The population of the United States is getting older.
It’s projected by the U.S. Census Bureau that by the year 2030, fully 20% of Americans will be over the age of 65. And, by the year 2035 — for the first time — those over the age of 65 will outnumber those under 18 years old.
While this demographic trend will have ripples throughout many areas of our society, none may be more concerning than the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating and growing disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association:
- 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
- In the years between 2000 and 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 123%.
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
Researchers are now looking into dietary interventions for treating the causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and there is particular interest in how the ketogenic diet affects those with the disease.
Glucose Utilization in Alzheimer’s
The human brain requires a large amount of our body’s energy to function. Approximately 20% of our total available energy goes to fuel brain activity, and most of that energy is in the form of glucose.
It’s been established that brain glucose utilization is significantly reduced in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. This condition is called, “glucose hypometabolism” and brain imaging has shown an average 20% to 25% reduction in glucose metabolism in important areas of the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
This lack of ability to fully use the most common source of the brain’s energy may be a key component of the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s.
Ketone Bodies in Alzheimer’s
Even though glucose is the main source of brain energy, it’s not the only source. Ketone bodies are an alternative fuel for the brain.
Ketone bodies can be produced internally while following a low-carbohydrate diet — such as the ketogenic diet — or can be obtained externally from supplements.
Research on subjects with Alzheimer’s has shown that, while their brains may have impaired glucose metabolism, no such degradation exists in their utilization of ketone bodies within the brain.
In fact, results of a recent study published by The New York Academy of Sciences show, “Healthy older people metabolize ketones to CO2 at the same rate as younger adults.”
Based on this intact ability to utilize ketones, the study’s researchers concluded, “Brain cells in AD (Alzheimer’s disease) still have functional ketone uptake and metabolism and so the problem with glucose uptake/metabolism appears to be specific to glucose. Like glucose, ketones function as more than just cellular fuels, so the latter may be beneficial for the AD brain because of effects other than replacing glucose as a fuel.”
While additional research into the efficacy of using the keto diet, or ketone supplements, to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is ongoing, these results offer the promise of alternative treatments for those millions suffering from this debilitating disease.