A High Fat, Low Carbohydrate Diet for MCI and Early Alzheimer's Disease

Jason Brandt, PhD
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019
Alzheimer's Disease
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Northeastern

This grant is made possible in part by support from the Jerome Jacobson Foundation.

Jason Brandt, PhD

Modified Atkins Diet for Cognitive Loss in Older Adults


This study will test whether a special diet that has been used to treat other brain disorders may be useful to treat Alzheimer's disease (AD). The diet is very low in starches and sugars, and very high in fat. Such a diet causes the body to produce substances called "ketones" which can be used by the brain for energy. This study will test whether patients with early AD or even milder memory problems [known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI)] can stick to this diet for 12 weeks and whether it improves their thinking and memory.  


Lots of excellent research over many years has shown that the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) are unable to use glucose normally. Glucose is a simple sugar that is produced by the metabolism of carbohydrates. We are studying whether ketone bodies, which are produced when dietary fats are metabolized, can be used as an alternative energy source. Patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early AD are being randomly assigned to a very high-fat, very low-carbohydrate diet (the modified Atkins diet) or a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains for 12 weeks. Education and support is provided by expert nutritionists and dieticians. Ability to adhere to the diet is being measured, as are the effects of the diets on memory and other cognitive functions. We are also studying changes in blood indicators of inflammation and fat metabolism. If the modified Atkins diet proves to be acceptable to patients and improves cognitive functioning (or slows its decline), it might become a standard treatment for AD.

About the Researcher

Dr. Brandt obtained his undergraduate education at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and then went on to obtain his master’s and doctoral degrees in experimental and physiological psychology from Boston University. Since 1981, Dr. Brandt has been on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University, where he is currently professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences; professor of neurology; and director of the Division of Medical Psychology in the School of Medicine. He is also Professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Cortical Function Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Brandt’s research focuses on the neuropsychology of memory and other cognitive disorders as they appear in Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other dementia syndromes.  He has published over 320 articles and book chapters on these and related topics. Dr. Brandt is a Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association of Psychological Science, and is board-certified by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology. He has served on the governing boards of the International Neuropsychological Society, the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, and numerous editorial and professional advisory boards. Dr. Brandt was elected President of both the APA’s Division of Clinical Neuropsychology and the International Neuropsychological Society.

Personal Story

With the worldwide emphasis on the development of drugs that prevent or reverse the accumulation of beta-amyloid and phosphylated tau in the brains of AD patients, it takes both wisdom and courage to fund a treatment study that targets a very different mechanism. The BrightFocus Foundation has demonstrated both in its support of this pilot clinical trial of a ketogenic diet for AD and MCI. I am personally grateful to the Foundation and its donors for the opportunity to lead this study and contribute to our understanding of these devastating conditions.

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