An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, a severe form of dementia, and hundreds of thousands more may suffer from an often misdiagnosed subtype called “hippocampal sparing” Alzheimer’s, according to recent findings.
The most recent data suggests that well over half a million Americans die from Alzheimer’s disease each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer.
Subtype of Alzheimer’s Disease is Often Misdiagnosed
In related news, research presented at the 2014 American Academy of Neurology’s meeting in Pennsylvania sheds new light on Alzheimer’s cases that are often misdiagnosed.
Of the more than 1,800 Alzheimer’s patients included in a study, 11 percent were found to have hippocampal sparing Alzheimer’s, which does not destroy memory to the degree typically associated with Alzheimer’s. Instead, this subtype of the disease tends to alter behavior, causing uncontrollable anger, visual impairments, speech problems, and the feeling that your limbs do not belong to you. Hippocampal sparing appears to affect more men than women, and the disease tends to set in much earlier than traditional Alzheimer’s. Patients with hippocampal sparing also tend to deteriorate at a fast pace.
Misdiagnosis is common, as this subtype spares your memory. Quite often these patients end up being diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia or corticobasal syndrome instead. The former is associated with personality changes, while the latter is a progressive neurological disorder that can involve your motor system, cognition, or both, but patients typically present language problems first, followed by motor symptoms.
While the researchers believe that currently available Alzheimer’s medications may be more effective for those with hippocampal sparing Alzheimer’s than those with more traditional dementia, I firmly believe that drugs are not the answer to any of these conditions. Clearly, at the heart of it all is insulin and leptin resistance, fueled by a diet too high in refined sugars, processed fructose, and grains, combined with far too little healthful fats.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease—A Neurologist Speaks Out
Last year, and again this spring, I interviewed Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times‘ bestseller Grain Brain. In my view, Dr. Perlmutter is probably the leading integrative medicine neurologist in the US, and his advice is clear: Alzheimer’s is preventable through proper diet. After spending years treating people’s neurological symptoms, he grew increasingly frustrated with his profession’s lack of ability to get to the root cause.
His book, Grain Brain, reveals how and why sugars and carbohydrates destroy your brain, and how to eat for neurological health. He notes Mayo Clinic research that reveals diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia while high-fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk. This combination of very little sugar and carbs, along with higher amounts of healthful fats is KEY for addressing not only Alzheimer’s, but diabetes and heart disease as well.
All of these conditions are rooted in insulin and leptin resistance, and the dietary answer is identical for all of them. Understanding this can make your life easier, as you don’t need to memorize the dos and don’ts for each and every disease you seek to avoid. Instead, what you need to do is shift over to a mindset that is focused on optimizing health. Disease prevention then becomes a beneficial “side effect.”
Alzheimer’s Is Directly Related to Elevated Blood Sugar Levels
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2013 demonstrates that even mild elevation of blood sugar—a level of around 105 or 110—is associated with an elevated risk for dementia. Dr. Perlmutter believes it’s very important for physicians to become cognizant of this link, and to stop downplaying the risks associated with even mildly elevated blood sugar. So what is an ideal fasting blood sugar level?
Dr. Perlmutter suggests that anything over 92 or 93 is too high. He believes the ideal fasting blood sugar level is around 70-85, with 95 as the maximum. If your fasting blood sugar is over 95 mg/dl, it’s definitely time to address your diet to lower it.
The Importance of Saturated Fats for Healthy Brain Function
Our ancestral diet was very high in saturated fats and virtually void of non-vegetable carbohydrates. Today, not only do we eat tremendous amounts of carbohydrates, these carbs are refined and highly processed. In the last decade, we’ve also shifted over to genetically engineered grains and sugar (GMO sugar beets and corn). Adding insult to injury, for the past 60 years conventional medical authorities have also warned that saturated fats cause heart disease and should be severely restricted.
This inappropriate fat phobia has undoubtedly played a significant role in the dramatic rise in dementia and other neurological disorders, because your brain cannot function properly without fats! The type of fat you eat makes all the difference in the world, though. You want to avoid all trans fats or hydrogenated fats that have been modified in such a way to extend their longevity on the grocery store shelf. This includes margarine, vegetable oils, and various butter-like spreads. Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include:
- Coconuts and coconut oil (coconut oil actually shows promise as an effective Alzheimer’s treatment in and of itself)
- Butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk
- Unheated organic nut oils
- Raw dairy
- Organic pastured egg yolks
- Grass-fed meats or pasture raised poultry
- Raw nuts, such as pecans and macadamia, which are low in protein and high in healthy fats
Other Dietary Considerations
1. Avoid sugar and refined fructose.Ideally, you’ll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.Here’s a summary run-down of diet-related strategies that will help optimize your brain function and prevent Alzheimer’s:Other Dietary Considerations
2. Avoid gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but not dairy fat, such as butter). Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don’t belong. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
3. Optimize your gut flora by regularly eating fermented foods or taking a high-potency and high-quality probiotic supplement.
4. Increase consumption of all healthy fats, including animal-based omega-3. Health-promoting fats that your brain needs for optimal function are listed above. Also make sure you’re getting enough animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. (I recommend avoiding most fish because, although fish is naturally high in omega-3, most fish are now severely contaminated with mercury.) High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder.
General Lifestyle Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention
Besides diet, there are a number of other lifestyle factors that can contribute to or hinder neurological health. The following strategies are therefore also important for any Alzheimer’s prevention plan:
- Exercise regularly. It’s been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, thus, slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha. Exercise also leads to hippocampus growth and memory improvement.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels with safe sun exposure.Strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer’s patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests have been revealed. Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of the glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health. Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on Alzheimer’s through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Sufficient vitamin D (50-70 ng/ml) is imperative for proper functioning of your immune system to combat inflammation that is also associated with Alzheimer’s.
- Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
- Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body. Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, vaccine adjuvants, etc. For tips on how to detox aluminum, please see my article, “First Case Study to Show Direct Link between Alzheimer’s and Aluminum Toxicity.“
- Avoid flu vaccinations as most contain both mercury and aluminum, well-known neurotoxic and immunotoxic agents.
- Avoid anticholinergics and statin drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers. Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10 and neurotransmitter precursors, and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein.
- Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Preventing Alzheimer’s Is Possible
According to Dr. David Perlmutter, fat avoidance and carbohydrate overconsumption are at the heart of the Alzheimer’s epidemic. To learn more about how you can protect your brain health by eliminating non-vegetable carbs from your diet, I highly recommend reading his book, Grain Brain. In order to reverse the Alzheimer’s trend, we simply must relearn how to eat for optimal health. Processed “convenience foods” are quite literally killing us, inducing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
The beauty of following my optimized nutrition plan is that it helps prevent and treat virtually ALL chronic degenerative diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Other lifestyle factors, particularly sun exposure and exercise, are also potent allies against all forms of dementia. Ideally, you’ll want to carefully review the suggested guidelines above, and take steps to incorporate as many of them as you can into your daily lifestyle. The sooner you begin, the better, considering that one in nine Americans over the age of 65 end up with Alzheimer’s.
*Image of “senior man” via Shutterstock