Study: Ketogenic diet helps to prevent cognitive decline in mice

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15 Oct 2018 --- The ketogenic diet may improve neurovascular function in mice who follow the ketogenic diet regime, a study published in Scientific Reports has found. The research team hopes that their work may hold potential for the future understanding of the link between the microbiome and neurological disorder.

“Neurovascular integrity, including cerebral blood flow and blood-brain barrier function, plays a major role in cognitive ability,” says Ai-Ling Lin from the Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. “Recent science has suggested that the bacteria might regulate neurovascular integrity in the gut, so we set out to see whether the Ketogenic Diet enhanced brain vascular function and reduced neurodegeneration risk in young healthy mice.”

Two groups of nine mice, aged 12-14 weeks, were given either the Ketogenic Diet (KD) or a regular diet. After 16 weeks, Lin et al. saw that the KD mice had significant increases in cerebral blood flow, improved balance in the microbiome in the gut, lower blood glucose levels and body weight, and a beneficial increase in the process that clears amyloid-beta from the brain – a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

“While diet modifications, the KD, in particular, has demonstrated effectiveness in treating certain diseases, we chose to test healthy young mice using diet as a potential preventative measure,” says Lin. “We were delighted to see that we might indeed be able to use diet to mitigate risk for Alzheimer's disease.”

According to Lin, the beneficial effects seen from the KD are potentially due to the inhibition of a nutrient sensor called mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), which has shown to affect lifespan extension and health promotion. In addition to the KD Lin said, mTOR can also be inhibited by simple caloric restriction or the pharmaceutical rapamycin.

The team then conducted a second study, which was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, which used neuroimaging techniques to explore in vivo the effects of rapamycin, the KD, or simple caloric restriction on the cognitive function of both young and aging mice.

“Our earlier work already demonstrated the positive effect rapamycin and caloric restriction had on neurovascular function,” Lin said. “We speculated that neuroimaging might allow us to see those changes in the living brain.”

The researchers point out that it is too early to know whether the results would be the same in humans.

However, speaking on the research, Linda Van Eldik, Ph.D., Director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging said: “Ai-Ling's lab was the first to use neuroimaging to see these changes in a living brain, and the potential link to changes in the gut microbiome. Her work has tremendous implications for future clinical trials of neurological disorders in aging populations.”

Low carbohydrate diets, such as Keto, have proved especially popular as methods of weight management in recent years. However, some key research has flagged potential health concerns around the diets, such as this study from the Lancet.

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