By Joel Fuhrman, M.D. www.drfuhrman.com
Don’t Forget The Role Of Diet In The Prevention Of This Brain Disorder.
Alzheimer’s dementia is an irreversible brain disorder that typically develops in the elderly. It leads to memory loss, personality changes, and a general decline in cognitive function.
With the high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in our aging population, more and more research is underway to come up with novel treatments for this brain disease. Given the large distortion of brain architecture that occurs in Alzheimer’s, it is unlikely that drug treatment will offer a solution to this debilitating problem.
Growing evidence has implicated vascular risk factors, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Cerebral ischemia (lack of blood flow secondary to lipid deposits), aided by marginal nutritional deficiencies, promotes the development of the pathology seen in Alzheimer’s.1
Recent studies conducted in the United States have revealed that just as in heart disease, strokes, and vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the end result of nutritional inadequacy earlier in life. Patients with Alzheimer’s, compared with controls, showed deficiencies of multiple vitamins, especially the antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits. Green vegetable consumption was low and animal fat consumption was high in the past histories of Alzheimer’s patients.2,3 Japanese studies have found the same relationships: individuals with low consumption of vegetables and high consumption of meat were found to be the ones most likely to develop Alzheimer’s.4 We pay a steep price for our extravagant diet, rich in meat and dairy and low in the foods ideally adapted to our primate heritage— natural vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans. Unfortunately, natural foods are shunned in the modern world, and Americans eat less than 4 percent of their total calories from vegetables and fresh fruit.
Dying For A Hamburger
In spite of the irrefutable link between meat and cheese consumption and heart disease, the majority of people still consider these foods important for proper nutrition. Research scientists have a different opinion. Just as in the case of heart disease, the world’s leading researchers on the subject consider diets high in animal fat to be the major factor in the causation of Alzheimer’s.
Oxidative stress to our brain tissue from the combination of a diet rich in saturated fat and low in the antioxidants and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables lays the groundwork for brain damage later in life. Deficiencies of DHA (a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) which often are found in Alzheimer’s patients, also have been shown to promote dementia.5 Inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, leafy greens,and certain fish also are implicated in the etiology of Alzheimer’s.
The aluminum present in processed foods also may play a role in accelerating the development of Alzheimer’s. Recent evidence has shown that high body stores of aluminum can potentiate the damage to brain DNA from a low body load of antioxidants.6,7
Aluminum calcium sulfate is used as an anti-caking agent so dry ingredients flow freely. Aluminum sulfate is used as a bleaching agent in flour and cheese. Aluminum stearate is used as a chewing gum base and as a defoaming component in the processing of sugar. Aluminum chloride and aluminum sulfate are used as leavening agents in baked goods. Cookies, cakes, cold cereals, and pancakes are all high in aluminum. Fortunately, when you eat a diet low in processed foods and rich in vegetables, beans, fresh fruit, and nuts and seeds,you dramatically decrease your dietary exposure to aluminum and increase the level of antioxidant compounds in your brain.
Taking vitamin E, vitamin C, or other isolated nutrients has been shown to be only slightly useful and cannot be expected to offer you a significant degree of protection against dementia. That is because vitamins are only a small part of the antioxidant story. For example, the vitamin C in an apple accounts for less than one half of one percent of the antioxidant activity in a whole apple. Most of the antioxidant activity in the apple (and in fruits and vegetables in general) is the result of phenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and other compounds that work additively and synergistically to protect you against disease.
The development of Alzheimer’s follows the same basic pattern seen in almost every disease affecting aging Americans. Diseases are multifactorial and develop as a result of environmental stresses, the most damaging of which are almost always nutritional excesses and deficiencies. Once these stresses have taken their overall toll, you develop one disease and not another, based on your inherited genetic tendencies and your inherent resistance to certain degenerative processes.
Disease has nothing to do with the aging process itself. Chronic illnesses result from years and years of nutritional stresses that eventually manifest more and more damage until disease symptoms rear their ugly head. It is important to recognize that disease is not the inevitable consequence of aging—you have to earn it through a lifetime of dietary and lifestyle errors.
Recipe For Protection
The bottom line is that if you follow the Eat To Live dietary recommendations, you need not fear developing dementia later in life. A comprehensive nutritional program throughout life that includes the following important features can assure freedom from both heart disease and dementia as you age:
- A vegetable-based diet;
- High intake of greens, both raw and cooked, and in soups containing beans;
- At least four fresh fruits a day;
- Daily consumption of raw nuts and seeds or avocado as your major fat source;
- Dramatic reduction or elimination of processed foods, sugar, white flour, and animal products;
- Limited consumption of grains, in favor of colorful vegetables;
- Supplementation to assure adequate levels of vitamins D and B12, iodine, and DHA fatty acids;
- Blood evaluation of homocysteine and, if needed, supplementation to normalize.
1. Sadowski M, Pankiewicz J, Scholtzova H, et al. Links between the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Neurochem Res 2004; 29(6):1257-1268.
2. Otsuka M, Yamaguchi K, Ueki A. Similarities and differences between Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia from the viewpoint of nutrition. Ann NY Acad Sci 2002;977:156-161.
3. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol 2003;60(2):194-200.
4. Otsuka M. Analysis of dietary factors in Alzheimer’s disease: clinical use of nutritional intervention for prevention and treatment of dementia. Nippon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi 2000;37(12):970-973.
5. Conquer JA, Tierney MC, Zecevic J, et al. Fatty acid analysis of blood plasma of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia, and cognitive impairment. Lipids 2000;35(12):1305-1312.
6. Hegde ML, Anitha S, Latha KS, et al. First evidence for helical transitions in supercoiled DNA by amyloid Beta Peptide (1-42) and aluminum: a new insight in understanding Alzheimer’s disease J Mol Neurosci 2004;22(1-2):19-31.
7. Suay Llopis L, Ballester Diez F. Review of the studies on exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Rev Esp Salud Publica 2002; 76(6):645-658.