A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) strikes fear into everyone. But can AD be slowed down; can we do something to delay when it starts and how hard it strikes? There is growing evidence that a conscientious prevention approach can help one resist AD. The prevention approach to AD is the same as for what are called the ‘chronic Western diseases’ – hypertension, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The hormone insulin appears to play a key role in AD. Insulin tends to be less effective at controlling blood sugar (glucose) in older people, especially if they are sedentary. This in turn decreases the amount of fuel getting to the brain making it harder for brain cells to talk to each other so memories gradually slip away. Our research shows that it is difficult to increase glucose supply to the brain once it has declined in older people, even with exercise. Ketones are the brain’s back-up fuel and the brain of someone with AD can use ketones as well as the brain of a young adult. Moderate exercise helps get more ketones into the brain. Some older people may not be able to exercise but one can make a ketone drink made from medium chain triglyceride (MCT) in one’s kitchen. We are in the middle of a trial with an MCT drink in people at high risk of AD. The early results show a significant benefit for memory. There will be no miracle cures for AD but a prevention approach may delay and/or slow it down.
A major focus of Dr. Cunnane’s research over the past 30 years has been to develop a better understanding of the role of omega-3 fatty acids and ketones in human brain development and function. His team uses PET and MR imaging to study the impact of aging on brain structure and fuel metabolism. This information is applied to the development of keto-neurotherapeutic strategies for reducing the risk and progression of aging-associated cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed research papers and five books. Two of his books highlight the concept that the key role of ketones for normal human brain development was of importance to overcoming the nutritional, metabolic and structural constraints on human brain evolution: Survival of the Fattest: The Key to Human Brain Evolution (World Scientific 2005), and Human Brain Evolution: Influence of Fresh and Coastal Food Resources (Wiley, 2010). Dr. Cunnane was elected to the French National Academy of Medicine in 2009. In Oct 2017, he received the Chevreul Medal from the French Society for the Study of Lipids for outstanding contributions in the area of omega-3 fatty acid metabolism and the role of ketones in optimal brain function during aging.