What if treatment for Alzheimer’s could come from the supermarket?
Two diets – the healthy recommended diet and the ketogenic diet – will face off in a Waikato study to see which makes the most difference for people with the progressive brain disease.
And the researchers behind the project are currently looking for people to be part of the trial.
“Alzheimer’s is the elephant in the room in medicine,” Waikato DHB neurologist Matt Phillips said.
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“Heart disease, stroke, even cancer, they’re not increasing rapidly. Alzheimer’s is doubling every 20 years.
“We don’t have anything on the horizon that can improve it.”
Phillips thinks diet could help and is the lead investigator for a 12-week trial looking at two eating styles.
One group of participants will eat the healthy diet usually recommended for patients with Alzheimer’s: eating styles like Mediterranean diet, “health diet”, and the Japanese diet.
That means lots of fruit and vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, low processed carbohydrates, sugar and fat, and limited dairy, Phillips said.
The second group will be on the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, which mimics fasting.
Ingredients such as coconut oil and avocado will feature, Phillips said, but there will be no starchy vegetables and berries will be the only fruit.
Both diets will feature about the same amount of protein and plenty of vegetables, Phillips said.
Currently, more evidence supports the healthy recommended diet, but studies have started to look at the ketogenic diet too.
Because it mimics fasting, it may be able to shift the body into cell maintenance and repair processes.
“We’re not seeing whether diet can slow down the disease in this study,” Phillips said.
“We first of all have to see if it makes a difference. But, in theory, diet therapies may well actually be able to slow disease down.
“A medication approach is single target, symptomatic. Diet approach is multi target, possibly disease modifying. And, another huge thing: patient self-empowerment. You don’t have to go to your doctor, … get your pills.”
No-one knows what causes Alzheimer’s, he said, “but for some reason the neurons in certain parts of the brain die”.
The two worst affected areas are responsible for memories of both personal experiences and facts.
Currently, “a handful of medications” are used to treat it but they mask the symptoms as opposed to fixing the disease.
Phillips has previously done a similar diet study for Parkinson’s disease, which found that the ketogenic diet led to greater improvements for the symptoms medication doesn’t work well for.
The Alzheimer’s trial will run for three months and patient improvement will be measured in three key areas: cognition, function at home, and quality of life.
People who want to take part must meet the following criteria: be aged 50 to 80, have mild Alzheimer’s, live with someone who can be their study partner, and be able to make five visits to Waikato Hospital.
They will get 24/7 support, be reviewed by several doctors and nurses, and have APO-E4 genetic testing.
The trial is expected to start in mid-2019 and is supported by the Waikato Medical Research Foundation.
For more information, visit the website or email Matthew Phillips.