High carbohydrate diets and Alzheimer's disease

Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(5):689-700. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2003.11.028.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a common, progressive, neurodegenerative disease that primarily afflicts the elderly. A well-defined risk factor for late onset AD is possession of one or more alleles of the epsilon-4 variant (E4) of the apolipoprotein E gene. Meta-analysis of allele frequencies has found that E4 is rare in populations with long historical exposure to agriculture, suggesting that consumption of a high carbohydrate (HC) diet may have selected against E4 carriers. The apoE4 protein alters lipid metabolism in a manner similar to a HC diet, suggesting a common mechanism for the etiology of AD. Evolutionarily discordant HC diets are proposed to be the primary cause of AD by two general mechanisms. (1) Disturbances in lipid metabolism within the central nervous system inhibits the function of membrane proteins such as glucose transporters and the amyloid precursor protein. (2) Prolonged excessive insulin/IGF signaling accelerates cellular damage in cerebral neurons. These two factors ultimately lead to the clinical and pathological course of AD. This hypothesis also suggests several preventative and treatment strategies. A change in diet emphasizing decreasing dietary carbohydrates and increasing essential fatty acids (EFA) may effectively prevent AD. Interventions that restore lipid homeostasis may treat the disease, including drugs that increase fatty acid metabolism, EFA repletion therapy, and ketone body treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / chemically induced
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / adverse effects
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Somatomedins / metabolism


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids
  • Insulin
  • Somatomedins