Alzheimer’s Disease – Type 3 Diabetes 

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Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is considered to be a progressive brain disorder that affects memory and thinking skills, and the ability to carry out simple tasks. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that more than 5.5 million Americans, most of them age 65 or older, may have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.(1)

AD is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who in 1906, noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms presented as memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behaviour. An autopsy revealed that her brain had many abnormal clumps known as amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of neurofibrillary. 

Whilst there is still much to be understood with regards to AD, emerging research now suggests that it can be classified as a type of diabetes, more specifically, as type 3 diabetes. 

The Mayo Clinic suggests that there is an established link between AD and type 2 diabetes. It has been suggested that AD may be triggered by insulin resistance, referring to AD as “diabetes of the brain”.(2) High circulating insulin levels in the brain over time causes the brain to become resistant to insulin’s effects, thereby reducing neurons’ ability to take up and use glucose. As such, the neurons starve, shrink and stop being able to signal properly, resulting in cognitive deficits and the signs and symptoms of AD. (2)

Due to this, focus has been placed on addressing AD from a metabolic perspective, more specifically on measuring the impact of ketones as an alternative fuel source to glucose. 

One such research conducted in 2016 proposed that brain energy deficit is an important pre-symptomatic feature of AD and looked into whether ketones were in fact found to be effective in improving brain function. This study, titled  Can Ketones Help Rescue Brain Fuel Supply in Later Life? Implications for Cognitive Health during Aging and the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease , states that interventions that raise ketone availability to the brain, improve cognitive outcomes in both those with Moderate Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – which precedes AD – and AD itself, as well as in acute experimental hypoglycemia.(3)

In this article, published in the journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, it was found that a  Low-carb/Keto Diet (‘Atkins-style’) may modestly improve cognition in older adults. This pilot study showed 14 older adults with mild cognitive problems suggestive of early AD had improvements in brain function and memory with a high fat low carbohydrate diet. (4)

In another study The Expanding Role of Ketogenic Diets in Adult Neurological Disorders, evidence was found to support the Ketogenic Diet therapy use in adult epilepsy, adult malignant glioma and AD.(5)

Whilst there is still much to be uncovered, research such as the above provide significant insights on the potential for new avenues in the effective treatment, and possibly, prevention of AD. This also highlights the need for  healthcare practitioners to remain up to date with the latest emerging research and practical implementations of this in clinical practice.

The Nutrition Network will soon be releasing a practical guide for the effective treatment of AD in a clinical setting, specifically aimed at treating practitioners. Find a full list of all our expert driven trainings here or get in touch with us at [email protected] for any further queries.

References:

  1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-and-alzheimers/art-20046987
  3. Cunnane, S. C., Courchesne-Loyer, A., Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Fortier, M., Hennebelle, M., Croteau, E., Bocti, C., Fulop, T., & Castellano, C. A. (2016). Can Ketones Help Rescue Brain Fuel Supply in Later Life? Implications for Cognitive Health during Aging and the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 9, 53. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnmol.2016.00053 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4937039/
  4. Brandt, Jason et al. ‘Preliminary Report on the Feasibility and Efficacy of the Modified Atkins Diet for Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Early Alzheimer’s Disease’. 1 Jan. 2019 : 969 – 981. https://www.j-alz.com/content/low-carb-keto-diet-atkins-style-may-modestly-improve-cognition-older-adults-preliminary#:~:text=In%20a%20pilot%20study%20of,improve%20brain%20function%20and%20memory.
  5. McDonald, T., & Cervenka, M. C. (2018). The Expanding Role of Ketogenic Diets in Adult Neurological Disorders. Brain sciences, 8(8), 148. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci8080148 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6119973/
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