In a new study, researchers found that a low-carb ‘Keto’ diet or an ‘Atkins-style’ diet may modestly improve cognitive functions in older people.
The research was conducted by a team from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
In the study, the team examined 14 older adults with mild cognitive problems suggestive of early Alzheimer’s disease.
The people were asked to eat a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (a modified Atkins diet) for three months.
The team found that participants who were willing to undertake restrictive diets and who could stick to it had modest improvements in memory performance compared with those on a low-fat diet.
The team explains that the brain uses sugar glucose, a product of carbohydrate breakdown, as a primary fuel.
However, in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the brain isn’t able to efficiently use glucose as an energy source.
Some researchers even refer to Alzheimer’s as “type 3 diabetes”.
The current study showed that ketones (chemicals formed during the breakdown of dietary fat) can be used as an alternative energy source in the brains of healthy people and those with mild cognitive impairment.
The team says that the finding cannot prove that the modified Atkins diet has the potential to stave off progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
However, the finding is promising enough to warrant larger, longer-term studies of the dietary impact on brain function.
They suggest that adding a ketone supplement to the daily diet may have the same beneficial effects and that this can make the diet easier to be followed.
People with mild cognitive decline would benefit from a diet that forces the brain to use ketones instead of carbohydrates for fuel.
One author of the study is Jason Brandt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
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