In my previous blog, I touched on some of the important issues coming out of the ‘Awakening from Alzheimer’s Disease’ series, presented by Peggy Sarlin and her panel of Alzheimer’s experts. What we saw was that while no effective cure currently exists for this devastating disease, about 70% of the incidence can be prevented. In this post we will dig a little deeper into some of the key lifestyle interventions that may help not only to prevent the disease for occurring, but also may even slow the progress and improve some of the symptoms in those unfortunate enough to have developed Alzheimer’s.
You may recall that I mentioned that Alzheimer’s expert Dr Vincent Fortanasce used the acronym SAD to explain the main cause of the disease: S= sedentary behaviour , A= aging and D= diet. If he is correct, then it follows that the solution to preventing Alzheimer’s and improving symptoms must also lie in the cause. So let’s start with Sedentary behaviour. Psychiatrist and Alzheimer’s expert Dr Jay Faber says that we all need to ‘Get Moving’ for 45 to 60 minutes a day and to do this every day for 6 days per week. It matters little what ‘Get Moving’ you do as long as you just do it! (now where did I hear that before). Walk, swim, cycle, jog whatever you enjoy doing – just move. Another great exercise for those who have difficulty in moving is what is known as isometric exercise (time to consult Dr Google!). Start slow and increase the repetitions over time – but start!
The next letter in the SAD acronym is A for Aging. Of course, there is nothing we can do to turn the clock back BUT we often do have a great deal of choice about whether we let our brain age well or poorly. Now this is really important so pay close attention. You have probably been told that your brain can only use glucose for energy. And because most of our blood glucose comes from the carbohydrate in our diet this would logically mean that we should eat a high carb diet to ensure that our brain, which only constitutes 3% of our body weight but consumes 25% of all the energy we produce, stays in tip top condition.
Well, is true that digested carbs could be our principal source of blood glucose but they are not the only source. Our body produces glucose even if we don’t eat carbs by natural processes known as gluconeogenesis and another called glycogenolysis. But this is not all: our brains are perfectly adapted to use fat-derived ketones for energy. In fact, as we get older our brains prefer ketones rather than glucose for energy. We are ‘hardwired’ to use ketones for brain energy. After all babies are born in a state of mild nutritional ketosis (a term used to describe the body’s use of ketones rather than glucose for energy, and human breast milk is a great source of medium chained triglycerides, just the right type of fat needed to produce ketones. More on brain healthy ketone producing foods later on.
The D in SAD is for Diet. Although I have in a number of other blog posts mentioned the need to avoid sugar and other refined carbohydrates, it is perhaps not a bad idea if I recap on just why this important for good brain health. Most readers will know that that Type 2 diabetes is associated with high levels of blood sugar. We use to call it ‘sugar diabetes’. Some may also know that high blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes are associated with correspondingly high levels of the hormone insulin, and that the condition known as insulin resistance appears to be the main cause of Type 2 diabetes.
It is also thought that insulin resistance can occur in the brain and for this reason some experts say that Alzheimer’s may be a form of diabetes of the brain, i.e. ‘Type 3 diabetes’. And so getting rid of sugar and refined carbs may turn out to be really good for our brain. So what are we to eat? Well, almost all of the experts on the Alzheimer’s panel agree than a diet that derives most of its energy from healthy fats, moderate amounts of protein and much less carbohydrate that exists in the so-called ‘heart healthy’ diet is the way to go.
There are a number of functional foods available that are good sources brain protecting sources of ketones: Coconut oil and cream, Turmeric, Curcumin, full cream unsweetened dairy products, eggs (almost the perfect food), nuts, olives and olive oil, oily fish as well as meat, poultry, venison etc. NB. Please stay well away from vegetable oils, e.g. sunflower, corn oil, canola etc. and products made from these oils such a margarine, which contain lots of inflammation producing Omega-6 fatty acids.
Coconut oil may just turn out to be one of the best functional foods we have not only in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s, but it has also shown some real promise in treating the condition (see Dr Mary Newport’s story on how her husband’s Alzheimer’s improved using coconut oil at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfux-5Z4COo). Most importantly don’t be concerned that because you increase your healthy fat intake that you will be at increased risk for heart disease. This modern myth has been disproved in a number of studies, e.g. a major study by Dr R Chowdhurry and colleagues published in the prestigious medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014 ( Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:398-406).
In addition to functional foods, there are some excellent supplements available that we can use to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Here are just a few worth considering according to many brain health experts:
Omega-3 fatty acids – especially those derived from marine sources such as Krill.
Vitamin D3 – not only good for your brain but like ketones also appears to have anti-cancer properties.
Alpha-lipoic acid – a powerful antioxidant able to enter brain cells and help scavenge the free-radicals that cause the oxidative stress that leads to inflammation and then to disease.
Co-enzyme Q 10 –another powerful antioxidant that some consider essential for people taking a class of cholesterol lowering medication known as statins.
In wrapping up this blog post on Alzheimer’s, I am struck by a couple things:
- The most important thing to remember is that it is NOT a disease of old people. True that’s when it is most often diagnosed but it may start its devastating journey in childhood.
- While there is currently no cure and no drug treatment with any significant effect, there is hope because about 70% Alzheimer’s can be prevented.
- Perhaps the best way of preventing the disease is to use the lifestyle ‘SAD vaccines’ at our disposal : keep your brain active and healthy by (i) eating appropriately; (ii) if overweight – lose the excess weight; (iii) get moving; (iv) look after your gut health and (v) take evidenced-based brain supporting supplements where indicated.
Of course, there is so much more I could say on this really important topic. But I hope that you have found this post, and the one before, of interest and of value.
If you have any questions or comments then please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m Dr Peter Hill for UpForIt.
‘Till next time, let’s work together to ‘Prevent People From Becoming Patients’.