Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Mind Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia and recently has been reported amenable to some degree of prevention when caught early in its progression. A recent book, The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline, by Dale E. Bredesen, MD. makes this claim. In any case, it does provide another choice of diet patterns that may help cognition problems and provide us with a healthy eating plan.

Although this diet is similar in many ways to the DASH diet and Mediterranean Diet, research has found that people who stuck to a diet that included foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish had a major drop in their risk for AD which affects more than 5 million Americans over age 65. The diet is based on an observational study that does not strongly support cause and effect conclusions. However, it is a simple way of eating and easy to follow and meets the recent guidelines of what constitutes a healthy way of eating. CLICK HERE.

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Living with Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease: Risk Factors and What To Do About Them?

By Sally J. Feltner, Ph.D., RDN

The pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is very complicated. it is important to examine its etiology and to look for solutions until research can hopefully offer a cure or at least management of the disease. So far this has not happened, so a new approach is presented here. Most of the information comes from a provocative article from the December 2018 issue of Scientific American, titled Alzheimer’s Under Attack: Lifestyle Plans That Improve Brain Health.

Risk Factors Related to Cognitive Decline and AD

Poor diet
Alcohol abuse
Lack of exercise
Head trauma
Small vessel disease
Poor sleep
High blood pressure
High cholesterol
ApoE4 gene

A common myth is that AD is a normal consequence of aging and that nothing much can be done to avoid it. At this point, there are few to none effective or safe drugs for treatment. In addition, lifestyle habit changes do not often come naturally to an aging population. Often we meet the challenges of any chronic disease after symptoms begin to appear. Prevention is more effective against cognitive decline and early Alzheimer symptoms rather than after symptoms become severe. In this state, damage is beginning to show but still may be in the normal range in many cognitive tests.

What Lifestyle Changes Should be Made to Prevent AD?

Much of the research on lifestyle interventions is primarily the result of hundreds of anecdotal stories of people afflicted with some degree of cognitive decline. From the available research, the lifestyle habits for a healthy brain were consolidated into the following conclusions:

  • A whole food plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and healthy fats are what the brain needs to have for optimum health.
  • Physical exercise increases both the number of brain cells (neurons) and connections between them (synapses).
  • Chronic stress puts the brain in a highly inflammatory state. This can cause damage and impairment of its capacity to clean and clear it from harmful waste products. In the case of AD, this may refer to the clumping of harmful amyloid plaques and tangles of tau proteins.
  • The process of enough restorative sleep is necessary for cognitive and overall health. During this, the brain can apply its natural cleaning capacities to prevent the back up of housecleaning duties.
  • The brain thrives on higher education and performing complex cognitive activities even later in life.
  • Social support and meaningful associations with the community helps an aging brain to maintain its cognition and functional activities.

Richard Issacson, founder and director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical Center says:

“We’re trying to lay the groundwork for Alzheimer’s prevention and figure out what tools we should be using and what works best.”

  • What do we usually do?
    Lifestyle changes are not easy to follow so in response, Americans attempt to improve their health and make up for lost time by doing the following:
  • We join gyms we hardly ever go to.
  • We fall for any promise of “detoxification.” and “cleansing” schemes by consuming weird concoctions of purported nutrients to rid our bodies of unknown toxins.
  • We buy the latest “superfoods” promised by the food industry to prevent cancer, heart disease, brain health and overall well being.
  • These are obviously ineffective in maintaining our health and certainly not preventive actions.

What are the studies that support diet and AD prevention?

  • The Cardiovascular Health Study revealed that obesity in midlife increased AD dementia by 40%.
  • Columbia University researchers concluded that high insulin levels in elderly people could account for 39% of AD cases.
  • Plant-based diets consistently showed up as heart, kidney and brain protective; not a single study showed any benefits of eating meat.
  • Another study found that a Mediterranean diet reduced risks of mild cognitive Impairment (MCI) by 28% and those who did develop MCI had a 29% lower chance of progressing to AD.
  • The Framingham Longitudinal Study found that daily brisk walks resulted in a 40% lower risk of developing AD later in life.
  • Washington University research showed that sleep-deprived individuals had more amyloid plaques in their brains.
  • Rush University tested the DASH diet, Mediterranean Diet and the MIND diet. All three reduced AD risk but that even moderate adherence to the MIND diet improved brain health.
  • In a 2017 study at Columbia University, participants who ate a plant-based diet had a lower risk of cognitive decline over six years compared to those who ate a Standard American Diet.

The Blue Zone participants from Loma Linda and their lower rate of AD (5%) do not eat much meat and follow a plant-based diet as most Blue Zone residents do. This was in comparison to another adjacent community of San Bernadino, CA.

  • Conclusions
  • Any new approach is likely to be met with skepticism, especially from the medical establishment. Nutrition therapy in general is met with doubt. A clinical trial would be ideal, but almost impossible to conduct. It took at least 100 years before physicians began to believe the germ theory of disease. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis recognized infectious disease as a factor in the high rate of women dying during childbirth in the 1800’s. He suggested that physicians wash their hands to prevent this occurrence which immediately reduced the death rate. The response from his colleagues ? — Their constant rejection of him sent him to a mental hospital where died ironically from an infection.
  • Healthy lifestyle factors appear to be successful practices in all five of the Blue Zones. Their disease rates are some of the lowest in the world as well as their longevity.  What else have we got to lose?


Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?

There are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and forecasters say that number may triple by 2050 if left unchecked. AD is the 6th leading cause of death in the U. S. Deaths from AD have increased 123% while deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11% (2000-2015),

The major problem with alleviating AD and/or dementia from any cause is not the lack of research, but the lack of any successful treatments. The results of animal studies suggested that AD is caused by the accumulation in the brain of sticky-synapse-destroying plagues made of a protein called beta amyloid as well as another protein called tau. So common sense resulted with the idea that if we could stop this accumulation, we could interrupt its devastating effects in the brain. Since the 1980’s, the so-called amyloid hypothesis remained as the conventional approach.

Therefore, research has focused on drug therapies to treat what has been the presumed cause of AD, i.e. amyloid plaques, but so far 99 percent of drugs have failed to deliver their desired effects. The disease continues to progress and the drugs do not come close to providing a treatment.

So this is where the medical community stands with AD. Critics have lamented that the research appears to be faulty and other treatment approaches have been ignored until now.

One new approach is stirring up some interest with the publication of two recent books.

The first is The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale E. Bredesen, M.D. (Professor and Founding President, Buck Institute, Professor, UCLA.

The second book is The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age, Dean Sherzai and Aesha Sherzai (Co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center.)

Both books support the idea that chronic diseases or so-called “diseases of civilization could be prevented or moderated by attention to preventive protocols involving a new medical trend called “lifestyle medicine.”

A recent article in Scientific American, December 2018, identifies a combination of contributors that cumulatively can increase neuron death and interference of synapses between neurons.

Lifestyle factors like chronic stress, a lack of exercise and a lack of quality sleep, toxins and even too much sugar in the diet can increase our chances of cognitive decline and possible advancement to AD. As Dale Bredesen, MD, says: “if you look at studies, you see the signature of insulin resistance in virtually everyone with Alzheimer’s.”

Look for future posts on the processes of AD and what we can do about it now to keep our brains healthy and risk-free until the “magic pill” is discovered. For a start,


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Another Lesson from the Blue Zone?

When it comes to the Blue Zones, diet is a central factor in increasing longevity and more importantly , being healthy in our later years. It looks like the plant-based diets win out again and  that we should not rush to consume more saturated fat (aka butter and bacon).  So the debate on saturated fat vs. unsaturated fat will continue, but for now in my opinion, saturated fats should definitely be in the moderation category.



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Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?


It is too bad that prevention is not emphasized more often to the younger population in order to possibly prevent the ravages of chronic diseases later in life. Research suggest that cognitive decline can at least be delayed by “healthy” lifestyle choices earlier in life rather than after the offending damage has occurred.


The younger population appears to be less healthy than previous generations of the same age group affecting retirement age and health care costs. For more, CLICK HERE.

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Real Food, Not Pills?

Various pills

Various pills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again, eating real foods triumphs over taking a pill to boost brain power as we age. Nutrients work together to provide optimum health and you just can’t recreate that  in a pill form.


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Anti-Inflammation Foods

English: A hand affected by rheumatoid arthritis

English: A hand affected by rheumatoid arthritis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acute Inflammation is a nonspecific first line of  defense response by the body to trauma such as an injury or a bee sting, or an infection by a pathogen.  It sets into motion a process to limit the spread of the trauma resulting in the cardinal signs of the inflammatory response: redness, increased heat, swelling, pain and loss of function.   Acute inflammation is usually of short duration and its purpose is beneficial in removing the injurious agent.  Chronic or out-of-control inflammation in the body is involved with chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers.    Chronic inflammation is not usually apparent and is present for longer periods of time and thus is not  considered beneficial.  It is now fairly accepted  that eating to avoid constant inflammation promotes better health and can ward off disease.   There is no specific anti-inflammatory diet; however, some food seem to promote chronic inflammation while others appear to alleviate its effects.



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Mediterranean Diets and Cognition

English: Olives in olive oil.

English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can your diet affect your brain health?  A recent  Spanish study suggests that a Mediterranean Diet can have positive benefits.

Dementia has been a concern for quite some time now as our population ages.  Dementia is caused by degeneration or loss of nerve cells in the brain such as in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s and diseases that affect blood vessels, such as stroke, often called vascular dementia.

Research from the University of Navarra reports that a Mediterranean diet consisting of extra virgin olive oil, moderate amounts of fish and seafood, a moderate intake or red wine as well as lots of  fruits, vegetables and nuts seemed to improve the brains of older people at risk for vascular dementia when compared to a low fat diet.

The trial consisted of 522 men and women between the ages of 55 and 80 without cardiovascular disease but they were considered at higher risk for vascular disease because of pre-existing conditions such as diabetes type 2, being a smoker, having high blood pressure, and/or having a family history of cardiovascular disease early in life.

The participants were assigned to one of three diet groups.  In one group, they followed a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil; the second group followed a Mediterranean diet with added nuts; the third group (the controls) were only given advice on following a low fat diet.

The results?  After a followup period of 6 .5 years, the two groups following the Mediterranean diets had brain function scores significantly higher than the control group on the low fat diet. Brain function tests included assessment of memory, attention, language, spacial and abstract thinking.

The authors concluded:  “An intervention with Med Diets enhanced with either extra virgin olive oil or nuts appears to improve cognition compared with a low-fat diet.”  This study was published in the May issue (2013) of the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

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Is Fish Food for the Brain?

English: PET scan of a human brain with Alzhei...

English: PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer’s disease (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Silent”  brain damage may be contributing to a form of dementia or stroke.   What happens is that the brain suffers from “silent brain infarcts” when small areas of brain tissue die from an insufficient supply of blood.  This subtle form of brain damage is linked to dementia or stroke. Most of the time there are no symptoms and can only be detected by an MRI.

A study used data from 3,660 patients in the Cardiovascular Health study of people 65 and older who underwent at least one brain scan of which 2,313 participants had two scans five years apart.  They all completed food frequency questionnaires.

The results indicated that those who ate the most tuna and other non-fried fish had a 26% reduced risk of silent infarcts compared to those eating the least, less than one serving  a month.  For each additional servings of tuna or other baked/broiled fish the risk of infarct fell by 7%.  Those eating at least three servings of fish per week also scored 10.6% better on a test of white matter in the brain.  No protective effect was seen from fried fish like fish sticks made from pollack or cod.  The authors speculated that the higher omega-3 content of the protective fish such as tuna was involved as pollack or cod is typically low in omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic and docosohexaenoic acids), respectively, are two omega-3  fatty acids that have been shown in precious studies to be linked to lower risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The authors concluded:  “Our findings suggest that the prevention of subclinical infarcts and white matter anomalies may be one mechanism by which fish or omega-3 fatty acid consumption may decrease the development of these debilitating conditions”.  This study was published in the journal Neurology, August 5, 2008.

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