On March 3rd 2020, a two-part study was published in the prestigious journal, PNAS, that documented two important discoveries: (1) A new way to measure brain aging based on something called “Network Stability” and (2) a way to increase “Network Stability” and, thereby, possibly slow brain aging and decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
First, what is Network Stability? Network stability refers to the brain’s capacity to communicate among its regions. You can think of the human brain as a team in which cooperation is key to getting the job of thinking done right! Greater Network Stability indicates more effective teamwork and, therefore, healthier and more efficient brain function.
To establish decreasing Network Stability as a new way to measure brain aging, the scientists behind this study took fMRIs (brain scan videos) of 928 people and correlated their Network Stability scores with their ages in years. They found that older people, on average, had lower network stability scores and that lower Network Stability scores predicted worse performance on cognitive tests. Therefore, the scientists concluded that decreasing Network Stability is a marker for brain aging and cognitive decline.
If the problem is that aging leads to a decrease in Network Stability and cognitive function, what’s the solution? In other words, how do we increase Network Stability and, by extension, slow brain aging?
In the second part of this study, researchers took healthy adults and measured their Network Stability scores under five different conditions: (i) when they hadn’t eaten anything (control), (ii) when they were eating a standard Western diet, (iii) when they were eating a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, (iv) after a sugar drink, and (v) after a drink containing ketones. They found that, as compared to the control, the Western diet and sugar drink decreased Network Stability. In an alarming contrast, the ketogenic diet and the ketone drink actually increased Network Stability!
It wasn’t even as if the two Western diet & sugar drink groups and the two ketogenic diet & ketone drink groups only had similar effects on Network Stability of different magnitudes – they had completely opposite effects!
These results suggest that Western diets and sugar may accelerate brain aging, whereas ketogenic diets and ketones may slow brain aging. Although longer term studies will be needed to determine if long term consumption of a ketogenic diet and/or ketone supplements truly does protect against brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease, based on these data, you stand your best chance of being around to interpret the results if you forgo the bagel for an avocado and forgo the starburst candy for a yummy KetoSwiss chew!
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