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Category: Nutrition

Your Date With Brain Destiny

Can you believe that I have been so bold as to claim that lifestyle factors, over which we have control, may play a role in determining whether or not we develop Alzheimer’s disease? To be sure, I read the criticism from the skeptics and have elected not to fan the flames by commenting on their blog sites. There are those who cling to the idea that what we eat, how much exercise we get, whether we sleep enough and even whether we put ourselves in stressful situations matters little in terms of the fate of our brain function.

This ideology is flawed on at least two counts. First, it relinquishes your cognitive fate to a prescription for an as of yet nonexistent drug. Second, it is not in line with our most current and well-respected scientific journals. Nonetheless, some people tend to be “down on what they are not up on.”

Let’s take a look at what our thought leaders are telling us. Dr. Deborah Barnes is a neuroscientist in San Francisco. Her work gets published in some of our most highly regarded journals. She recently published some really great science in Lancet Neurology in which she concluded that factors like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure dramatically increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As reported by the University of California, San Francisco:

Over half of all Alzheimer’s disease cases could potentially be prevented through lifestyle changes and treatment or prevention of chronic medical conditions, according to a study led by Deborah Barnes, PhD, a mental health researcher at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC). Analyzing data from studies around the world involving hundreds of thousands of participants, Barnes concluded that worldwide, the biggest modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are, in descending order of magnitude, low education, smoking, physical inactivity, depression, mid-life hypertension, diabetes and mid-life obesity.

In the United States, Barnes found that the biggest modifiable risk factors are physical inactivity, depression, smoking, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, low education and diabetes. Together, these risk factors are associated with up to 51 percent of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide (17.2 million cases) and up to 54 percent of Alzheimer’s cases in the United States (2.9 million cases), according to Barnes.

This is powerfully important information. Fifty-four percent of Alzheimer’s patients in America didn’t have to get this devastating diagnosis – if they had only known. Yet, somehow we are supposed to buy into the notion that we can live our lives however we choose and that soon there will be a cure for whatever malady befalls us.

As of this writing, there is no meaningful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Several months ago, to great fanfare, federal monies, to the tune of $33 million, were allocated to help pharmaceuticals develop a drug to prevent Alzheimer’s, a disease affecting more than 5.4 million Americans.

In my commentary on MindBodyGreen I wrote:

While the idea of creating a drug to prevent Alzheimer’s seems honorable, it’s important to consider that the development of such a drug means big business beyond measure. Deutsche Bank estimates that the development of an efficacious drug treatment for the disease once it has taken hold could generate $20 billion in annual sales. But the value of a drug employed to treat people before there is any evidence of dementia—a far larger treatment group compared to those already afflicted—would be staggering.

New York Times writer Pam Belluck reported that the goal of this grant would be to develop a preventive treatment using a strategy much like the one for heart disease. Belluck quoted Laurie Ryan, program director for the Alzheimer’s clinical trials at the National Institute on Aging, who said, “We’re going to look at people at risk, just like we do with people who have high cholesterol and are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Is this really what we should be doing? We already know that modifiable lifestyle factors profoundly influence Alzheimer’s risk, but, as I recently wrote for The Daily Beast:

The fundamental operating system underlying the practice of medicine in America today seems myopically focused on treating our ills with highly profitable remedies directed at symptom management while causality is ignored. Preventing disease is derogated, and relegated to the province of alternative modalities. Watching our elected leaders debate the merits of funding the ever-changing iterations of a health-care plan designed to treat illnesses presents a poignant irony, as it has little to do with health and everything to do with illness. But it has become clear that both sides of the aisle enthusiastically agree that Americans must have access to their pills, and lots of them.

Just the simple act of getting regular exercise can dramatically lower Alzheimer’s risk, and this isn’t new information. In fact, exercising regularly has been demonstrated to actually improve memory in adults with memory impairment. Where would such an iconoclastic report have been published? It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association way back in 2008!

So it’s time we accept the idea, with gratitude, that from a cognitive perspective, how we live our lives matters a whole lot in determining how we will be functioning in the future. Dietary choices determine blood sugar levels and even mild elevation of blood sugar levels translates to a dramatically increased risk for dementia, as recently reported in The New England Journal of Medicine. Keep in mind that this study showed a marked increased risk for dementia even in individuals without diabetes or even pre-diabetes.

In fact, there is a direct relationship between fasting blood sugar and the rate of shrinkage of the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center), as demonstrated in a recent issue of the state of the art journal Neurology. When it comes to your brain’s memory center, size does matter.

As the authors of this study stated in their conclusion:

High plasma glucose levels within the normal range were associated with greater atrophy of structures relevant to aging and neurodegenerative processes, the hippocampus and amygdala. These findings suggest that even in the subclinical range and in the absence of diabetes, monitoring and management of plasma glucose levels could have an impact on cerebral health.

And what should your first step be in terms of “management of plasma glucose?” To dramatically reduce carbohydrate intake while increasing your consumption of healthful fats. This is a central theme of the Grain Brain program and is fundamentally supported by a recent publication by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that elderly individuals favoring a high carbohydrate diet experienced an increased risk for developing dementia of close to 90% while the dementia risk was decreased by 42% in those consuming the most fat.

I encourage you all to read these citations and embrace the empowerment that this knowledge provides in terms of changing your brain’s destiny.

For more information, order your copy of Grain Brain today and join Dr. Perlmutter’s email list.

  • ri

    Another excellent informative post! my 2014 resolution: im going to choose the fate of my future by making the necessary changes i need to make now because i dont want to develop dementia or alzheimers and be a prisoner in my own body and not even be able to remember the names of those i love.
    Life is supposed to get better over time not worse and i certainly dont want to make highly profitable health care companies or agencies richer than they are. To know that i have so much control over this is empowering! thanks Dr Perlmutter

    • David Perlmutter

      Resolving to choose the fate of your brain…great idea RI!

  • Jackie

    The brain is something most of us never really think or worry about (it’s hidden away). I am totally not eating carbs in the way of sugar, pasta, rice, potatoes, flour, corn starch., veg oils etc anymore. For three months I’ve stopped. Thank you for your information. I too started a discussion amongst friends and was very disappointed that most thought that I was bonkers eating butter and that I will not benefit from eating no bread. Maybe some have to learn the hard way. Thank you!

    • David Perlmutter

      Whoever said being a little bonkers is necessarily a bad thing?

    • Debbie

      Good point – it’s VERY difficult to explain this diet or any like it to the standard so-called healthy eater. People say, “BACON is health?!!” and it’s hard to know where to even start to explain.

  • Wade Irwin

    I watched my father slowly decline over the last couple of years of his life from vascular dementia which necessitated 24/7 care in a “memory center” . He finally passed in Oct of 2013 which was indeed a blessing for him. It was shortly thereafter I ,quite by accident, discovered Dr. Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain” . What an eye opener! I read and reread the book and started my new life diet. I have quit the statins( the only reason my Dr. put me on statins was because he thought my cholesterol was too “fluffy”, whatever that means), blood pressure meds and Uloric for gout. I have lost weight, I feel much sharper and my PTSD/depression symptoms(two combat tours in Viet Nam) seem to have subsided a great deal. After 46 years I have a new mental outlook; not so negative any longer. I have much more energy and just feel so much better mentally. I am not diabetic; I have always been a gym rat which are probably the only factors that kept me somewhat “healthy”. I ,of course ,bought into the low fat, high carb BS and thought my doctors could never be wrong. I am so thankful to have found “Grain Brain”. I look at my friends and acquaintances who are diabetic, suffer from various ailments and keep on with the same destructive eating habits, and wish they could see the light. I don’t “preach” my new philosophy to them but when they notice my new appearance I explain how I read Dr.P’s book and what a difference it has made in my life. It’s a drastic change but I have embraced it fully. I want to leave this world with my mind and memories intact! Thank you so much Dr.Perlmutter!

    • David Perlmutter

      It sounds like you are walking proof of the science Wade! Wishing you continued good health.

  • Pingback: The higher blood sugar goes and remains, the more shrinkage you have in your brain or, do all treatments of brain disorders have to be profit driven? | Health from A (Abdominals) to Z (Zucchini)()

  • Linda

    What is one to do if their blood sugar runs low, needing orange juice or sugar? Please, ANY SUGGETIONS TO KEEP BLOOD SUGAR FROM DROPPING ON THIS DIET???

    • I am sure the article is referring to artificial or processed sugars not natural sugars you can get from fruit. Blood glucose (which is what you refer to as dropping) is made from the food we eat. So eat healthy and monitor your glucose levels and you will be good to go.

      • Brian

        No, natural sugar is just as bad. Fructose can do a lot of damage if taken in excess. Fruit juices such as pure orange juice, for example, are very bad for you. High blood sugar is unhealthy regardless of the source of the sugar.

        • Maybe I’m missing something here.. the body breaks down all food sources into glucose and fructose for energy. Natural sugars derived from non-processed foods should be good for us?

          • Brian

            We are not really designed to eat that much fruit. In pre-agricultural times it would have mostly been eaten in the autumn and would possibly have helped humans to store a little bit of fat for getting through the winter. But we are still talking much lower levels than modern humans eat all year. I’m not saying don’t eat fruit entirely though. Lower fructose berries are very good, as are apples (not too many though!). Even an orange is ok as long as it’s just one a day. Orange juice is much worse because it can take the juice of more than a dozen oranges to make a carton and that’s a lot of fructose. The best source of fuel for the body is fat plus a small amount of carbs for any essential glucose the brain needs. But this would be a tiny amount of carbs compared to the modern diet.

          • Joel

            One thing I have not seen mentioned in this discussion thread is that fruit contains fiber which will absorb some of the sugar, dampening the load. Still not great to go over board on the fruit. On the other hand, juice does not contain fiber and fruit juices should be kept at a minimum. Vegetables and vegetable juices should be preferred over fruits and hopefully home juiced rather than store bought, ideally

  • Lynn Dell

    I’m glad you posted this. I’m in recovery mode from a virus I had around Christmas, and today was very discouraged that my fbg was a little over 100. Before, I would have thought I was doing pretty good, but no more! I want it below 90 on a consistent basis. In order to do that I must keep pressing on. The chart speaks volumes – very good visual, thanks for posting it.

  • Roger

    More facts backing up Grain Brain. No pills, just the right menu choices. I have my hard copy open right now, my wife and I are putting together a new grocery list for tomorrow. My first success with Grain Brian was just yesterday. I bought Gluten free Hummus, but after I brought it home, I read the label only to notice that it contained Soybean oil. That cannot be Gluten free……

    • maria

      Roger, soybean oil is gluten free, but it is likely GMO, a good reason to avoid it. And it is only used, I’m guessing, because it is cheaper than a more traditional recipe.

  • Great information. Thank you for sharing! Isn’t it funny how the most addictive & destructive drug in the world is actually legal.. sugar. Yet because it is legal people consume it in large quantities forgetting that anything (legal or not) in large volume is always dangerous to ones health. Hopefully education can help change this!

  • Shelley

    I watched my Mom die of early onset demenita in her sixties. She had Pick’s diease, frontotemporal lobe area. She went from being slightly forgetful to needing 24/7 care. She had always lived her life healthy. She exercised twice a day, watched her weight, ate lots of veggies, fruits and rarely touched carbs, and enjoyed life to the fullest. She did not smoke, only had an occasional social drink, and had the energy of 10 people. Not a diabetic, no high cholesterol, did not take any medication. Did not have any hypertension, obesity or any other disease. No one in her immediate family had dementia…….. Everyone in general should do what the above articles states, but I do not believe we always have a choice on what our brain does….. Such an awful awful disease.

  • Debbie

    Do you have any concerns about the Omega 6 levels in avocado? I’ve been having one or half daily, and now am unsure.

    • maria

      From all I’ve heard, avocados are a perfect food. Having one a day, I believe, is recommended.

  • jan

    I have just finished reading Grain Brain and what eye opener! I am getting ready to make the big change in my diet. I have a question; my mother has just been diagnosed with temporal arteritis, which I understand is caused from inflammation. We were told the only treatment is corticosteroids. Will the low carb high fat diet help with this condition?

  • Rose

    I come from a family that struggles with alcohol and drug abuse. I swore that I would strive to stop the downward cycle. I don’t drink, I quit smoking years ago… But BREAD AND SUGAR – Wow!! I too am an addict. Smoking was EASY compared to SUGAR!!! Who Would of Thought!!! I am determined though! I will blog again when I too am no longer an “addict”.

    • David Perlmutter

      Here to help you through this transition.

  • Rose

    I am following the grain brain diet and health recommendations. Can you tell me what’s the most optimum cocktail of vitamins and suppliments for a 51 year old woman who is showing signs of cognitive weakness and has a family history of altheimers? My dad started showing signs in his late fifties.

    • David Perlmutter

      This is my post on advised supplements, my seven super supplements in fact: drperlmutter.com/grain-brain-seven-super-supplements/

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  • Just the straightforward act of obtaining regular exercise will dramatically lower Alzheimer’s risk, and this isn’t new data. In fact, physical exercise frequently has been incontestable to really improve memory in adults with memory impairment..

  • nevadach

    How can I obtain the Dr. Pearlmutter “Whole Life Plan?”

  • nevadach

    How can I obtain the Dr. Perlmutter “Whole Life Plan?”

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