Are you eating your way to Alzheimer's disease?
Are you making this critical diet mistake that can raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease fourfold?
Research conducted at the Mayo clinic found that older people who consume a high carbohydrate or high sugar diet have a four times greater risk of developing cognitive impairment. While people who consume more protein and fat relative to carbohydrate are less likely to develop cognitive impairment. This research was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Researchers studied 1,230 people aged between 70 and 89 years who provided information on what they ate during the previous year. Every participant had their cognitive function evaluated by an expert panel of physicians, nurses and neuropsychologists.
Of all the participants, only the 940 who displayed no signs of cognitive impairment were asked to return for follow-up evaluations of their mental function. After four years, 200 of those 940 were starting to show mild cognitive impairment, problems with language, memory, thinking and judgment. These mental difficulties were considered greater than normal age related changes.
After evaluating all the participants’ diets, those individuals who ate the most carbohydrate in relation to protein and fat, were nearly four times more likely to experience declining cognitive abilities.
Alzheimer’s disease is a huge and growing problem. It is the most common form of dementia and is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA. Alzheimer's disease has clinical stages, with the final stage resulting in death. The course of Alzheimer's can be rapid or slow but usually the disease lasts around a decade.
Most people with Alzheimer's disease are not diagnosed with the illness until they reach at least 60 years of age. However, Alzheimer's disease can begin many years or even decades before symptoms start appearing. Neurofibrillary tangles, amyloid plaque, inflammation and free radicals causing oxidative damage slowly develop in the brain, affecting how nerve cells function and communicate. This damage eventually spreads to other regions of the brain, causing cells to lose their function and die.
How does sugar damage the brain?
It has long been known that diabetics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people with normal blood sugar, however recently we have learned that even minor elevations in blood sugar can heighten your risk of cognitive decline.
Every time you eat sugar or carbohydrate rich foods, your blood sugar level goes up and this triggers your pancreas to release the hormone insulin. If you continue to consume a high sugar diet for many years, the insulin in your body can start to become less and less effective. This means your blood sugar level can remain too high and you are said to have insulin resistance, or syndrome X.
Research conducted by scientists at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and published in "Current Alzheimer Research" in April 2007 found that increased blood insulin levels in insulin resistant people increases nerve cell inflammation and levels of a particular brain plaque called abeta. Scientists are currently working on new therapeutic agents called gamma-secretase modulators that aim to reduce abeta production associated with Alzheimer's disease. In the meantime, there is plenty you can do for yourself to protect your brain from harm.
What you can do to protect your brain
- Keep your carbohydrate intake low. I have written about the dangers of consuming too much carbohydrate and sugar for many years. These foods can shorten your lifespan and greatly reduce your quality of life. You can read more about insulin resistance and see my easy to follow eating plan in my book "I Can't Lose Weight!...And I Don't Know Why". Whether you are overweight or not, avoiding high blood sugar and high insulin is critical for a healthy brain.
- Make sure you include plenty of good fats in your diet. Your brain is made up of approximately 70 percent fat, therefore you must consume plenty of healthy, natural fats in your diet in order to nourish your brain cells. Fish is the most well known brain food and for good reason. The omega 3 fats in fish oil form the structure of cell membranes and therefore are required for proper nerve cell communication. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect in the brain. A study published in the July 2003 issue of the "Archives of Neurology" studied more than 800 participants regarding the effect of fish and omega-3 fatty acids on risk of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals in the study who consumed fish at least once a week had a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than people who did not eat fish once a week. Not everyone enjoys eating fish, and it can be very difficult to obtain wild fish, relatively free of heavy metals and other contaminants. Krill oil is an excellent source of the omega 3 fats EPA and DHA in a concentrated and purified form. Taking a krill oil or fish oil supplement regularly can greatly help to protect your brain.
- Eat more vegetables. People who eat a lot of vegetables are at lower risk of every disease, including Alzheimer’s. Try to consume vegetables with at least two of your meals each day. It is best to eat some vegetables raw and some cooked. Try to eat a wide variety of vegetables; many people stick to a small handful of varieties and never try eating different vegetables they are unfamiliar with. If you want to make your own raw vegetable juices as well, that will provide even greater antioxidant benefits. See my book Raw Juices Can Save your Life for inspiration.
- Include more spices in your meals. You have probably heard about the great benefits of turmeric to the brain. It is the intense yellow spice that gives curry its color. Turmeric has a strong affinity for the brain and a great deal of research has linked its consumption with protection from dementia. Other herbs and spices have brain benefits also. Try to include a variety in your diet regularly. Examples include cumin, coriander, dill, basil, galangal, ginger and garlic.
- Blueberries are particularly good for your brain. They are one of the most antioxidant rich fruits you can eat, plus they are very low in sugar. The particular polyphenol antioxidants in blueberries act to improve signalling among brain cells and increase the functioning ability of aging neurons.
There are many more strategies for improving brain health in my book Alzheimer’s: What you must know to protect your brain.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.
Journal of Hygiene Research; [Analysis of Correlation Between Insulin Resistance, Blood Lipids and Alzheimer's Disease]; Xiaohong Sun, et al.; September 2010
Current Alzheimer Research; Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer's Disease Pathogenesis: Potential Mechanisms and Implications for Treatment; Suzanne Craft; April 2007
Archives of Neurology; Consumption of Fish and N-3 Fatty Acids and Risk of Recent Alzheimer's Disease; Martha Clare Morris, et al.; July 2003