Are ketogenic diets promising for Alzheimer's disease? A translational review

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2020 Apr 14;12(1):42. doi: 10.1186/s13195-020-00615-4.


Background: Brain amyloid deposition and neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer's disease (AD) are associated with complex neuroinflammatory reactions such as microglial activation and cytokine production. Glucose metabolism is closely related to neuroinflammation. Ketogenic diets (KDs) include a high amount of fat, low carbohydrate and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) intake. KDs lead to the production of ketone bodies to fuel the brain, in the absence of glucose. These nutritional interventions are validated treatments of pharmacoresistant epilepsy, consequently leading to a better intellectual development in epileptic children. In neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline, potential benefits of KD were previously pointed out, but the published evidence remains scarce. The main objective of this review was to critically examine the evidence regarding KD or MCT intake effects both in AD and ageing animal models and in humans.

Main body: We conducted a review based on a systematic search of interventional trials published from January 2000 to March 2019 found on MEDLINE and Cochrane databases. Overall, 11 animal and 11 human studies were included in the present review. In preclinical studies, this review revealed an improvement of cognition and motor function in AD mouse model and ageing animals. However, the KD and ketone supplementation were also associated with significant weight loss. In human studies, most of the published articles showed a significant improvement of cognitive outcomes (global cognition, memory and executive functions) with ketone supplementation or KD, regardless of the severity of cognitive impairments previously detected. Both interventions seemed acceptable and efficient to achieve ketosis.

Conclusion: The KD or MCT intake might be promising ways to alter cognitive symptoms in AD, especially at the prodromal stage of the disease. The need for efficient disease-modifying strategies suggests to pursue further KD interventional studies to assess the efficacy, the adherence to this diet and the potential adverse effects of these nutritional approaches.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Animal models; Brain metabolism; Ketogenic diet.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diet therapy
  • Animals
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Diet, Ketogenic*
  • Humans
  • Male