Even Low-Carb “Atkins-Style” Diets May Improve Cognition

Ketogenic diet breakfast

A pilot study by researchers at John’s Hopkins last month offered that high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet may improve brain function and memory. This was in 14 older adults with mild cognitive problems suggestive of early Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who adhered to a modified Atkins diet with very low carbohydrates and extra fat had  improvements on standardized memory tests compared to those on a low-fat diet. These short-term results were published in the April issue of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. These short-term results were promising enough to prompt continued research with longer-term studies of the impact of dietary composition on brain function.

One of the researchers is Jason Brandt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He states, “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.”

A low-carb, mildly ketogenic diet is the goal dietary strategy we employ with our patients with cognitive issues as an integral part of their care. The reasoning for this approach lies in the understanding that ketones — small molecules that result from the breakdown of fats — can be utilized as an alternative energy source by the brain. This is particularly true in the brains of those with cognitive impairment where there seems to be a problem in utilizing glucose as a fuel source. Being on a ketogenic diet simply means there are more ketones generated. This is the opposite of being on a higher carbohydrate diet when ketone production is suppressed as fat breakdown is not occurring.

In this study, participants were scored according to standardized clinical rating systems designed to assess cognitive function. Those who stuck with the diet improved their scores by about 15%, whereas those who didn’t dropped by about the same amount. A very impressive outcome from a short-term study using a moderate version of a ketogenic diet. Pharmaceutical companies have spent literally billions of dollars researching potential new drugs for the problem and had no meaningful results.

At Peak Health, we have experience and understanding of how to use a low-carb and mildly ketogenic diet, not only for our patients, but it’s something we’ve done for ourselves the past several years. If you, or someone you love is at risk for, or has signs of cognitive issues,  we’re here to help. To find out more, click here.

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