Editor’s note: The connection between Alzheimer’s and nutrition has been covered often in Desert Health, but as the topic is both new and important, we will continue to publish editorials by a variety of practitioners. Previous articles can be found at here.
The statistics around Alzheimer’s disease are highly concerning. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death, and deaths from Alzheimer’s continue to increase.1 Currently, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s at a total cost to the United States of 290 billion dollars1 with costs projected to rise to over 1.1 trillion by 2050. With this in mind, we need to do better in preventing and treating this devastating illness.
Research investigating the relationship between diet and Alzheimer’s is beginning to show some hope in the quest for treatment. In the published literature, Alzheimer’s has a well-known relationship with insulin resistance in the brain and is even termed diabetes type 3 in some references.2 Alzheimer’s is also associated with localized brain and systemic inflammation with data suggesting that targeting and reducing this inflammation effectively may delay or even prevent the development of the disease.3
With these considerations, dietary strategies can effectively target both blood sugar and inflammatory components in Alzheimer’s dementia. The Mediterranean diet is by far the best studied diet for treating Alzheimer’s. Following a Mediterranean diet appears to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 33 percent and can even slow the progression of the disease if cognitive deficits are already present.4 The Mediterranean diet focuses on mostly anti-inflammatory food choices being high in vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood and olive oil.5
More recently, evidence is accruing for a high-fat ketogenic dietary approach for Alzheimer’s disease. The human body primarily runs on sugar (carbohydrates) for fuel if carbohydrates are available. The ketogenic diet decreases carbohydrates to a level where the body is forced to utilize fat for energy. Ketogenic diets are composed of healthy oils, above-ground vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and some dairy products. By dramatically reducing carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet may help reverse insulin resistance by reducing blood sugar and improving energy production.6 Burning fat for energy also exerts anti-inflammatory effects.7
Ketogenic diets have shown 20 percent improved cognitive performance at 3 months for those with Alzheimer’s.8 In one case study, a patient with mild cognitive impairment who also tested positive for the Alzheimer’s gene fully reversed his cognitive decline in ten weeks on a ketogenic diet.9
Some supplements mimic the benefits of a ketogenic diet. Studies have shown improved cognitive performance in a subset of Alzheimer’s patients within just 90 minutes of consuming medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that can dramatically increase fat-based energy production (ketosis) in the brain and body.10
Other dietary factors may be important as well. Studies on green tea appear to show benefits in decreasing the incidence of Alzheimer’s by almost four times in those consuming green tea daily.11
Unfortunately, none of the current medications for Alzheimer’s are disease modifying, meaning they do not delay or prevent illness and provide only modest symptomatic improvement.12 Dietary approaches may help to open the door to successful treatment strategies to reverse this epidemic. Utilized properly, dietary strategies appear to lay a foundation for the beginning of a successful approach for treating – and reversing – Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Dr. Scott Buesing is a naturopathic doctor with clinical experience treating mental health issues and other chronic illness. He currently sees patients at The Refinery Integrated Wellness in Palm Desert at (760) 385-3959. For more
6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31485454; 7) ;