Ketogenic Diet Improves Lifespan and Memory in Aging Mice

Ketogenic Diet Improves Lifespan and Memory in Aging Mice

Summary: Researchers report mice that were put on a ketogenic diet showed significant improvements in memory and were more likely to survive to older ages than those on different diets.

Source: Buck Institute.

Study on the effects of ketone bodies opens up new area of inquiry in aging research.

A ketogenic diet significantly improved memory in aging mice and increased the animal’s chances of surviving to old age. Results of the study from Eric Verdin’s lab at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, CA are published in the September 5th issue of Cell Metabolism.

Eating a ketogenic diet – which is high fat, low protein, and low carbohydrates – ramps up the production of the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate acid (BHB). While small studies in humans with cognitive impairment have suggested that BHB could improve memory, senior scientist and Buck President and CEO, Eric Verdin MD, says this is the first study in aging mammals which details the positive effects of BHB on memory and lifespan. “This opens up a new field in aging research,” said Verdin. “We think the health benefits of BHB may go beyond memory and could affect tissues and organ systems.” Verdin added that the results also support efforts in his lab to translate the findings to the clinic. “We’re looking for drug targets. The ultimate goal is to find a way for humans to benefit from BHBs without having to go on a restrictive diet.”

The study was designed by lead scientist John Newman, MD, PhD, who is both a researcher in the Verdin lab and a geriatrician at University of California San Francisco. He wanted to study the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in mice, while addressing one of the major issues that crop up in research involving diet – variability. “When studying a diet intervention, you have to pay attention to every detail,” he said. Newman carefully designed three diets that were matched in every way except fat and carbohydrate content: a normal high-carbohydrate diet, a zero-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, and a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that was not ketogenic. Mice were fed the ketogenic diet intermittently to prevent them from becoming obese, starting at one year old – middle age for mice.

The ketogenic diet-fed mice had a lower risk of dying as they aged from one to two years old, although their maximum lifespan was unchanged. Another group of mice underwent memory testing at both middle age (one year old) and old age (two years old). Mice that had been eating a ketogenic diet performed at least as well on memory tests at old age as they did at middle age, while mice eating the normal diet showed an expected age-associated decline. Mice who ate the ketogenic diet also explored more, and their improved memory was confirmed with another test a few months later. Newman noted that the mice were off the ketogenic diet and did not have any BHB in their blood during the testing period. “We were careful to have all of the mice eating a normal diet during the actual memory testing which suggests the effects of the ketogenic diet were lasting. Something changed in the brains of these mice to make them more resilient to the effects of age,” he said. “Determining what this is, is the next step in the work.”

graphic abstract.

Newman said gene expression could explain the cognitive improvement. “Looking at gene expression, the ketogenic diet suppressed the longevity-related TOR pathway and insulin signaling and up-regulated the fasting-related transcription factor PPAR-alpha, a master regulator that helps the body more efficiently metabolize fat.”

Verdin said the study will open the door to new therapies for the cognitive problems of aging. “As we gain a deeper understanding of what BHB does in our body and our brain, we can intelligently design therapies to capture individual benefits while minimizing harms.” The Verdin lab is currently exploring beneficial effects of a similar ketogenic diet in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research has many caveats for humans eager to utilize diet to improve their odds of maintaining cognitive ability — it involved a single strain and sex of mice living in an environment where it’s easy to control every aspect of the diet. Ketogenic diets are used clinically for life-threatening conditions like epilepsy, and most people should consult a health care professional before trying it on their own, said Verdin. “Exercise also creates ketone bodies – that may be one of the mechanisms why it shows such protective effects on brain function and on healthspan and lifespan,” he said.


Other Buck Institute collaborators include Anthony J. Covarrubias, Minghao Zhao, and Che-Ping Ng. Other collaborators include Xinxing Yu, UCSF Division of Geriatrics, San Francisco, CA; Philip Gut, Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, San Francisco, CA; and Yu Huang and Saptarsi Haldar from the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, San Francisco, CA.

Funding: The work was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health, K08AG048354 and R24DK085610; Gladstone Institutes intramural funds, Buck Institute intramural funds, and funds from the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, the American Federal for Aging Research and the Buck Institute Impact Circle.

Source: Verena Müller – Buck Institute
Image Source: image is credited to Newman et al./Cell Metabolism.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice” by John C. Newman, Anthony J. Covarrubias, Minghao Zhao, Xinxing Yu, Philip Gut, Che-Ping Ng, Yu Huang, Saptarsi Haldar, Eand ric Verdin in Cell Metabolism. Published online September 5 2017 doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2017.08.004

Buck Institute “Ketogenic Diet Improves Lifespan and Memory in Aging Mice.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 5 September 2017.


Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice


•Feeding isoprotein ketogenic diet to mice every other week (Cyclic KD) avoids obesity
•Cyclic KD reduces midlife mortality with no change in maximum lifespan
•Cyclic KD prevents memory decline with modest other healthspan effects
•Gene expression of KD is similar to high-fat diet, except for activation of PPARα targets

Ketogenic diets recapitulate certain metabolic aspects of dietary restriction such as reliance on fatty acid metabolism and production of ketone bodies. We investigated whether an isoprotein ketogenic diet (KD) might, like dietary restriction, affect longevity and healthspan in C57BL/6 male mice. We find that Cyclic KD, KD alternated weekly with the Control diet to prevent obesity, reduces midlife mortality but does not affect maximum lifespan. A non-ketogenic high-fat diet (HF) fed similarly may have an intermediate effect on mortality. Cyclic KD improves memory performance in old age, while modestly improving composite healthspan measures. Gene expression analysis identifies downregulation of insulin, protein synthesis, and fatty acid synthesis pathways as mechanisms common to KD and HF. However, upregulation of PPARα target genes is unique to KD, consistent across tissues, and preserved in old age. In all, we show that a non-obesogenic ketogenic diet improves survival, memory, and healthspan in aging mice.

“Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Memory in Aging Mice” by John C. Newman, Anthony J. Covarrubias, Minghao Zhao, Xinxing Yu, Philip Gut, Che-Ping Ng, Yu Huang, Saptarsi Haldar, Eand ric Verdin in Cell Metabolism. Published online September 5 2017 doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2017.08.004

Published by

connie dello buono

Health educator, author and enterpreneur or ; cell 408-854-1883 Helping families in the bay area by providing compassionate and live-in caregivers for homebound bay area seniors. Blogs at Currently writing a self help and self cure ebook to help transform others in their journey to wellness, Healing within, transform inside and out. This is a compilation of topics Connie answered at and posts in this site.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.