A ketogenic diet with 70% fat improves brain function in Alzheimer’s disease patients better than any drug ever tested for the disease, according to data presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last month.
In a pilot study, Alzheimer’s patients following the University of Kansas’s ketogenic diet program improved average of 4 points on a critical Alzheimer’s disease cognition scale. In comparison, the prescription drug donepezil, commonly used to treat Alzheimer’s, led to improvement of only 2 points.
One hypothesis for how neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s develops is that energy-producing processes within neurons may become impaired. While the brain typically uses glucose for energy, a brain fueled by the high-fat ketogenic diet might function better using fat as an alternative fuel source for these neurons.
Researchers tested this by doing an experiment called the Ketogenic Diet Retention and Feasibility Trail (KDRAFT) where they fed a ketogenic-type diet, comprised of 70 per cent fat, to Alzheimer’s patients for three months.
A typical keto diet is 20 per cent protein and only 10 per cent carbohydrate. It eliminates most fruits, and all starchy vegetables, beans, and grains. It does, however, incorporate ample fat sources, including olive oil, butter, cream, eggs, nuts, all kinds of meat, and fish.
Cognition in Alzheimer’s patients generally declines by five points or so per year on the cognitive scale tested, but what the researchers found is that the ketogenic diet reversed this, with participants improving an average of four points on the scale.
This was a small pilot study, which needs to be replicated, but still offers the exciting possibility of dietary changes to significantly improve this incurable disease.