Ketones, Alzheimer's and Brain Health

Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s are some of the most painful difficulties to deal with when they impact a loved one. Ketones have an important role to play in both the prevention and treatment of these conditions.

09-June 2020, by Bronwyn MacRitchie

The Official Word

Currently the official message is that there are no clear cures for these conditions. Sadly most of the medications that alleviate symptoms in the short term actually advance the disease process in the long term, as is the case with insulin in diabetics. However, research on ketones and the brain, and their application in such diseases has been around, and noteworthy since the 1968. When George Cahill first discovered their role as an alternate fuel source for the brain (1).

No Funding For Lifestyle Intervention Research

Many who have tried to get funding for studies and make this information widely known have been stopped in their tracks repeatedly and silenced by mainstream medicine as it searches for a purely pharmaceutical solution .

One such person is Mary Newport, who changed her husband’s experience of life and disease progression markedly within a month of using coconut oil and MCT oil along with a carefully formulated low carb diet to increase ketone production in his body (2). She has since committed her life to spreading the word so that other people don't have to wait as long as she did to implement these interventions.

One of the clear factors contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is the impairment of glucose uptake in the brain. So much so that Alzheimer’s is increasingly referred to as Type 3 Diabetes (4,5,6,7).

Type 3 Diabetes?

The Alzheimer’s disease process is complex. And, as with all metabolic diseases (heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease) is impacted by a variety of lifestyle factors which either fight disease or feed it (3).

One of the clear factors contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is the impairment of glucose uptake in the brain. So much so that Alzheimer’s is increasingly referred to as Type 3 Diabetes (4,5,6,7).

A Greatly Simplified Look at the Disease Process

  1. We eat a diet high in sugar, processed carbohydrates and vegetable oils.
  2. We never give the body a break from constant glucose and insulin signaling.
  3. We lead a mostly sedentary or overly athletic lifestyle.
  4. We don't get enough sleep.
  5. We are chronically stressed.
  6. We never reduce carbs enough for ketone production.
  7. We never allow enough time between eating for autophagy (cell clean up) to occur.
  8. Constant insulin signaling makes body (and brain) tissues resistant to insulin.
  9. Cells need more and more insulin for effective glucose uptake.
  10. Brain cells begin to get damaged and starve because of poor glucose uptake.
  11. Vegetable oils form toxic compounds in the body which further damage the brain cells and advance the disease process.
  12. Neurodegeneration occurs.

And the cycle continues... OR!

…we wake up!

And realise that our diet and lifestyle are directly impacting our health and wellness and we make changes to these steps in time to stop these processes in their tracks! If neurodegeneration hasn’t yet begun, why wait until it does to stop it?

Steps to Improve our Brain Health:

  1. Implement a ketogenic diet as an intervention, giving the body a chance to remember how to use ketones as fuel (8,9,10).
  2. Start incorporating Medium Chain Triglycerides (coconut oil or MCT oil) into your diet, as these are directly converted into ketones in the liver, and help speed up ketosis and fuel the brain (11).
  3. Start incorporating fasting into your lifestyle. This can begin as 12-hour intermittent fasts and increase.
  4. Eliminate all sugar and vegetable oil from your diet.
  5. Incorporate movement into your daily lifestyle in whichever form you can actually enjoy, dancing, yoga, walking, gym, whatever feels sustainable and enjoyable.

What if Neurodegeneration has already taken hold?

While much of the damage that has been done may be difficult to reverse, (although Dr Dale E. Bredesen author of The End of Alzheimer’s is beginning to change this) there are certainly interventions which can greatly alleviate the symptoms and slow the disease progress for many people.

Ketones, however, (and to a lesser degree medium chain fatty acids) cross the blood brain barrier with ease and provide a clean, superior fuel to the cells that are starving. Changes are often dramatic and can be tracked in direct response to the diet and supplementation.

Keeping a diary of symptoms from the first day of using these interventions is recommended, as when improvements are gradual it can be hard to remember how bad it was when one began. Mary Newport used her husband’s drawing of a clock as a measuring stick, and within a month it had improved from an unrecognizable scribble to a measured and numbered time piece.

Possible Steps for Loved Ones Already Experiencing Symptoms

  1. Incorporate MCT oil and or coconut oil in incremental doses. You need to be careful here, as they can cause diarrhea in people who aren’t used to them. Start with a teaspoon at each meal, and then gradually increase until the person’s tolerance level is reached. Three times a day is advisable to start. After you maintain this level for a few weeks try to increase the amount again until the new tolerance level is reached. Remember to reduce other fats in response to increasing these (12,13,14).
  2. Incorporate more coconut milk and coconut products into the diet in place of dairy milks. These foods also contain Medium Chain Triglycerides to a lesser degree.
  3. Try to replace your loved ones sweet treats with coconut treats sweetened with zero GI sweeteners. There are amazing recipes online for keto coconut treats and fat bombs to help you. The ailing brain is craving glucose which is why so many people with neurodegenerative diseases increase their sugar cravings so significantly. It may be difficult at the start, but remember that letting them consume unlimited amounts of sugar is advancing the disease process.
  4. Remove all vegetable oils from their diets. For more information about which oils I am referring to here read here and here (15).
  5. Try to incorporate exogenous ketones. The most effective for fueling the brain are ketone esters which, unfortunately at the time of writing are still extremely expensive and not widely available, but if budget is not an issue can be obtained from HVMN. Ketone salts which contain Beta Hydroxy Butyrate are less impactful, however some patients have responded incredibly well to them. They are also sweet and delicious so getting your loved one to drink them isn’t a struggle. You can get our favourite one here (16,17,18).

Are These a Complete Solution?

Not at all, but while these interventions may not work for everyone, they have changed the lives of many families living with an Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s sufferer, and even those with children struggling with autism and other neurological difficulties. There certainly is no harm (19,20) in giving these a try. You and your loved one may have a greatly improved quality of life as a result.

As we learn more and more about disease, the answers keep coming back to the same things. Inflammation. Caused by poor diet and lifestyle, completely preventable, completely alterable. Yet we sit in our doctor’s office waiting to be given a pill that may make us feel better today, but contribute to the worsening of another disease down the line.

It comes down to the same question. Is this food I’m eating or this activity I’m doing going to fight disease or feed it. We know the answers, now we just need to make the right choices with increasing consistency.


  1. Cahill Jr, G. F., & Owen, O. E. (1968). Starvation and survival. Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, 79, 13.
  2. Newport, M. T. (2011). Alzheimer's Disease: What If There was a Cure?: the Story of Ketones. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications.
  3. Bredesen, D. (2017). The end of Alzheimer's: The first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline. Penguin.
  4. Ahmed, S., Mahmood, Z., & Zahid, S. (2015). Linking insulin with Alzheimer’s disease: emergence as type III diabetes. Neurological Sciences, 36(10), 1763-1769.
  5. Monacelli, F., Borghi, R., Cammarata, S., Nencioni, A., Piccini, A., Tabaton, M., & Odetti, P. (2015). Amnestic mild cognitive impairment and conversion to Alzheimer's disease: insulin resistance and glycoxidation as early biomarker clusters. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 45(1), 89-95.
  6. Mittal, K., Mani, R. J., & Katare, D. P. (2016). Type 3 diabetes: cross talk between differentially regulated proteins of type 2 diabetes mellitus and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific reports, 6, 25589.
  7. Leszek, J., Trypka, E., V Tarasov, V., Md Ashraf, G., & Aliev, G. (2017). Type 3 diabetes mellitus: a novel implication of Alzheimers disease. Current topics in medicinal chemistry, 17(12), 1331-1335.
  8. Gasior, M., Rogawski, M. A., & Hartman, A. L. (2006). Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behavioural pharmacology, 17(5-6), 431.
  9. Gano, L. B., Patel, M., & Rho, J. M. (2014). Ketogenic diets, mitochondria, and neurological diseases. Journal of lipid research, 55(11), 2211-2228.
  10. Masino, S. A., & Geiger, J. D. (2008). Are purines mediators of the anticonvulsant/neuroprotective effects of ketogenic diets?. Trends in neurosciences, 31(6), 273-278.
  11. Council, E. (2019). Benefits of MCT Oil: A Brief Review.
  12. Avgerinos, K. I., Egan, J. M., Mattson, M. P., & Kapogiannis, D. (2020). Medium chain triglycerides induce mild ketosis and may improve cognition in Alzheimer’s disease. A systematic review and meta-analysis of human studies. Ageing Research Reviews, 58, 101001.
  13. Xu, Q., Zhang, Y., Zhang, X., Liu, L., Zhou, B., Mo, R., ... & Liu, Y. (2019). Medium-chain triglycerides improved cognition and lipid metabolomics in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease patients with APOE4−/−: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Clinical Nutrition.
  14. The chronic consumption of the ketogenic formula was therefore suggested to have positive effects on verbal memory and processing speed in patients with AD.
  15. Yamashima, T., Boontem, P., Shimizu, H., Ota, T., & Kikuchi, M. (2020). Vegetable Oil-derived ‘Hydroxynonenal’Causes Diverse Cell Death Possibly Leading to Alzheimer’s and Related Lifestyle Diseases. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism, 10(483), 2.
  16. Pawlosky, R. J., Kashiwaya, Y., King, M. T., & Veech, R. L. (2020). A Dietary Ketone Ester Normalizes Abnormal Behavior in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(3), 1044.
  17. Pawlosky, R. J., Kemper, M. F., Kashiwaya, Y., King, M. T., Mattson, M. P., & Veech, R. L. (2017). Effects of a dietary ketone ester on hippocampal glycolytic and tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates and amino acids in a 3xTg AD mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Journal of neurochemistry, 141(2), 195-207.
  18. Cunnane, S. C., Courchesne‐Loyer, A., St‐Pierre, V., Vandenberghe, C., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., ... & Castellano, C. A. (2016). Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1367(1), 12-20.
  19. Soto-Mota, A., Vansant, H., Evans, R. D., & Clarke, K. (2019). Safety and tolerability of sustained exogenous ketosis using ketone monoester drinks for 28 days in healthy adults. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 109, 104506.

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Bronwyn MacRitchie

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