The Magic Bullet for Dementia: Could It Be Something Other Than a Pill?

James K. Curto, CMDCP

James K. Curto, CMDCP

The Birches Assisted Living, sailor, jazz fan, LTHS, Denison, Kellogg NU grad, and a White Sox fan. The spark of an idea for the Birches Assisted Living and Memory Care began when I heard about this new “assisted living movement” back in the mid-90. I found and purchased the land in 1997, and we began construction a year later... I grew up in La Grange and am a proud graduate of Lyons Township High School. My wife, Mary, and I have lived in Western Springs since 1992. I spent much of my career in hospital management, after receiving training in that field at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

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Sep 14, 2017

Alzheimer’s Disease (“AD”) is the most common type of or cause of dementia.

One theory is that AD is a metabolic disease where the brain does not properly process sugars or respond normally to signals from insulin, a primary—if not the primary—metabolic hormone.

Proponents of this idea, such as psychiatrist Georgia Ede, say insulin resistance is the driving force behind most “garden-variety” cases of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Ede says, “Insulin resistance of the body is type 2 diabetes; insulin resistance of the brain is type 3 diabetes. They are two separate diseases caused by the same underlying problem: insulin resistance.”

She hits the subject hard and says aggressively, “Refined carbohydrates cause brain damage,” and goes on to say that people with insulin resistance need to be careful with all carbohydrates, not just refined ones.

Researcher and neuropathologist Dr. Suzanne M. de la Monte says almost the very same thing. She suggests the soaring insulin resistance rates related to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome are also connected to the current Alzheimer’s epidemic.

Resistance to the effects of insulin can come from having too much insulin circulating in our blood due to the intake of certain foods and drinks. Adopting a strategy not to take in foods that stimulate insulin can lead to lowering insulin levels, which can, over time, allow insulin to work (and signal) properly and reduce or eliminate insulin resistance.

This same line of thinking is perhaps a more radical idea: a ketogenic diet can improve thinking in people with dementia.

Suppose you eat a ketogenic diet (low in carbohydrates with moderate protein and ‘good’ fats). In that case, your liver will generate ketone bodies (or ketones) that are a source of energy for the body and an especially good one for the brain.

With insulin resistance and with dementia, it’s harder for the brain to use glucose for energy. Still, ketone bodies easily provide the large amounts of energy our brains need and provide it more efficiently.

When your body runs on ketones in place of glucose, you are said to be ‘in ketosis.’ These diets were used in the 1920s to stop epileptic seizures in children, and getting kids into ketosis stopped seizures in their tracks. This shows the power of food to change brain chemistry, and maybe it works with AD too.

An evolutionary theory suggests fasting as an approach to managing Alzheimer’s Disease. Driving insulin levels down by not eating for a while to allow better focus and improve attention is not a proven thing, but it’s is a valid area of inquiry.

If lack of food made our distant forbears tired and listless, they might never have had the energy to find it. On the contrary, hunger might prove to be a stimulation to alertness and a readiness to take action.

Should we all strive to get into ketosis intermittently fast to drive our insulin levels down so that the insulin hormone works appropriately? Will this reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s? Should we (slightly) starve people who already have AD to achieve more clarity and focus?

Maybe it’s worth a try, but not only is it easier said than done, but what are we seeking to improve? Quality of life? The pleasures of food are nothing to be ignored in the overall scheme of things. In any case, keep an eye on these interesting connections between food and the brain.