Keto diet targets gut fungi that may play a big role in dementia

The ketogenic diet — more commonly called 'keto' — is popular due to its impact on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, but that's not the extent of its various benefits. According to a new study, this type of diet may also cause a change in gut fungi implicated in Alzheimer's disease...doing so in a good way, potentially reducing one's odds of developing this devastating condition.

The findings come from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where researchers found that eating a Mediterranean diet modified to fit keto diet specifications reduced gut fungi associated with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease. Past research has found that people who have higher levels of these fungi in their guts are also more likely to suffer from these conditions.

The keto diet involves eating a very low amount of carbohydrates daily, fairly high protein, and high amounts of fat. The idea is that the body will, after a typically uncomfortable adjustment period, convert to using fat for energy instead of sugar. In turn, the lack of sugar in the diet may play a big role in the diet's correlated health benefits.

The latest study on this topic was a double-blind randomized trial that identified a fungus residing in the gut microbiome — best known for its 'good' bacteria — in older adults. Though the fungi was found in both healthy adults and those suffering from MCI, more than double in the latter group had it compared to those without cognitive issues.

The results showed that after six weeks on the ketogenic diet, the presence of this gut fungi was reduced, potentially offering a degree of protection against MCI and Alzheimer's disease later in life. The study's principal investigator Hariom Yadav explained:

Although we do not fully understand how these fungi contribute to Alzheimer's disease, this is the first study of its kind to reveal their role in our mental health, which we hope will ignite thinking in the scientific community to develop better understanding of them in relation to Alzheimer's disease. It also indicates that dietary habits such as eating a ketogenic diet can reduce harmful fungi in the gut which might help in reducing Alzheimer's disease processes in the brain.