These are interesting days for nutritional medicine, I have to say.
You might recall that I got my start in nutrition using a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet — popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins, whom I worked alongside for many years. It’s an approach that’s fallen in and out of favor over the decades.
But I think it’s safe to say that it appears to be having a bit of a renaissance…
In fact, I think Dr. Atkins would be thrilled to see just how powerful his trademark ketogenic diet has proven to be in the modern war against disease. Even against otherwise incurable conditions like Alzheimer’s.
It’s true. The news broke at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 — right in accordance with the study I shared last week. But while that research focused on exercise as a crucial form of dementia prevention, the study I’ll discuss today offers yet another natural strategy for your arsenal. It harnesses the power of ketones to slam the brakes on cognitive decline.
Ketones are compounds which help your body break down fat to be used as energy. And as the moniker suggests, “ketogenic” diets are ones that increase ketone circulation in your body through the elimination of sugar and carbs.
Weight loss is an obvious result of this state, called ketosis. But more and more, we are finding out this is hardly the only (or even the most impressive) benefit of a ketogenic diet.
So how does Alzheimer’s figure into the picture? Well, first off, it impedes your brain’s ability to use sugar for energy — causing glucose metabolism to drop by as much as 40 percent in some areas. And this energy loss, in turn, leads to both the structural and cognitive dysfunction we associate with dementia.
Now for the good news: Early research suggests that, like the rest of your body, your brain can substitute ketones in place of sugar for energy.
Accordingly, results show that ketogenic diets correlate with better brain function in Alzheimer’s patients. Ketogenic supplements — which include medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) also appear to energize the brain and improve function in patients with mild cognitive decline. And exercise is another way you can increase ketone uptake in the brain — which may further explain why it’s so effective at stalling dementia.
If you ask me, findings like this are precisely why we need to get to the root of Alzheimer’s disease — and not just focus on amyloid plaques and tau tangles. We’ve known for a while that glucose uptake is 14 percent lower in older people — and that’s in people with healthy brains. Patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s have a brain glucose uptake that’s an additional 20 to 30 percent lower.
Bottom line? Whether you’re dealing with senior moments or full-fledged dementia, ketones are going to be your brain’s best friend. And once again, diet is the best way to get a boost.
Take this small pilot study for example. Researchers placed 15 subjects with mild Alzheimer’s on a ketogenic diet for three months. They assessed cognitive function before the diet period, immediately after the diet period, and then a month later once the subjects had resumed their usual diets.
Among these subjects, ten were able to achieve sustained ketosis. And these patients showed significant cognitive improvement when compared to the five patients who didn’t follow the diet closely enough. (A four-point increase in the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cog, in fact — more than any drug can offer.)
Unfortunately, however, these improvements disappeared once the patients returned to their normal diets. So clearly, continued compliance is key.
Which, of course, the lead author of this study cites as a reason to start developing a drug that will achieve the same thing. His claim? A ketogenic diet’s just not enjoyable enough to maintain.
And isn’t that typical? Luckily, anyone who’s followed my nutritional advice — where vegetables are your only source of carbs and majority of your calories come from high-quality fat — knows that’s hogwash. And how easy and delicious achieving ketosis can be.
I can’t speak for these study subjects, but I enjoy eating every single day — as do the thousands of patients I’ve counseled through the course of my career. If this study author thinks achieving ketosis is grueling, then he obviously hasn’t read the right cookbook.
Maybe I’ll change the name of my “A-List Diet” to the “Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet.” That should grab his attention…