There is still so much about the brain and brain disorders that aren’t quite understood. Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest disorders that affects the lives of people we know every year, plaguing us in old age. This article will look at what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease, the connection between Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, and what ketosis for Alzheimer’s disease can do in terms of potentially reducing the disease risk.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Let’s start with some basic facts about Alzheimer’s disease:
- Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder and is the most common cause of dementia in older people.
- Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys skills related to thinking and memory. Simple tasks become difficult to perform, and most Alzheimer’s symptoms first show up in a person’s mid-60s.
- A big feature of the disease is loss of connection between neurons in the brain, which send messages between all the different parts of the body, including the brain.
Interesting fact: The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who observed a woman with symptoms of the disease in 1906 and examined her brain after she passed away. Dr. Alzheimer found the woman’s brain contained many unusual clumps and fiber tangles, which are still some of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease today.
Currently, there is still no agreed-upon cure or prevention available that’s been found for Alzheimer’s disease. But what about what causes these symptoms?
Causes of Alzheimer’s
Just as there is currently no true cure, the true cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. Popular theory includes several possible lifestyle, genetic, and environmental causes for the disease. Metabolic dysfunction is often included as a key factor — and that possible improvements to metabolic health could show promise.
One of the earliest signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the brain not being able to use glucose effectively, which leads to a “starvation” of the brain. It’s in this relation to glucose that ketosis might have benefit for those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Ketosis and Alzheimer’s Disease
The ketogenic diet was initially created to reduce seizures in some children with epilepsy, another disorder of the brain. Fasting has been used as an alternative treatment for epilepsy patients who weren’t responding well to medications, and ketosis, which is triggered by fasting or the ketogenic diet, provides the body and brain with an alternative fuel source in the form of ketones.
The introduction of a ketogenic diet provided a way for epilepsy patients to continue to “fast” the body of glucose without starving themselves. This success has led researchers to wonder if ketosis could also help in addressing other brain disorders in which glucose metabolism is an issue, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Let’s look at a correlation between glucose and insulin, the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood, and Alzheimer’s.
Glucose and Alzheimer’s Disease
Insulin resistance has shown to be one of the major factors in mental decline. For this reason, some researchers have even referred to Alzheimer’s as “type 3 diabetes” because it may be a late-stage of type 2 diabetes, which involves a lack of insulin. This could mean type 2 diabetes itself could be a sign of impending mental deterioration.
In addition, recent research has shown a molecular link between blood sugar glucose and Alzheimer’s disease.
If there is indeed a strong link between diabetes or blood sugar and mental decline, alleviating or reversing the symptoms of blood sugar-related disorders might be beneficial in protecting the brain, too.
Thankfully, ketosis puts our bodies into a state of metabolism that increases insulin sensitivity, helping to decrease blood glucose levels and reduce spikes in blood sugar through the strict management of carbohydrate intake.
Ketosis for Mental Decline
Although research is still needed on the subject of ketosis and mental decline, there have been a number of small studies done in around the last decade showing how a state of ketosis can provide value for patients who are cognitively impaired:
- A study with 20 people who had Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment were given a placebo or medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). After 90 minutes, ketone levels were increased in those given the MCT. The higher amounts of ketone levels correlated with greater improvements in memory .
- Five years later, another longer and larger study was done with 152 patients who had mild Alzheimer’s. Those taking a ketogenic compound showed improvements in cognition 45 days later .
- We also know that ketones themselves have been shown to be neuroprotective , which is a good sign when it comes to prevention of mental deterioration over time.
In addition, inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other poor health signs are all major risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. These are all conditions that can addressed with a balanced, well-planned high-fat and low-carb ketogenic diet.
Genetics and Ketosis
It should be noted that the benefits ketosis might offer for the brain may depend on a person’s genetics. In the studies mentioned above, the cognitive improvements were only shown in those who did not have the ApoE4 allele, which is a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and were shown for longer and at stronger rates for those without this allele in the longer study.
Slowing or Reversing Alzheimer’s
Just as we’ve learned in recent years that conditions like heart disease can be reversed through diet, there is promise for the potential to slow or reverse symptoms of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s if the risk factors are caught early enough and addressed. Making sure we’re eating a diet that’s healthy and anti-inflammation is one good place to start.
Other Ways to Protect Your Brain
Besides a ketogenic diet, there are supplementary ways to help protect your brain, including:
- Eating low-glycemic, whole foods. Remove the sugars, carbs, processed foods, alcohol, and inflammatory omega-6 rich processed oils and replace them with wholesome fats like low-carb nuts, avocados, grass-fed meats, and high-quality oils.
- Eating omega-3-rich fats like extra-virgin olive oil, wild fatty fish, and flaxseeds for brain health and reducing inflammation.
- Staying active. Add exercise into your life daily. Physical activity has been shown to slow down or prevent brain diseases and continuing cognitive decline [link].
- Sleeping at least eight hours a night. Chronic lack of quality sleep has been linked to cognitive dysfunction among other problems.
- Practicing stress relief. Chronic stress is another thing that is harmful to your brain and your body over time. Incorporate calming practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing into your life to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Don’t be afraid of challenge. When the brain feels challenged, such as when you’re doing a crossword puzzle or staying mentally engaged at your job, it releases norepinephrine, a hormone that some researchers believe may help slow decline of the brain.
It’s called the mind-body connection for a reason. In order to take care of the body, we must take care of the mind, and vise versa. Although we still have a lot to learn on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, ketosis provides benefits that may prove protective for both the body and mind.
Sources: Reger, Mark A., Samuel T. Henderson, Cathy Hale, Brenna Cholerton, Laura D. Baker, G.s. Watson, Karen Hyde, Darla Chapman, and Suzanne Craft. “Effects of Î²-hydroxybutyrate on Cognition in Memory-impaired Adults.” Neurobiology of Aging 25.3 (2004): 311-14. Web. 15 June 2017.  Henderson, Samuel T., Janet L. Vogel, Linda J. Barr, Fiona Garvin, Julie J. Jones, and Lauren C. Costantini. “Study of the Ketogenic Agent AC-1202 in Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Multicenter Trial.” Nutrition & Metabolism 6.1 (2009): 31. Web. 15 June 2017.  Maalouf, Marwan, Jong M. Rho, and Mark P. Mattson. “The Neuroprotective Properties of Calorie Restriction, the Ketogenic Diet, and Ketone Bodies.” Brain Research Reviews59.2 (2009): 293-315. Web. 15 June 2017.
Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.