Can Ketones Help Rescue Brain Fuel Supply in Later Life? Implications for Cognitive Health during Aging and the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
We propose that brain energy deficit is an important pre-symptomatic feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that requires closer attention in the development of AD therapeutics. Our rationale is fourfold: (i) Glucose uptake is lower in the frontal cortex of people >65 years-old despite cognitive scores that are normal for age. (ii) The regional deficit in brain glucose uptake is present in adults <40 years-old who have genetic or lifestyle risk factors for AD but in whom cognitive decline has not yet started.
Examples include young adult carriers of presenilin-1 or apolipoprotein E4, and young adults with mild insulin resistance or with a maternal family history of AD. (iii) Regional brain glucose uptake is impaired in AD and mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but brain uptake of ketones (beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate), remains the same in AD and MCI as in cognitively healthy age-matched controls. These observations point to a brain fuel deficit which appears to be specific to glucose, precedes cognitive decline associated with AD, and becomes more severe as MCI progresses toward AD.
Since glucose is the brain’s main fuel, we suggest that gradual brain glucose exhaustion is contributing significantly to the onset or progression of AD. (iv) Interventions that raise ketone availability to the brain improve cognitive outcomes in both MCI and AD as well as in acute experimental hypoglycemia. Ketones are the brain’s main alternative fuel to glucose and brain ketone uptake is still normal in MCI and in early AD, which would help explain why ketogenic interventions improve some cognitive outcomes in MCI and AD. We suggest that the brain energy deficit needs to be overcome in order to successfully develop more effective therapeutics for AD. At present, oral ketogenic supplements are the most promising means of achieving this goal.