Alzheimer’s disease is not very well understood. There may be many mechanisms responsible for the disease, and researchers have been frustrated by the lack of progress in finding successful drug intervention. The plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s were long considered the cause of the disease but are now considered symptoms. Prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s depends on finding root causes before significant and permanent damage is done to the brain.
One key consistency with all Alzheimer’s patients is that glucose uptake into the brain is compromised. Diminished energy capacity starts to occur before Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, and researchers have speculated that persistently high blood glucose levels may eventually harm or disable the uptake receptors. This is similar to what happens with diabetics and insulin resistance. Some doctors have even taken to calling Alzheimer’s, “Type 3 diabetes,” both because of the similarities of the diseases and the strong correlation between patient populations. Regardless of the cause, Alzheimer’s sufferers do not receive enough energy to their brain. This brain starvation may be what causes the plaques to appear.
There is one other fuel source available, and it may be a key to preserving cognitive function. Ketones are produced in the liver from fatty acids. The brain can use them as energy and does so whenever glucose levels are insufficient due to strenuous exercise, fasting, or when consuming a low carbohydrate diet. This energy source enters the brain through alternate pathway, avoiding the impaired system. The brain always requires some level of glucose (which can be sufficiently made in the liver), but 75-80% of brain energy needs may be met directly through ketones. Some level of glucose still reaches the brain even with a damaged system, so energy needs can be largely met, and cognitive decline can be prevented or delayed.
A ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate/high fat) will elevate blood ketone levels naturally, but a ketone supplement may also be used. Ketones can be found commercially as an ester (the most effective delivery system, but currently very expensive and poor tasting) or bonded to a mineral like salt or potassium. Ketones are generally regarded as safe by the FDA, other than for some concern of over-consumption of the bonded associated mineral. Dosage procedures and suggestions are beyond the scope of this article, but please contact us or a qualified health professional if you’d like more information.
Repeated studies have shown that patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease have performed significantly better on cognitive tests after elevating ketone levels. It may not fix the underlying problem (although a ketogenic diet might allow the glucose pathways to be repaired over time, like the reversal of diabetic markers we see with clients), but a regular ketone ester or ketone salt supplement may help feed the brain sufficiently to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.