Are your memory problems normal? Is it just because you are getting older? Aren’t problems finding the right word, losing your train of thought, and forgetting things just part of aging? Is it a senior moment? Not so fast. We normalize these things because they are so common. We reassure ourselves and others that it is no big deal. We laugh about it out loud but we are nervous and off-center inside. This was not our normal level of functioning just 10 years ago, was it?
And this is not just a “getting older” sort of thing. People as young as in their 30s can begin to have noticeable impairment in cognitive function, which includes short-term memory problems. This is a warning sign that needs not be minimized or ignored.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may or may not be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) does not always progress into different forms of detention. Memory problems can happen and progression in severity can stop. But symptoms of cognitive decline at this level can cause issues in performance and to some degree daily living or relationships. Short-term memory problems can hamper performance and at the very least undermine one’s confidence. Symptoms of MCI can include the following:
- Forgetting things more often, including important events such as appointments or social plans
- Forgetting what is happening in books or movies, or even what was being talked about in conversation
- Feeling overwhelmed around making decisions
- Difficulty planning steps to accomplish a task or understanding instructions
- You start to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments
- More impulsive and beginning to show increasingly poor judgment
- Word- or name-finding problems (most noticeable to family or close associates)
- Impaired ability to remember names when introduced to new people
- Performance issues in social and work settings (noticeable to others)
- Reading a passage and retaining little material
- Losing or misplacing important objects
- Decline in ability to plan or organize
- Needing to create new processes to deal with memory problems
How many times a week is this happening? How many times a day? What do you notice you are beginning to avoid because the cognitive load of those activities is too tiring or taxing? Do you read less now? Are you picking simpler movies to watch that you can follow? Do you encourage others to make decisions so you don’t have to? What techniques do you have to hide that you are having memory problems?
If you have been led to believe this is a normal part of aging, it would be understandable that you are resigned to this happening. But this is not normal aging. And as you will see as you learn more, there is a powerful lifestyle intervention available to treat Mild Cognitive Impairment and Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease.
Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
Sometimes MCI progresses into Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias. Approximately 10 to 20%. On study reporting as high as 23% progress from MCI to dementia within 3 years. So if you have any of the MCI symptoms it is important to take them seriously Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, a particular form of dementia are included below. It includes all of the symptoms of MCI and additional difficulty in cognitive tasks including:
- Reduced memory of personal history
- Decreased ability to remember recent events
- Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic (e.g., counting backward from 100 by serial 7s)
- Decreased capacity to perform complex tasks (e.g., shopping, planning dinner for guests, paying bills and/or managing finances)
- The patient may seem subdued and withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations (identified by an acquaintance)
Why does this happen?
There can be a lot of reasons for the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. The majority of Alzheimer’s Disease comes from lifestyle issues. Many people with Alzheimer’s, even those who have genetic predispositions to it and are in the early to moderate stages can reverse or slow their progression using a ketogenic diet and supplementation of something called exogenous ketones.
For some people, as the brain ages, it is not able to utilize glucose for energy. Alzheimer’s Disease has been called Type III Diabetes for this reason. The inability to use glucose for fuel consistently causes an energy crisis that increases neuroinflammation. People who transition to a well-formulated (read nutrient dense with non-inflammatory seed oils) ketogenic diet allow their brains to run on ketones. This alternative fuel bypasses the developed insulin resistance in the brain that has made it impossible for brain cells to use glucose for fuel.
The ketogenic diet is a multi-level intervention for the brain
We just don’t have a pharmaceutical drug that affects all of these important brain functions at the same time!
These ketones are not just fuel. They literally help heal the brain. Ketones create the conditions for something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that has the power to make changes in the brain like more connections between synapses. They upregulate (make more of) powerful endogenous (coming from the body, not ingested) antioxidants like glutathione. Ketones SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE neuroinflammation. They help balance neurotransmitters in a favorable way. They even make the neurons perform better at the membrane level and create more energy in the neurons by increasing the number of “cell batteries” called mitochondria.
The ketogenic diet must be well-formulated. Meaning nutrient-dense, without neuroinflammatory seed oils and plenty of healthy fats. They must get adequate protein to maintain muscle mass. Some people may need to use ketone supplements to up the amount of ketone fuel available for healing and brain function. But not always. This is why it is so useful to see a dietician or another practitioner, like me, to help formulate and assist with the transition to this diet.
Why would I change my diet instead of take a prescription?
Because the bottom line is that in all the decades that Pharma has been working on this particular type of neurological condition, the results have been abysmal. We just do not have a prescription that works for Alzheimer’s in any meaningful way that reverses or stops progression. There is no intervention you will attempt for MCI or Alzheimer’s Disease as powerful as the Ketogenic Diet. And it is quite frankly life-changing for people with neurocognitive issues like those described above. I see it all the time. People exclaim they have the brain they had 10 years ago. They take on more in work and home and relationships, because their brains are working better and they want to and feel like it. I have even had someone with MCI in their mid-40s end up going back to school.
Is this science-based? Or some crazy alternative therapy?
Clinical and preclinical evidence exists to support the use of ketogenic diets in Mild Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s Disease. Clinical trials are happening now. It is most certainly science-based.
Several preclinical studies have confirmed a benefit of ketosis on cognition and systemic inflammation. Given the renewed emphasis on neuroinflammation as a pathogenic contributor to cognitive decline, and the decreased systemic inflammation observed with the ketogenic diet, it is plausible that this diet may delay, ameliorate, or prevent progression of cognitive decline. Several small human studies have shown benefit on cognition in dementia with a ketogenic diet intervention.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31996078/
How long would I have to do a ketogenic diet?
The first real question is how long would I have to use a ketogenic diet before I would know if it is working for me? And that varies. But in general, people begin to notice changes in how their brain is working in 3 to 6 weeks. It depends on how far progressed you are in your disease process. How long it takes may depend on your correcting nutritional deficiencies that may have occurred as part of your prior way of eating. It might take 3 to 6 months of trying a metabolic therapy such as the ketogenic diet to decide if it is going to work for you. Usually, clients commit to one good, solid month. And then decide if they want to continue.
How do I get started?
You can work with me or another trained professional to learn what to eat, how to overcome obstacles, and how to keep track of your goals. You deserve someone knowledgeable on your journey who will take your individual needs into consideration. Check out my online program designed to teach you how to treat memory problems yourself!
You can also visit my resources page to find a knowledgeable metabolic health practitioner who can help you on your journey to get your brain back!
If you enjoyed this blog post you may also enjoy some of the others discussing cognitive functioning:
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Davis JJ, Fournakis N, Ellison J. Ketogenic Diet for the Treatment and Prevention of Dementia: A Review. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology. 2021;34(1):3-10.
Needham, J. & Leonard, J.M. (2020). Alzheimer’s Disease. NetCE. https://www.netce.com/courseoverview.php?courseid=2076
Sukkar, S. G., & Muscaritoli, M. (2021). A Clinical Perspective of Low Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diets: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in nutrition, 8, 642628. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.642628