcohol use despite its harmful effects. A recent study found that a ketogenic diet reduces alcohol cravings in people with alcohol use disorder.

The study involved 33 adults with an alcohol use disorder enrolled in a three-week inpatient alcohol detoxification program. Slightly more than half of the patients received a ketogenic diet, while the remainder received a standard American diet. Once a week, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers assessed the participants' brain function and craving responses during exposure to alcohol-related triggers. In addition, the participants reported their perceived alcohol cravings when exposed to the triggers.

The imaging revealed that participants who ate a ketogenic diet showed reduced neural activity related to alcohol cravings than those who ate the standard American diet across the entire three weeks of treatment. Those who ate a ketogenic diet also reported fewer perceived cravings.

Following alcohol consumption, the brain uses acetate, a metabolic byproduct of alcohol, for energy instead of glucose. As a result, glucose levels in the brain drop, and acetate levels increase – even after the effects of alcohol wear off. These alterations in fuel can contribute to withdrawal symptoms, cravings for alcohol, and a higher risk of relapse, especially when acetate levels drop. Ketones are structurally similar to acetate and can serve as an alternative energy source for the brain, providing energy in place of glucose.

This was a small study, but its findings suggest that a ketogenic diet reduces alcohol cravings among people with alcohol use disorders. Other evidence suggests vigorous exercise reduces alcohol cravings, likely due to exercise’s effects on FGF21 – a hormone produced during vigorous activity. Learn more in this short video featuring Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

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