Recently, The New York Times announced the creation of a partnership between the National Institutes of Health, 10 pharmaceutical companies and seven nonprofit organizations dedicated to the development of drugs to treat, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease. While at first blush, this five-year, $230 million effort may seem noble, the ultimate motivation for this seemingly ecumenical event is suspect.
Alzheimer’s disease affects some 5.4 million Americans, and according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation, costs Americans in the neighborhood of $200 billion each year to care for those afflicted. To contextualize this figure, it represents about twice what is spent on caring for heart disease patients. But it doesn’t factor in the emotional expense borne by the family members of Alzheimer’s patients whose lives are irreparably compromised by this disease.
Drug companies, as the Times article reported, “… have invested staggering amounts of money in developing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, for example, but again and again the medications have failed in testing.” Just last month the New England Journal of Medicine reported that two of the latest candidates for treating Alzheimer’s disease had failed, miserably, to provide any meaningful benefit.
As you may have heard, University of Southern California researchers recently published a report in the journal Cell Metabolism in which they related consumption of higher levels of protein from animal sources to increased mortality risk, as well as increased risk for the development of cancer. Interestingly, the same report also revealed that lower levels of protein consumption in elderly people might actually be worse in terms of risk for various health issues. The authors concluded:
These results suggest that low protein intake during middle age followed by moderate to high protein consumption in old adults may optimize healthspan and longevity.
The study followed 6,381 adults over an 18 year period and collected data revealing what foods were consumed as well as any specific health issues that developed.
Overall, I think the study does provide some very valuable information. If we are to interpret the results with the hope of gaining ideas about our food choices it’s important to recognize that the study clearly points a finger at the consumption of meat and dairy products in America, and that’s where we need to focus our attention.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter here about the role of dairy in a Grain Brain lifestyle. Is it okay? How much can we have? What about Product X?
Certainly, there is a role for dairy in the Grain Brain diet. However, that said, it is not a dairy-heavy lifestyle. Want a splash of whole milk or cream in your coffee? Go for it! A piece of organic goat cheese? That’s a-okay as well. Dairy can be enjoyed in moderation.
What you want to avoid is low-fat and skim milk/dairy products. The reason for this is that, obviously, low-fat milk has less fat in it, and more lactose sugar. It should come as no surprise to learn that that sugar is a dangerous carbohydrate, now entering the body instead of healthier fats.
So, enjoy your dairy, but keep it fatty, and look for organic whenever possible.
Over the past several years I have been calling attention to the profound relationship that exists between elevation of blood sugar and risk for developing dementia. This evolving body of knowledge stems from the incontrovertible evidence linking risk for dementia with having diabetes.
More compelling is the evidence that demonstrates that this relationship becomes even more dramatic based on the length of time a person has suffered from diabetes. To be sure, I’m talking about type 2 diabetes which now affects about 28.6 million Americans. This is the type of diabetes that, in most people, is directly reflective of dietary and other lifestyle choices like exercise, stress reduction and getting enough sleep.
In this report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Rosebud Roberts, of the Mayo Clinic, whose work I have cited before, demonstrated a profoundly increased risk for developing dementia in elderly individuals who became diabetic before the age of 65, as well as in those who had been diabetic for 10 years or longer.
Here’s the take home message: you can absolutely and dramatically reduce your risk for becoming a diabetic today by changing your diet to one that includes much fewer carbs and sugars and reintroduces healthful fats back to the table. In addition, regular aerobic exercise will help to reduce diabetes risk, and, as such, go a long way to helping you avert dementia.
Recently, I had the chance to take part in a conversation with world-renowned experts in the fields of nutrition and neurology as a part of the program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin.” This panel came together to discuss what can be done to protect our brain health as we age. Thanks to the diversity of our backgrounds, there was a wealth of valuable conversation to be had, focusing on how we could further improve brain health. I was able to speak about the tenets of Grain Brain, from exercise to nutrition, and how these all play a role in optimizing the state of our brain.
We all came at this topic from a different perspective, and I think that really benefited the dialogue. Find the time to watch, you won’t regret having done so. Jump to 8:00 for the start of my segment.
Brain cells function with far greater efficiency when they are utilizing fat (ketones) as a fuel source as opposed to sugar. The exciting news is that scientists are now taking advantage of this finding in the actual treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, as you can see in this recent research publication.
This research clearly substantiates the health benefits of a low-carb, high-fat diet as a powerful lifestyle change to achieve the goal of brain health and functionality. While there actually exists a pharmaceutical “medical food” based on the science explained in this report, you can boost the availability of ketones for your brain by simply adding coconut oil or MCT oil to your daily regimen. But to make this effective, carb restriction is a must!
Alzheimer’s now affects some 5.4 million Americans. It is my belief that this dietary approach may well go a long way to keeping the brain healthy and allowing us to remain free of this dreaded condition.
When talking about a Grain Brain lifestyle, and the very similar ketogenic diet, it’s frequently mentioned that we are aiming to keep our bodies in ketosis. However, if you’re new to my work, it may be that you’re not exactly sure what ketosis is, or why we should be worrying about getting our body into this state. Allow me to explain.
Ketones are a special type of fat that can stimulate the pathways that enhance the growth of new neural networks in the brain. A ketogenic diet is one that is high in fats, and this diet has been a tool of researchers for years, used notably in a 2005 study on Parkinson’s patients which found an improvement in symptoms after just 28 days. The improvements were on par with those made possible via medication and brain surgery. Ketones do more than just that though. They increase glutathione, a powerful, brain-protective antioxidant, levels in the hippocampus. Ketones facilitate the production of mitochondria, one of the most important actors in the coordinated production that is the human body. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.