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2018 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

Ketogenic Dietary Effects on Sleep, Cognition and Behavior in MCI

Can a low-carbohydrate diet improve sleep and brain function and improve quality of life in individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Ashley Sanderlin
Wake Forest University Health Sciences
Winston-Salem, NC - United States


Past studies have found that sleep quality is one biological factor that worsens as Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases progress. Poor sleep has also been shown to affect memory and other cognitive abilities in people at risk for Alzheimer’s, including those with a subtle form of cognitive decline called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Researchers, therefore, are testing how to promote brain health in MCI by using therapies that improve sleep quality.
Dr. Ashley Sanderlin believes that diet could have a strong effect on sleep- People with diets high in fat or glucose (sugar) may experience lower-quality sleep function. By contrast, Dr. Sanderlin suggests that a diet low in carbohydrates may improve sleep and lead to better memory and behavior.

Research Plan

Dr. Sanderlin and colleagues will leverage an approved Phase II clinical trial   comparing the effects of two diets to additionally test effects on sleep, cognition and behavior. This work will involve 120 participants with MCI, 60 of whom will receive a low-carbohydrate “modified Mediterranean ketogenic diet” and 60 of whom will receive a standard low-fat diet. The ketogenic diet is designed to reduce blood sugar levels in their participants, and to trigger the use of fatty, blood-based substances called ketone bodies as a primary source of energy. Ketogenic diets have been shown to improve sleep in people with epilepsy. After administering these diets for a 4-month period, the researchers will assess how each of the diets affected the length of sleep overall, the period of deep sleep, and any sleep-related disorders (such as sleep apnea). They will also compare how the diets improved cognitive function, mood and the ability to carry out daily activities. 


The results of this study could shed new light on how lifestyle factors such as sleep, diet and brain health are interrelated. Ultimately, it could also identify a novel, cost effective therapy for improving brain function in people at risk for dementia.

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