Alzheimer’s disease and a dietary connection
In 2014 it was estimated that 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, a severe form of dementia, and hundreds of thousands more may suffer from an often misdiagnosed subtype called “hippocampal sparing” Alzheimer’s, according to recent findings.1,2
The most recent data suggests that well over half a million Americans die from Alzheimer’s disease each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer.3,4
As discussed by Dr. Danielle Ofri in a recent New York Times blog, losing your mind, and with it, much of your personality and dignity, is a terrifying proposition. Making matters worse, many doctors shy away from addressing dementia—both with colleagues and their patients.5
Dr. Ofri goes on to say that all of the top 10 killers in American are potentially and largely preventable or at the very least modifiable – all except dementia. We have tests to screen for many cancers and treatments that prolong life. But there’s nothing, really, that we can do about dementia. There aren’t any screening tests that can pick up the disease before symptoms appear. Even if there were, there aren’t any treatments that make a substantial difference. For doctors, this is profoundly frustrating. No wonder dementia gets pushed onto the back burner. In the dishearteningly limited time of a medical visit, we’re forced to focus on the diseases we can treat.
According to several natural health care experts there is much that can be done in the form of prevention. Unless the conventional paradigm shifts to realizing that through a healthier lifestyle the situation can go from hopeless and grim to positively optimistic then the battle really will be a hard one to win.
In an ideal world, doctors would begin to advise their patients early on, that lifestyle strategies promoting heart and brain health throughout a lifetime are of the utmost importance.
Trends in the current literature point to lifestyle factors, especially diet as one of the major driving forces behind dementia’s development. Similar articles have been written highlighting the connection between Alzheimer’s and other dietary-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. The researchers seem to point at the fact that if diabetes and heart disease can be prevented through a proper diet then so too can Alzheimer’s/dementia.
According to the literature Alzheimer’s was tentatively given the moniker, “type 3 diabetes” in 2005, when researchers discovered that the human brain produces insulin that is necessary for the survival of your brain cells.
A toxic protein was found and named ADDL. This substance removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, renders these neurons insulin resistant and as ADDLs accumulate, your memory begins to fade. Recent research also points out that heart disease increases your odds of developing Alzheimer’s.
According to MedicineNet.com: “Researchers found that artery stiffness—a condition called atherosclerosis—is associated with the buildup of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.”6
Lead researcher Timothy Hughes says, “This is more than just another example of how heart health relates to brain health. It is a signal that the process of vascular aging may predispose the brain to increased amyloid plaque buildup.
So, what if anything, can be done?
According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Time’s bestseller Grain Brain and one of the leading integrative medical neurologist in the U.S, Alzheimer’s is preventable through proper diet. He states: “Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease. It surprises me at my core that no one’s talking about the fact that so many of these devastating neurological problems, are, in fact, modifiable based upon lifestyle choices…What we’ve crystallized it down to now, in essence, is that diets that are high in sugar and carbohydrates and similarly diets that are low in fat, are devastating to the brain. When you have a diet that has carbohydrates in it, you are paving the way for Alzheimer’s disease. I want to be super clear about that. Dietary carbohydrates lead to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a pretty profound statement, but it’s empowering nonetheless when we realize that we control our diet. We control our choices, whether to favor fat or carbohydrates.”
Dr. Perlmutter goes on to note that Mayo Clinic research reveals diets rich in carbs are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia while high-fat diets are associated with 44 percent reduced risk. This combination of very little sugar and carbs, along with higher amounts of healthful fats is an absolute key for addressing not only Alzheimer’s but diabetes and health disease too.
The Role of Saturated Fats for Healthy Brain Function
The diet our ancestors used was phenomenally high in saturated fats and almost completely void of non-vegetable carbohydrates. Today, not only are we eating a tremendous amount of carbs but our carbs tend to be of the refined and highly processed type. If you’ve been alive over the last 60 years it’s also likely that you’ve heard the conventional medical wisdom that warned about saturated fats causing heart disease and therefore the need to severely limit those in the diet. This key factoid along with the dramatic onslaught of pharmaceutical use targeting cholesterol reduction have undoubtedly played a rather significant role in the sharp rise in dementia and other neurological diseases/disorders. Without fats the brain simply cannot function optimally.
To fully understand how to proceed a discussion of fats is necessary. Avoid trans-fats or hydrogenated fats; found in margarine, vegetable oils and various butter-like spreads.
Instead use plenty of the good and health fats in your diet like: avocados, butter (from raw, grass-fed organic milk), organic pastured egg yolks, coconut (and its oil), unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts—pecans/macadamias and also grass-fed meats or pasture raised poultry.
In addition to the fat discussion there are some additional dietary approaches to be considered.
How Else Can We Prevent This Disease?
The avoidance of sugar and refined fructose, avoidance of gluten and casein, optimize your gut flora and increase consumption of all healthy fats, including animal-based omega-3 oils, reduce overall calorie consumption, improve magnesium levels and eat a nutritious diet that is rich in folate can be a great start.
Certainly, a closer examination of lifestyle habits both good and bad can also confer benefits, such as: regular exercise, optimal Vitamin D levels, avoidance and elimination of mercury, avoidance of the flu vaccine and avoidance of anticholinergic and statin drugs. The statin drug class can be particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete the brain of CoQ10 and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier molecule known as low-density lipoprotein or LDL. But wait, I thought the LDL was the bad cholesterol? Yes, it is given that label, but we are rarely told about all the good benefits it also provides for our body and brain.
In conclusion it seems like a well-designed personal approach to health may be in the best interest of our population to combat this public health care crisis. If you or someone you know needs help make sure to call your local nutritional health care expert as you don’t have even a minute to waste. Getting things corrected from a dietary approach can be far more beneficial with early intervention.
Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (PDF)
Medical News Today May 2, 2014
Neurology March 5, 2014 [Epub ahead of print]
URL Sort Order Edit Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (PDF)
New York Times May 8, 2014
Medicinenet.com March 31, 2014