Diet wins a battle with Alzheimer’s


Man with alzheimers[This article discusses health improvements based, at least in part, on a ketogenic diet. Dr. Loren Cordain and many others, including The Paleo Diet editorial review board, don’t recommend or endorse long-term ketogenic dieting for the general public. They do acknowledge that it can be effective if used short-term and as a therapeutic measure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.]

Peter Dredge’s book Beating Alzheimer’s, the enemy at the gate: turning despair into hope and action [1], recounts his wife Ann’s early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis and their intense struggle with both the disease and “conventional” medical treatment. They refused to accept what most of us believe; that Alzheimer’s is unstoppable, incurable, and irreversible (at one-point Ann was offered euthanasia.) Instead, they researched every nontraditional alternative.

They discovered the work of Dr. Mary Newport [2] and Dr. Dale Bredesen [3] and using that work as a guide, they achieved both short term relief from the worst symptoms, and measurable reversal of the condition. Ann, initially given only three months to live, is sometimes referred to as “probably the first New Zealander to come back from end-stage Alzheimer’s” [4].

Diet and supplementation contributed heavily to Ann’s progress. Drs. Newport and Bredesen, among many others, have exhaustively researched how the conventional Western diet, heavy in carbs, sugar, inflammatory oils and additives, can create a “perfect storm” in the brain. While food choices are not the only Alzheimer’s culprits, dietary changes can be pivotal in slowing—and even reversing—cognitive decline.

 

Dr. Newport and coconut oil

Dr. Newport’s husband Steve also suffered early-onset Alzheimer’s. Frustrated by conventional medicine’s lack of options, she began her own internet research. As passionately and painstakingly described in her book Alzheimer’s Disease – What If There Was A Cure? The Story of Ketones, [3] she discovered research on a prototype “medical food” (Ketasyn, a forerunner of Axona [5]) for dementia patients. The food was based on medium-chain triglycerides derived from coconut and palm kernel oil. Since the food itself was not yet available, Dr. Newport calculated the available MCT’s in coconut oil and added this to Steve’s diet.

Steve responded dramatically and immediately to coconut oil, and later MCT oil, consuming both regularly. His caregivers, including Dr. Newport, all noticed that he “was back,” with improved life and coping skills (dexterity, gait, personality,) better short-term memory, and measurably improved cognitive exam scores. Two years later, “stable” MRI results showed that there had been little, if any, additional brain atrophy during this oil-supplementation phase.

Steve did not experience a miracle cure, but rather measurable, intermittent relief from the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s over fifteen years. Average life expectancy after diagnosis is 3-11 years [6]. During this time, the family diet was gradually modified along more classic ketogenic, or at least lower-carb lines. Steve also later used prototype “ketone esters,” then being developed by Dr. Richard Veech et al. [7]

Like Steve, Ann Dredge also responded quickly to a 60/40 MCT to coconut oil mixture. Four ounces each day, caused her daily, hour-long full-body twitching episodes to disappear. The same mixture could alleviate any rare recurrence. Dressing herself became much easier, and the oil mixture would also help calm Ann during what Peter calls “more-delusional episodes” of anxiety and confusion.

Ann also follows a ketogenic diet, exercises when possible, minimizes stress, and continues to use the oil mixture to this day. Symptoms often resume or intensify if she misses a dose. [1]

 

Ketones and the brain

Dr. Newport’s original 2008 case study [8], available on her website, succinctly introduces ketones, and ketosis, in the context of Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. Ketosis, the body’s use of fat-derived “ketone bodies” for energy (instead of glucose) has been widely popularized in the last few years due to the ketogenic diet craze.

As most keto dieters know, our bodies (and brains) come “factory equipped” to function in the absence of exogenous glucose. While we manufacture some glucose internally, due to our ability to survive on ketones, we don’t need to consume additional glucose in order to maintain bodily function. Keto texts, including Dr. Newport’s, often refer to starvation or fasting as a normal context for ketosis, but low-enough carbohydrate dieting produces the same result.

Interestingly, full ketosis is not the only way to increase available ketones—especially for use by the brain.

High fat foods and supplements like coconut or MCT oil can provide medium-chain triglycerides, which are readily converted to ketones. These become available immediately in the bloodstream. MCT oil supplementation, in particular, has been shown to increase bioavailable ketones even without reducing dietary carbohydrates [13]. The brain will preferentially use available ketones even if glucose is also present. That is, full ketosis is not required for the brain to take advantage of ketones [9]. One reason, or perhaps the main reason, for this is that ketones freely cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glucose, on the other hand, requires a more complex chemical process (involving insulin) to be made available to the brain.

Alzheimer’s is often characterized by insulin insensitivity in the brain and has been called “Type 3 Diabetes” by some researchers [10]. They theorize that the brain atrophies over time as glucose provides less and less available energy—even if ingested in prodigious amounts. They also note that the brain can develop this insensitivity even if the patient is not clinically “diabetic” [11].

 

Strong anecdotal evidence

Steve and Ann’s quick reactions to ingesting medium- and long-change triglycerides, metabolized into ketone bodies, appears to show that energy deprivation in the brain could be a major contributor to Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Newport carefully gathered numerous testimonials in her books, which she received during heroic efforts to raise awareness of Steve’s progress, both within and outside of the medical community. Not everyone responds as quickly or easily as Steve, or Ann Dredge, but even the slightest improvement can be welcome to the afflicted, as well as desperate family members or caregivers.

It should be noted that this “oil therapy” is not a cure but appears to slow, arrest and mitigate—sometime even reverse—multiple gross Alzheimer’s symptoms.

According to Dr. Dale Bredesen (a neurologist specializing in Alzheimer’s research,) insulin resistance is only one of several possible contributing co-factors to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Nevertheless, his own protocol is also based on a ketogenic diet, including supplemental MCT or coconut oil. [3] His book also contains many corroborative case studies and testimonials.

Dr. Bredesen’s protocol will be examined in a subsequent article.

 

Lack of mainstream acceptance

The Dredges, Newports, and Dr. Bredesen have all experienced resistance on many levels as they explored or tried to promote awareness of these ideas.

Peter Dredge recounts repeated instances of vigorous opposition to the idea that Alzheimer’s could be treated. He has often been treated very negatively and was even threatened with legal proceedings to remove Ann from his care. His courageous refusal to accept conventional medicine’s death sentence on his beloved wife is a strong theme throughout his book. Ann is still with us.

Dr. Newport similarly describes being repeatedly stymied as she tried to follow conventional pathways to raise awareness of Steve’s modest recovery. Attempts to exhibit or speak at Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored events were denied or shut down, once with a public announcement that the Association “did not support” coconut oil research. She was also privately told that “extensive clinical trials” would be needed before her ideas could be publicly discussed.

As Dr. Bredesen’s book [3] shows, money for “extensive clinical trials” is controlled by various institutional review boards and hard to come by. His own protocol was denied funding as “too complicated,” despite many successful case studies [12].

Conventional medicine’s intransigence, especially when faced with effective but non-traditional methodologies, is well known to Paleo readers—many of whom have resolved serious health conditions by abandoning conventional dietary advice.

The stories of Peter and Ann Dredge, and the work of Drs. Newport and Bredesen, deserve much wider awareness.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Beating Alzheimer’s, The Enemy at the Gate: Turning Despair into Hope and Action EBook: Peter Dredge: Gateway. https://www.amazon.com/Beating-Alzheimers-Enemy-Gate-Turning-ebook/dp/B07HH67GV3/ref=sr_1_4 crid=1OL2PXR69Y6EO&keywords=beating+alzheimers&qid=1560174789&s=gateway&sprefix=beating+al%2Caps%2C187&sr=8-4.
  2. Newport, Mary T. Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?: The Story of Ketones. Second edition, Basic Health Publications, Inc, 2013.
  3. Bredesen, Dale E. The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017.
  4. “Beating Alzheimer’s Disease? Anne Dredge’s ‘huge Improvements’ with Dale Bredesen Treatment.” RNZ, 21 Sept. 2018, https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2018663546/beating-alzheimer-s-disease-anne-dredge-s-huge-improvements-with-dale-bredesen-treatment.
  5. Henderson, Samuel T., et al. “Study of the Ketogenic Agent AC-1202 in Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Multicenter Trial.” Nutrition & Metabolism, vol. 6, 2009, p. 31. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-6-31.
  6. “What to Know about the Stages of Alzheimer’s.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/alzheimers-stages/art-20048448.
  7. Kashiwaya, Yoshihiro, et al. “A Ketone Ester Diet Exhibits Anxiolytic and Cognition-Sparing Properties, and Lessens Amyloid and Tau Pathologies in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Neurobiology of Aging, vol. 34, no. 6, June 2013, pp. 1530–39. PubMed, doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2012.11.023.
  8. Newport, Mary. “What If There Was a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and No One Knew?  A Case Study by Dr. Mary Newport.” www.CoconutKetones.Com , Mary Newport, MD, 22 July 2008, http://coconutketones.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/whatifcure.pdf.
  9. Reger, Mark A., et al. “Effects of β-Hydroxybutyrate on Cognition in Memory-Impaired Adults.” Neurobiology of Aging, vol. 25, no. 3, Mar. 2004, pp. 311–14. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1016/S0197-4580(03)00087-3.
  10. de la Monte, Suzanne M., and Jack R. Wands. “Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes–Evidence Reviewed.” Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology (Online), vol. 2, no. 6, Nov. 2008, pp. 1101–13.
  11. Schilling, Melissa A. “Unraveling Alzheimer’s: Making Sense of the Relationship between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease 1.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 51, no. 4, Jan. 2016, pp. 961–77. content.iospress.com, doi:10.3233/JAD-150980.
  12. Bredesen, Dale E. “Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program.” Aging, vol. 6, no. 9, Sept. 2014, pp. 707–17. PubMed, doi:10.18632/aging.100690.
  13. Courchesne-Loyer, Alexandre, et al. “Stimulation of Mild, Sustained Ketonemia by Medium-Chain Triacylglycerols in Healthy Humans: Estimated Potential Contribution to Brain Energy Metabolism.” Nutrition, vol. 29, no. 4, Apr. 2013, pp. 635–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.nut.2012.09.009.

 

About David Whiteside

David WhitesideDavid Whiteside spent 23 years as a professional insurance agent and financial advisor, including 9 years as a Medicaid case manager. He spent most of that time advising seniors and retirees on long-term health and monetary issues.

Unexpected, dramatic personal success on the Paleo diet (from 1/1/2016) spurred David to research and write on Paleo’s implications for healthy aging. He now devotes his time to promoting awareness of Paleo in the senior community.

David specializes in making science accessible to casual readers, including little-known or controversial ideas that repudiate conventional dietary advice. He blogs at www.Paleo55plus.com

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