Alzheimer’s and dementia – diet cuts the risk more than genes! A new study1 just published in the British Medical Journal shows that changing one’s diet from bad to good will cut the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia by an amazing 9 times! This incredible reduction applies even if you have inherited genes that predispose you to mental decline. To quote one of the study members: “These results provide an optimistic outlook, as they suggest that although genetic risk is not modifiable, a combination of more healthy lifestyle factors are associated with a slower rate of memory decline, regardless of the genetic risk.”
The study, which involved +29,000 people over a 10 year period, confirms what many other studies have shown, namely that lifestyle choices play a bigger role in mental health than anything else. In fact, a healthy diet was shown to be almost twice as important at reducing the risk compared to exercise, though obviously this also helps.
Previous studies, and there have been many, have all pointed to the fact that we are damaging our brains by eating badly.
1. A number of studies2,3,4,5,6 have shown a link between Type 2 diabetes and increased risk of mental decline. The reasons are straightforward. Firstly, high blood sugar levels are extremely damaging to veins and capillaries. This is why many diabetics suffer from vision loss and amputations – the blood flow to the eyes ans extremities is restricted, leading to tissue damage. Similar damage occurs in the brain.
– Insulin resistance, a common problem in diabetics, prevents cells from assimilating glucose effectively, reducing energy production and affecting the brain’s ability to function optimally. The brain uses about 20% of all the energy in the body. Anything that interferes with energy production affects the brain more than any other organ.
– Insulin is also involved in the elimination of free radicals from cells. Less insulin results in increased oxidative stress, which in turn leads to inflammation and cellular death, again leading to mental decline.
Given that diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in the world, affecting some 530 million people in 2021, and is caused almost entirely by bad lifestyle choices, one can see why the rate of mental decline is also sky rocketing.
2. Studies have shown that people with heart problems have a increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
– One study7 followed 3486 men and 1341 women (average age 55) for 10 years and found that people who had a higher cardiovascular risk had increased cognitive decline. For example, a 10 percent higher cardiovascular risk was associated with a 2.8 percent lower score in the memory test for men and a 7.1 percent lower score in the memory test for women.
– Another study8 looked at the association between a high resting heart rate (HRH) and mental decline. The researchers found that a higher HRH rate is associated with increased risk of dementia and faster cognitive decline in elderly people.
Again, given that heart disease is so prevalent today, and is linked to poor diet, it’s easy to see why the rate of Alzheimer’s and dementia is on the rise.
There is also considerable evidence pointing to the fact that poor diet is a major contributing factor to depression, which also affects one’s mental state. For more info on this see the following:
With so much evidence pointing to poor diet being a major cause of mental decline, we’d be wise to look at cleaning up our diets. We need to accept that our health, and that of our brains, is our responsibility. For too long we have been conditioned into thinking that it’s up to the medical industry to take care of our health. If we stop and think about this, we soon see how wrong this is. Today we have more drugs, more science and more medical procedures, yet there are more people sicker than ever before.
Today every health authority around the world agrees that eating a healthy diet is the number one strategy to prevent chronic disease (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuXa_aHQszs for more on this) so let’s have a look at what we can do.
How we can improve our diets?
1. We need to cut down and/or eliminate:
– refined carbohydrates (white flour, rice and sugar containing foods) and replace them with whole grains and healthy, natural sweeteners. Refined carbs are very quickly converted to glucose by the body, resulting in sky rocketing blood sugar levels. This in turn causes the body to release large amounts of insulin to reduce the blood sugar and protect the veins and capillaries. This yoyo effect hour after hour, day after day, for years on end, leads to diabetes.
– processed foods and fast foods. Food manufactures put chemicals into all processed foods to enhance taste and lengthen shelf life. Our bodies were never designed to eat them.
– preservatives, colourants and additives. These chemicals all have side effects that damage our health.
– salt. Excessive salt raises blood pressure, puts a strain on the kidneys and damages our overall health.
– meat. Today animals are often raised in feedlots, where they are fed grain (not a normal food for cattle, sheep and poultry). To combat disease, the result of stress from being in confined spaces, often in the sun all day, and standing in their own excrement, they are fed antibiotics and growth hormones that affect our health negatively.
– bad fats. All processed, packaged and fast foods contain lots of bad fats, in the form of margarines, transfats and refined plant oils (canola, palm, sunflower, etc.). Many of these are high in Omega 6, which is inflammatory, and leads to brain decline. The refining process generates free radicals which damage cells and can lead to cancer and other diseases.
2. We need to increase our intake of:
– whole grains. Whole grains contain protective nutrients and dietary fibre that enhance our health.
– fresh fruit and vegetables. Plants contain many nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, fibre, anti-oxidants and other phytonutrients that nourish us and protect our bodies from the damaging effects of pollution and toxins.
– pulses. Foods like beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are great sources of good quality protein, without the fat and cholesterol associated with animal products. They are also inexpensive and very versatile.
– fresh fish. If possible we should eat fresh fish weekly.
– organic, free range meat, poultry and dairy.
– good fats. Butter, olive oil (cold pressed, extra virgin) and other nut oils are healthy alternatives to processed, refined oils and fats.
– lots of good quality water.
A good rule of thumb is – if it isn’t the way God made it don’t eat it!
It’s also a fact that no matter how well we try to eat we will never get sufficient nutrients from our food to meet our bodies’ needs. With hybridized seeds, depleted soils, artificial fertilizers, transport and cold storage our foods simply do not contain the range of nutrients that they used to. A sensible strategy is to bridge the gap between what we should be getting and what we actually do by supplementing with organic, whole food -derived supplements that are scientifically proven to yield results.
The good news is that with a little thought and planning we can change our diets and protect ourselves from the dangers of mental decline, Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the process, we will also cut our risk of all other chronic disease and live healthier, longer lives. Which, I think you’ll agree, is a great idea.
- Intranasal insulin improves cognition and modulates beta-amyloid in early AD. Neurol. 2008 Feb 5;70(6):440-8. Epub 2007 Oct 17.
- Preserved cognition in patients with early Alzheimer disease and amnestic mild cognitive impairment during treatment with rosiglitazone: a preliminary study. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Nov;13(11):950-8.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes – Evidence Reviewed. J Diabetes Sci Tech Volume 2, Issue 6, November 2008.
- Review of insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression, signaling, and malfunction in the central nervous system: Relevance to Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimer’s Disease 7 (2005) 45-61.
- Impaired insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression and signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease – is this type 3 diabetes? J Alzheimer’s Disease 7 (2005) 63-8