It is still debated whether non-specific preclinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can have diagnostic relevance. We followed the evolution from cognitively normal to AD by NMR-based metabolomics of blood sera. Multivariate statistical analysis of the NMR profiles yielded models that discriminated subjective memory decline (SMD), mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD. We validated a panel of six statistically significant metabolites that predicted SMD, MCI and AD in a blind cohort with sensitivity values ranging from 88 to 95% and receiver operating characteristic values from 0.88 to 0.99. However, lower values of specificity, accuracy and precision were observed for the models involving SMD and MCI, which is in line with the pathological heterogeneity indicated by clinical data. This excludes a “linear” molecular evolution of the pathology, pointing to the presence of overlapping “gray-zones” due to the reciprocal interference of the intermediate stages. Yet, the clear difference observed in the metabolic pathways of each model suggests that pathway dysregulations could be investigated for diagnostic purposes. © 2020, The Author(s).