By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson
Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet
Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.1 Total deaths from this disease have increased 123% within the last 18 years costing the nation $277 billion.1 Currently, 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and by 2050 it is estimated that 14 million people will live with this disease.1 Even though Alzheimer’s is in the forefront of medical research, there is still so much about the disease that isn’t clear. Since Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, millions of people are living with an incurable disease.1 Imagine, if we could stop the progression of this disease through nutrition, the millions of lives that would be affected. There may be hope for a new treatment, and it begins with a Ketogenic Diet.
What do we know about Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, affecting memory, thinking, and behavior.1 It is a progressive disease which means that it worsens over time.1 Although most Seniors over the age of 65 are affected by this disease, it is still not a normal part of aging. Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects 200,000 Americans under the age of 65.1 Looking at the brain of a person affected by this disease, microscopic changes have already taken place before the first symptoms appear.1 The brain is an incredible organ controlling all functions of the body serving as the center of the nervous system.1 It carries 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, that connect to form communication networks.1 Different groups of neurons have different jobs such as thinking, learning, memory, hearing, and smelling.1 To carry out these functions, the neurons act like factories receiving supplies, generating energy, construct equipment, and eliminate waste.1 In a brain affected by Alzheimer’s these factories aren’t able to perform well which causes problems in other areas leading to damaged cells.1 Cells are no longer able to do their job which makes them atrophy, or die, causing irreversible changes.1 Microscopic views of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s shows two abnormal structures: tangles and plaques.1 Although it’s not understood why this happens, they typically develop with age. However, in a person with Alzheimer’s they develop far more and in a pattern. Tangles are twisted fibers of the protein, tau, that build up inside cells.1 Plaques are deposits of the protein, beta-amyloid, that build up in spaces between neurons.1 The combination of these two structures cause the neurons to lose the ability to communicate which is necessary for cell survival.1 This causes the cells to die causing memory failure, personality changes, problems carrying out daily activities, and other symptoms of the disease.1
Here is what we know about the Ketogenic Diet and Alzheimer’s: A Ketogenic diet allows the body to enter Ketosis (natural metabolism).2 Ketosis allows the body to burn ketones instead of blood sugar (glucose) for fuel.1 Insulin resistance is proven to be one of the major factors in the mental decline.2 When the body enters the natural state of Ketosis, insulin sensitivity is increased which in turn helps blood glucose levels decrease which ultimately reduces spikes in blood sugar.2 Research has shown a link between glucose and Alzheimer’s, deeming some to refer to this disease as type 3 diabetes.2 Since we know that a Ketogenic Diet is successful in diabetic patients, there is hope that it can also help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s.2
In a study published in BMC Nutrition & Metabolism, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter ketogenic agent trial proved to be an effective strategy to treat patients with Alzheimer’s improving memory.3 In another study published in Pub Med ketones are proven to be neuroprotective, meaning they protect nerve cells against damage, degeneration, and impairment of function.4 Ketones are also neuroprotective against glutamate excitotoxicity, neuron injury and death, and oxidative stress, imbalance in free radicals and the ability of the body to detoxify them.4 With a Ketogenic diet the brain would burn ketones for energy instead of glucose which would help restore function of neurons.4 We also know that a Ketogenic Diet reduces other major risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s such as inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other poor health signs.2 Since Ketosis offers benefits to the brain, the slowing or reversing of Alzheimer’s could be possible through a Ketogenic Diet.
1 Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp
2 Ketosis for Alzheimer’s Disease. (2018, January 03). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.perfectketo.com/ketosis-for-alzheimers-disease/
3 Henderson, S. T., Vogel, J. L., Barr, L. J., Garvin, F., Jones, J. J., & Costantini, L. C. (2009, August 10). Study of the ketogenic agent AC-1202 in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-6-31
4 Maalouf, M. A., Rho, J. M., & Mattson, M. P. (2009, March). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2649682/
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 experience with the diet.