david r md

One of the most frightening aspects of the aging process is the prospect of developing dementia, which is a general term for loss of memory and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with normal functioning in our daily life.  There are several types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s Disease is the most prevalent (somewhere between 60-80% of all cases) and perhaps the best known.  As baby boomers continue to age, the number of people affected by dementia is unfortunately expected to skyrocket; therefore, it is extremely important that each of us pays attention to the things we can do to keep our brains as healthy as possible as we grow older.

According to The Lancet, the world’s leading general medical journal, as well as the specialty journals Oncology, Neurology, and Infectious Diseases, nearly 50% of Alzheimer’s Disease cases can be prevented with lifestyle modifications.  The five most important modifications in that regard are:  controlling diabetes; controlling high blood pressure; managing obesity; managing depression; and exercising. 

In this article, I’d like to focus in on the aspect of nutrition, and how our diet may contribute to the development of dementia.  Many people are terrified of getting dementia in one form or another,  especially as it is incurable at the present time and the progression of the disease devastating for the patient, and very difficult at best for the family or caregivers to manage.  Much research is being done into better understanding the processes involved in dementia, but in the meantime the good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself, and eating a brain-healthy diet is one of them.

How does our diet contribute to dementia?  A diet high in carbohydrates can contribute to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels.  When our blood sugar is high, it attaches to proteins and forms an AGE (advanced glycosolated end-product).  One dangerous form of AGE is formed when a glucose molecule attaches to an LDL (“bad” cholesterol) protein; this AGE increases damage to the blood vessels in the heart and in the brain.  When the glucose combines with other proteins, they can create free radicals.  These dangerous free radicals can then oxidize the LDL cholesterol, causing a double threat of glycosolated LDL and oxidized LDL, which together can be extremely harmful to the brain by increasing inflammation.

High-fructose corn syrup can be dangerous to the brain as well, and is found in a vast assortment of processed food items.  The intake of this type of fructose has increased 1000% in the last couple of decades!  Increased fructose in the diet leads to a tendency to increase the amount of dangerous abdominal fat stored in the body,  and tends to increase insulin resistance and the development of hypertension, all of which are risk factors for dementia.  Fructose is also ten times more likely to increase AGEs, as opposed to glucose.  Please note: fruit contains fructose, which in this form is not nearly as harmful as high-fructose corn syrup.  Nevertheless, it is probably wise to limit the amount of fruit juices you are consuming, as well as the “tropical” fruits such as bananas, mangos, guavas, pineapple, etc., which contain higher amounts.

A few specific suggestions for ways to eat for brain health:

  • Minimize sugar, junk food, refined carbohydrates, white flour and foods with a high glycemic index
  • Use targeted nutritional supplements:  CoQ10, a good multi-vitamin, resveratrol, green tea extract, EFAs (essential fatty acids), alpha lipoic acid, coconut oil, glucoraphain, among others
  • Avoid soda and/or soft drinks, including diet versions
  • Avoid high-mercury fish like tuna and swordfish
  • Consume grass-fed meats as much as possible, and other sources of animal protein that do not contain antibiotics or growth hormones
  • Consume plenty of organic vegetables each day, of many differing varieties
  • Try to limit or eliminate sweets like ice cream, cookies, muffins, scones and cakes

 

I cannot stress enough the importance of consuming a clean, healthy diet, and not only for the brain!   Food is direct “information” for our DNA, and how we bathe our genes has a pronounced effect on how they express themselves.  Therefore, to a great extent, we hold the fate of our health in our diet and lifestyle choices.  With millions of Americans being overweight, sedentary and living on junk food, we are facing a crisis of illness of unprecedented proportions.

If you are not my patient, please consult with your physician as to which diet would be optimal for you.  If  you are interested in a thorough nutritional evaluation, I would be happy to consult with you at your next appointment, and after performing the relevant testing, advise you on a diet that will be suitable.  We also have a certified nutritionist in our office available for consultations.

Our brains are fantastically complicated and elegant organs, and it certainly behooves us to give them the care and respect they deserve!  I’d like you to try to become aware of how you are protecting or damaging your brain through your dietary choices.  Dementia in all of its forms is a devastating illness, and doing whatever you can to avoid its onset will allow you to live a long, rich and full life with your mental faculties intact, and the essential “you” undiminished and untouched by the passage of time.

 

LECTURES & PRESENTATIONS

Dr. Allen gives free lectures at the Library three to four times each year, on topics of interest from the cutting edge of integrative medicine.  If you would like to be added to our mailing list for these lectures and his other speaking engagements, please email da@davidallenmd.com.

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