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Silent Brain Killers & Healers

Posted by Walt Thompson on Thursday, 30 January 2014 in Health Smart 1 Comment

Silent Brain Killers & Healers

In a recent interview posted on Medscape, Dr. David Perlmutter, M.D., author of a new book entitled, Grain Brain discussed with Bret. S. Stetka, M.D. his claim that wheat, carbs and sugar are damaging to the brain and are the apparent cause of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.
Dr. Perlmutter, a board certified neurologist and member of the American College of Nutrition, expressed his frustration with the tendency of the healing professions to search for pharmacological ways to treat neurological and most other disease rather than seeking to discover the cause of the problem and to correct it. Many readers of this blog likely experience similar frustration.
In this interview, Perlmutter describes some of his discoveries.
In his search he noted an apparent connection between blood sugar levels and dementia. Further research pointed to glycated hemoglobin as the culprit. (Note: glycation links a sugar molecule to the protein of hemoglobin found in red blood cells to create glycated hemoglobin. We can measure this product produced naturally in our bodies, and use it as a measure of the average level of glucose in the blood of diabetics.) (Note: a similar glycation process occurs when we carmelize sugar, fat and protein with the heat of a fire.)
According to Perlmutter’s research, glycated hemoglobin is not only a measure of average blood sugar, but itself increases inflammation and production of free radicles within the body. These, and similar glycated molecules are apparently a contributing cause of the dementia noted in patients with elevated levels of blood sugar.
A recent article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (August 2013) suggested that even mild elevations of blood sugar of 105 and 110 mg/dL increased the risk of dementia even in the absence of diabetes. Research was then presented by Dr. Perlmutter suggesting that blood sugars and weight could be reduced with diets high in fat and low in carbohydrate. Other studies were found that demonstrated significantly higher incidence of impaired brain function among patients with a high carbohydrate diet as compared to a high fat diet.
The issue of glycemic index was next touched upon in the interview. Glycemic index is a measure of blood sugar levels occurring between 90 and 120 minutes following ingestion of a given food. Since many grains, even whole, unrefined wheat and other grains have a high glycemic index, meaning that they tend to raise one’s blood sugar. Therefore, according to Perlmutter’s conclusions, those foods with high glycemic index should be curtailed or avoided while increasing the amount of “healthy” fats such as found in virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, etc. in the diet.
When asked about gluten and its relationship to dementia, Dr. Perlmutter noted that gluten causes an inflammatory reaction in about 2% of the population, many of which do not have symptoms of celiac disease of the bowel. While gluten sensitivity apparently can cause neurological problems at times, Perlmutter expressed much greater concern for carbohydrates as the greatest contributor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He noted that the present craze of gluten-free foods flooding the grocer’s shelves are still very high sources of high glycemic index carbohydrates. While permitting small amounts of chicken, meat and fish, primarily as a garnish, he made this statement. “Lots of above-ground leafy green vegetables, colorful vegetables, and good fats, that's what the brain is desperate for.”
When asked about other factors that might contribute to dementia, Perlmutter noted that there are many other lifestyle factors that affect brain function and may be beneficial for dementia. Among these he stressed the benefits of exercise and mental and social stimulation.
The human brain retains the ability to grow new neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus portion of the brain (the center of long and short term memory and spacial navigation) throughout life, a process referred to as neurogenesis. Furthermore, this ability may be enhanced through a process known as epigenetics (a change in function of a given gene without changing the DNA sequence of the gene).
Perlmutter then refers to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, demonstrating that simple aerobic exercise among healthy elderly people over a one year time period increased production of a neuron growth factor, increased the size of the hippocampus by 1%, and improved memory function.
Summing it all up, rather than spending billions of dollars searching for a pharmacological agent to treat dementia, he asks, why not, rather, apply the research in preventing and treating dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease by keeping blood sugars consistently low by proven lifestyle practices, measuring success by Hemoglobin A1C levels and fasting insulin levels, and by maintaining healthful levels of vitamin D.
I believe it is difficult to fault Perlmutter’s conclusions and recommendations though much more research will be necessary before we can know this for certain. I am not sure the eating of grains are as detrimental as he has suggested (or as some on the low carb, high fat diets may passionately promote), but I would suggest that whole grains be wisely used as just one of a wide variety of natural, unrefined foods of plant origin. I personally do not believe the debate regarding the proper kinds and amounts of fat in the diet has yet been settled, though the evidence seems almost overwhelming that fats from plant sources used freely in their natural, unrefined form must be the most beneficial.
After all, this is the diet God prepared as the diet designed for human consumption at the time of creation. It is interesting that even the “Paleo diet as is presumed by some to have been the diet of Paleolithic humans is really not much different than the plant based diet of Eden.

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