A ketogenic supplement improves white matter energy supply and processing speed in mild cognitive impairment

Alzheimers Dement (N Y). 2021 Nov 17;7(1):e12217. doi: 10.1002/trc2.12217. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: White matter (WM) energy supply is crucial for axonal function and myelin maintenance. An exogenous source of ketones, the brain's alternative fuel to glucose, bypasses the brain's glucose-specific energy deficit and improves cognitive outcomes in mild cognitive impairment (MCI). How an additional supply of ketones affects glucose or ketone uptake in specific WM fascicles in MCI has not previously been reported.

Methods: This 6-month interventional study included MCI participants randomized to a placebo (n = 16) or ketogenic medium chain triglyceride (kMCT; n = 17) drink. A neurocognitive battery and brain imaging were performed pre- and post-intervention. WM fascicle uptake of ketone and glucose and structural properties were assessed using positron emission tomography and diffusion imaging, respectively.

Results: Ketone uptake was increased in the kMCT group by 2.5- to 3.2-fold in all nine WM fascicles of interest (P < .001), an effect seen both in deep WM and in fascicle cortical endpoints. Improvement in processing speed was positively associated with WM ketone uptake globally and in individual fascicles, most importantly the fornix (r = +0.61; P = .014).

Discussion: A 6-month kMCT supplement improved WM energy supply in MCI by increasing ketone uptake in WM fascicles. The significant positive association with processing speed suggests that ketones may have a role in myelin integrity in MCI.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; acetoacetate; beta‐hydroxybutyrate; brain metabolism; diffusion MRI; fascicle; glucose; ketone; medium chain triglyceride; mild cognitive impairment; positron emission tomography imaging; processing speed; tractography; tractometry; white matter.