Baltimore, MD—In a pilot study of 14 adults with mild cognitive problems suggestive of early Alzheimer’s disease, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine found that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet may improve brain function and memory, according to a press release.
Researchers noted that finding participants willing to undertake a restrictive diet for the three-month study was difficult—but that the nine who adhered to a keto-style diet had small but measurable improvements on standardized tests of memory compared with the five on a low-fat diet.
Typically, the brain uses glucose as fuel—but in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, the brain isn’t able to efficiently use glucose as an energy source, explained Jason Brandt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of medicine. Ketones, however, which are formed when carbohydrate ingestion is limited, can be used as an alternative energy source.
Brandt said in the release: “Our early findings suggest that perhaps we don’t need to cut carbs as strictly as we initially tried. We may eventually see the same beneficial effects by adding a ketone supplement that would make the diet easier to follow. Most of all, if we can confirm these preliminary findings, using dietary changes to mitigate cognitive loss in early-stage dementia would be a real game-changer. It’s something that 400-plus experimental drugs haven’t been able to do in clinical trials.”
The researchers noted that, while this study isn’t proof of the diet’s potential, it does warrant larger, longer-term studies in the same vein.
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