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Can Ketones Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease?

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Quick Summary tl;dr

“Network stability” — the brain’s ability to communicate among its regions — is a new marker of brain aging.

Older brains tend to exhibit lower network stability and lower network stability predicts cognitive decline.

Ketogenic diets increase network stability, whereas Western diets decrease network stability. This is consistent with the hypothesis that ketogenic diets could slow brain aging and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

Ketones Promote “Network Stability” in the Brain to Possibly Protect Against Alzheimer’s

On March 3rd, 2020, a  two-part study was published in the prestigious journal, PNAS, that documented two important discoveries:

  1. A new way to measure brain aging based on something called “Network Stability”
  2. A way to increase “Network Stability” and, thereby, possibly slow brain aging and decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease
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What is Network Stability?

Network stability refers to the brain’s capacity to communicate among its regions. You can think of the human brain as a team in which cooperation is key to getting the job of thinking done right! Greater Network Stability indicates more effective teamwork and, therefore, healthier and more efficient brain function.

To establish decreasing Network Stability as a new way to measure brain aging, the scientists behind this study took fMRIs (brain scan videos) of 928 people and correlated their Network Stability scores with their ages in years.

They found that older people, on average, had lower network stability scores and that lower Network Stability scores predicted worse performance on cognitive tests. Therefore, the scientists concluded that decreasing Network Stability is a marker for brain aging and cognitive decline.

Could Improving Network Stability Slow Down Brain Aging?

If the problem is that aging leads to a decrease in Network Stability and cognitive function, what’s the solution? In other words, how do we increase Network Stability and, by extension, slow brain aging?

In the second part of this study, researchers took healthy adults and measured their Network Stability scores under five different conditions:

  1. when they hadn’t eaten anything (control)
  2. when they were eating a standard Western diet
  3. when they were eating a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet
  4. after a sugar drink
  5. after a drink containing ketones

They found that, as compared to the control, the Western diet and sugar drink decreased Network Stability. In an alarming contrast, the ketogenic diet and the ketone drink actually increased Network Stability!

It wasn’t even as if the two Western diet & sugar drink groups and the two ketogenic diet & ketone drink groups only had similar effects on Network Stability of different magnitudes — they had completely opposite effects!

These results suggest that Western diets and sugar may accelerate brain aging, whereas ketogenic diets and ketones may slow brain aging. Although longer term studies will be needed to determine if long term consumption of a ketogenic diet and/or ketone supplements truly does protect against brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive function, based on these data, you stand your best chance of being around to interpret the results if you do reduce the carbs.

Ketogenic diets increase network stability, whereas Western diets decrease network stability. This is consistent with the hypothesis that ketogenic diets could slow brain aging and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

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Comments (2)

Sugar sucks! Made me diabetic but I have since reversed with Keto Diet, thanks in large part to Martina! Alzheimer's is type III diabetes so it's a double win! SAD diet is sad. High-fat wins!
And, Nick, I see this paper was out of Oxford. Were you involved in this research?

Oh boy, I was hoping that question wouldn’t come up. No, I wasn’t directly involved with this research, despite the fact the the senior author was my supervisor. Actually, none of my peers or I got in on it, in part, because the project started before at least I started my studies at Oxford and because the bulk of the study/scans were conducted mostly in the US. Nevertheless, I’m just a little bit bitter about the fact that I didn’t know this project was ongoing until it was published. I would have loved to help. I’m not letting another study like this slip under my nose without getting my fingers in it ;)