We all know that a poor diet causes weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. But did you know that your brain can be affected by your diet just as much as your waistline can? Fortunately, as a healthy diet can help you shed unwanted pounds, it can also prevent unwanted memory loss. By “feeding” your brain the nutrients it needs, you can actually improve your memory and thwart the development of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Studies show a ketogenic diet can slow and even reverse symptoms of memory loss and cognitive impairment throughout all the dementia stages. You might be asking, “What is a ketogenic diet?” A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet that produces ketones – compounds the body can use to produce energy. Ketones have been shown in studies to be neuroprotective, meaning they “defend” your brain from degenerating.
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Why does a ketogenic diet show promise? Research clearly establishes a strong link between blood sugar disorders and the various dementia stages, including memory loss, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s. The most predominate blood sugar disorders are insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, the link is so obvious some researchers have labeled Alzheimer ’s disease as “type 3 diabetes”.
For the majority of Americans, the blood sugar handling system functions poorly thanks to diets heavy on breads, pastas, pastries, cereals, grains, potatoes, sweet coffee drinks, sodas, and desserts of all kinds. The human body simply wasn’t designed to eat sweets and starchy foods in the quantities most people consume today, and the consequences are obvious in the form of overweight and obesity. However, underlying the accumulation of excess body fat is something far more insidious: the swift degeneration and abnormal function of the brain, which leads to the dementia stages of memory loss, MCI, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Because glucose and insulin mechanisms in the brain are so impaired by the time one enters into the dementia stages, a ketogenic diet may slow or even reverse symptoms. This is because the brain is now burning ketones for energy instead of glucose, which can help restore function.
The Ketogenic Diet for Dementia Stages:
- Eliminate all sweeteners (including natural ones), starchy carbohydrates, and grains from your diet.
- Limit the amount of fruit you eat, and stick to mostly berries, as they are lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants than other fruits.
- Consume only enough dietary protein to meet your daily needs from high-quality, nutrient-dense sources. These include grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and pastured eggs. Dairy proteins cause inflammation in many people and may not be appropriate for brain health.
- Eat ample amounts of nutrient-dense, non-starchy vegetables with your meals.
- Eat enough dietary fats to prevent hunger and sustain energy. Contrary to popular belief, animal fats are healthy for the brain. These include the fats found naturally in organic, grass-fed meats, wild fish, and pastured eggs. Strictly avoid hydrogenated fats, and also avoid vegetable oils that are high in omega 6 fatty acids and known to exacerbate insulin resistance—corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and canola. Instead use olive oil, coconut oil, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, butter or ghee (ghee is butter that has milk solids removed), and heavy cream. Butter and cream may not be appropriate if you are intolerant of dairy, but ghee should be okay.
MCT oil is a great addition to a ketogenic diet used for dementia stages because the liver converts it directly to ketone bodies. MCT oil can also help ease the transition from a diet based largely on grains, sugars, and other high-carbohydrate foods to a lower-carb diet that produces ketones. To learn more about MCT oil and additional natural medicine strategies to prevent and reverse memory loss, enter “MCT oil” into our Natural Health Advisory search engine box which is at the top right corner of any page of our website. You’ll see displayed other articles which discuss the memory healing benefits of this healthy fat.
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 What is there was a cure for Alzheimer’s and no one knew? A case study by Dr. Mary Newport. July 22, 2008.
This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.