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  • A new study found that a combination of the Mediterranean and keto diets may help with cognitive function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Previous studies have made the connection between certain diets and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease affects about 60 to 80% of dementia patients.

While many people may have heard of either the ketogenic or Mediterranean diet, experts say there may be benefits to a blend of these popular diets.

A new study published this month in the medical journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia found that a combination of Mediterranean and keto diets may help with cognitive function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study showed how diet can impact brain function. Prediabetic adults, either with mild cognitive impairment or cognitively normal, were placed on either a low-fat diet or high-fat modified Mediterranean-keto diet for six weeks. After another six-week washout period, they switched diets. The researchers collected stool samples throughout.

What the study found was that those participants with mild cognitive impairment on the Mediterranean keto diet had lower levels of GABA-producing microbes and higher levels of GABA-regulating microbes. GABA is a chemical that helps with brain function. For a person with Alzheimer’s, GABA does not function properly. A way to balance GABA could have the potential to regulate brain activity.

“I think the study itself is a pilot study,” said Salinas. “Only about 20 people completed the study. They were looking at doing a larger study and I’d be interested in seeing how that pans out. I’d be interested to see more in terms of the size of the population and variety and levels of impairment that someone might have, and the underlying cause, given that people could have impairment for all reasons, like lack of sleep, vascular changes, or Alzheimer’s, being the most common.”

For years, there has been a link between the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) and a minimizing of the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But this new study is among one of the first to link this particular diet pairing with Alzheimer’s prevention.

Previous studies have made the connection between certain diets and their effect on Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease affects about 60 to 80% of dementia patients. With the condition, cognitive symptoms eventually worsen over time so it becomes difficult for a patient to perform daily tasks.

“I think that people have been thinking about food as medicine more and more. It is quite important, and the idea has been having more of a resurgence,” said Dr. Joel Salinas, behavioral neurologist and researcher at NYU Langone Health and Chief Medical Officer at Isaac Health. “For a while, a key recommendation we provided around helping to reduce [Alzheimer’s] conditions was the MIND diet. People are looking at modifications of this diet that may be more effective.”

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, very high-fat diet that involves drastically cutting out carbohydrates. The Mediterranean diet is also a low-carb diet, but a moderately high-fat diet that puts an emphasis on whole grains, olive oil, fish, fruits, and legumes. The combination of the two diets involves characteristics of both, including animal proteins, non-starchy vegetables, dairy, oils, and butter, as well as the elimination of processed foods, sweets and sugary drinks.

Previous research has shown a connection between cognitive function and the MIND diet. The MIND diet is similar to the modified Mediterranean keto diet in that it promotes whole grains, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, beans, berries, poultry, fish, and olive oil. It also calls for the reduction of pastries, sweets, red meat, cheese, and fried foods.

The difference between the MIND diet and the Mediterranean keto diet is that it combines the Mediterranean and keto plans, but eliminates legumes, fruits, beans, and whole grains.

While there may be certain positives with adopting a Mediterranean keto diet, drastic changes to anyone’s diet are often not sustainable. Small changes can have a long lasting effect and can help to create sustainable habits for the future.

Some easy steps to switch to the Mediterranean diet, according to Harvard Medical School, include:

  • Switching fats to extra virgin olive oil.
  • Beginning or ending each meal with a salad.
  • Adding more and different vegetables to the menu.
  • Cut out sugary beverages.

“The key things are to focus on moving in a direction toward a healthier diet,” said Salinas. “As with any kind of behavior change, if you are able to make small changes over time, the more likely that change is going to stick, rather than a dramatic change all at once.”

He added that the benefits of a Mediterranean keto diet include increased heart health and that even adhering to the diet moderately can show benefits versus those who do not follow the diet at all.