Can the Ketogenic Diet Help with Alzheimer’s & Dementia?
There is some really, really intriguing science pointing to the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet at helping alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but also potentially even reducing the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and dementia in the first place. I’m Thomas DeLauer with Keto-Mojo, and today we’re breaking down the science of how the ketogenic diet affects neurodegenerative diseases. So the first thing that we have to look at is the big overarching picture here and that’s the fact that when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, you’re usually dealing with the brain’s inability to process glucose as a fuel source anymore. So what ends up happening is because of its impaired ability to utilize glucose, brain cells start to die. The brain essentially starts to starve. So, in essence, it’s shrinking because it no longer gets the fuel, or it inadequately uses the fuel that it’s been used to using for such a long period of time.
Now, the big picture here is that by utilizing ketones or fat as a fuel source, we’re giving the brain an alternative source of fuel so it doesn’t have to use glucose so that Alzheimer’s and dementia doesn’t potentially affect the brain the way that it ordinarily would. So let’s look at fasting for a second because fasting utilizes ketones and fasting has been used to treat epilepsy for a very long time. In fact, that’s how the ketogenic diet was originally discovered. But researchers are now starting to find that if we utilize the same kind of evidence and the same kind of science as to why fasting and the ketones that are produced from fasting have been so good for epilepsy, we can determine that it might just be strong for Alzheimer’s and dementia as well.
But before I get into the recent science, and I’m talking really recent science like 2018 study, I want to explain some of the biology, some of the things that are happening with a ketogenic diet that could be leading to why it’s so powerful for helping out those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The first one is mitochondria in the brain. You see, mitochondria is where we create energy. It’s where we create ATP. And we have that mitochondria in the brain as well, every single cell within our bodies. The cool thing is that mitochondria can process ketones very efficiently. Now interestingly enough, beta hydroxybutyrate which is the main ketone body that we usually talk about ends up carrying more energy per unit of oxygen than glucose does so what this means is that beta hydroxybutyrate gives a brain more energy with less so the brain doesn’t have to work as hard, but still produce just as much, if not even more energy.
This means you’re less likely to sort of wear the brain out, if you will. And this leads to less extra oxygen floating around the brain which leads me to the next point: reactive oxygen species. You see, ROS is just extra oxygen that float around the brain as what is called a free radical. And these free radicals float around the brain and they cause oxidative damage. Extra oxygen, O2, oxidative damage. Exactly, do the math. So when we have extra oxygen floating around through the brain, it reacts with different things and it makes it a very, very inflamed environment. They can also trigger a lot of brain cells to die. Now what is interesting is ketones have been shown to inhibit this extra oxygen from occurring so it actually stops neurodegeneration right in its tracks because we’re not dealing with all the crazy reactive oxygen species that we would normally deal with if we were burning glucose in the brain and that leads me to the next biological reason why ketosis could be contributing to such an improvement with Alzheimer’s and that’s the GABA glutamate scale.
You see, when you look at how the brain works, we have a sliding scale of what is called GABA and glutamate. GABA stands for gamma-Aminobutyric acid and glutamate is glutamate. Glutamate makes your brain wired a little bit more high energy and we need a little bit of both, but studies have shown that brains that are wired a little bit more towards the glutamate scale tend to be at higher risk for neurodegenerative diseases, but also chronic inflammation. So if our brains are wired to be hyperactive all the time, it not only makes us feel anxious and stressed out, they can also wear out the brain.
So ketones have been shown to actually stop the ability to load up on glutamate when it comes to brain cells. So basically, when you’re in a ketogenic diet, you’re preventing the cells in the brain from loading up on what makes them hyperactive and sliding it more towards the GABA scale which makes a brain relaxed. Basically, think of it like an endurance race for your brain. You want to preserve and pace it. You don’t want to be using all of your energy today and wearing out your brain cells. Now, this was actually published in a journal called the “Trends of Neuroscience.” They literally found that being on a ketogenic diet made it so you had less glutamate in the brain.
Now this leads me to the big study that I want to talk about. A very recent study published in 2018 in “Alzheimer’s & Dementia: “Journal of Translational Research “and Clinical Investigation.” Now what this study did is it took a look at 15 participants that had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Okay, what they did is they put all these participants on a ketogenic diet for a few months, and what they had them do is they had them keep their calories the exact same as what they were originally. They didn’t change their calories, didn’t increase or didn’t decrease, but they also added MCT oil to their daily diet. So every day, they had some MCT oil so they would produce a little bit more in the way of ketones.
Now full disclaimer, at the end of the study, five of the participants had dropped out so there’s only 10 at the end of the study. Now what they found at the end of the study was that the ketogenic diet truly does have a profound effect on those that already have Alzheimer’s or dementia. They did a cognitive assessment before they started the diet, at three months into the diet, and four months into the diet. And at the end of the study, they found that nine out of 10 participants that completed this study had a huge improvement in overall cognitive function. Now they did this the very specific, reputable test. This test was known as the ADAS-Cog test and it measures all kind of things. It measures spatial awareness, it measures memory, it measures attention to detail, task completion, and a number of other things. And what they found is on average, there was a five-point increase which is a very significant increase when they were on the ketogenic diet. But here’s where it gets really interesting. When they went off the ketogenic diet, their test scores went back to where they were before. They lost all improvement, but this ultimately showed was that when following a ketogenic diet, those that have Alzheimer’s or dementia can ultimately utilize a different energy pathway that allows them to regain some of their memory and have a little bit more cognitive function.
Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes down to the research that we’re starting to find in the world of neurodegenerative diseases, but we’re finding a lot of powerful evidence that could show that ketogenic diet is powerful at preventing these diseases as well. Now when it comes down to truly being in ketosis, the only way that you can figure that out is by testing your blood. Sure, there’s other mechanisms but if you want the end all, be all, the true gold standard, you want to make sure that you’re utilizing the Keto-Mojo meter so that you can actually test your blood and determine where your ketone levels are at so you can know that you’re getting the maximum amount of beta hydroxybutyrate to fuel your brain so you don’t have to need a glucose burner so you don’t have to potentially deal with neurodegenerative diseases. As always, keep it locked in here in Keto-Mojo. Move the guess work out of the equation and use the measuring to the meter. I’m Thomas DeLauer and I’ll see you soon.
For more information on the ketogenic diet for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s, read this article.