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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Food Safety: Awareness, Education and Prevention

An Angry Bacteria

Foodborne illness is not a pleasant topic to think about. However, the most important protection against it is learning more about it and ways to prevent it.  When I taught infectious disease courses, we had what we called a Food Lab for the purpose of detecting certain bacterial contamination on some common foods.

Specifically we found that alfalfa sprouts from a local supplier in a large supermarket, a salad from a local restaurant, and some equipment in a cafeteria in the community all contained some species of E.coli, but we lacked the ability to determine if they were the harmful types. Nevertheless, they should not have been there. In all cases, this suggested the lack of proper food handling practices.

Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid, but with proper cleaning or hand washing procedures during food preparation, it can be prevented.

It is also important to realize the seriousness of some of these infections by reading the stories of the survivors. The following article is about a victim who expresses some valid points about education of the medical community.


CLICK HERE for a previous post on food safety practices in the home.

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Diet and Cancer Prevention: A Common Sense Guide

In the past, diet and cancer associations primarily concentrated on the individual effects of nutrients on tumor growth.  I personally conducted research with rats on the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on breast cancer incidence and we found no differences in tumor formation between omega-6 and omega-3 fats.

We have now gotten past this narrow approach and find that the study of overall diet patterns are a better way to  convey the best way to counteract tumor initiation, promotion and progression.

The following article is long but contains excellent common sense information on diet and cancer prevention. It also explains why the scientific community has made these recommendations based on what we think we know from current research studies. It is one thing to know what to eat but the best is to know why recommendations are established.





























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The Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Prevention


The Mediterranean Diet scores again – this  time with cancer prevention. In the 1980’s, cancer prevention and diet were hot topics. It was thought at the time that specific nutrients were the key to affecting cancer rates. Examples included omega-3 fatty acids  and individual nutrients, namely beta carotene, and vitamin E were the favorite “supernutrients” of the era. However, disappointing results occurred and the use of beta carotene and vitamin E supplements actually were found to promote certain cancers than protect against them.

More research has correctly centered around the use of diet scores that compare adherence to certain diet patterns like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet and cancer prevention as well as other chronic diseases. For the latest results, CLICK HERE.


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The Obesity/Diabesity Pandemic – Solutions?

Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of the most common form of diabetes mellitus, type 2, so much so that the epidemic is often called diabesity. It has been described as one of the most important crises that has invaded our public health system. It has now become a pandemic since it meets the definition: (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

Globally: Source: Lancet

  • Since 1980, the number of adults with diabetes worldwide has quadrupled from 108 million to 422 million in 2014.
  • Diabetes is fast becoming a major problem in low and middle-income countries.
  • From 1980 to 2014, the prevalence of diabetes more than doubles for men in India and China.
  • Half of adults worldwide with diabetes in 2014 lived in five countries: China, India, USA, Brazil and Indonesia.

So what are some possible solutions for the future?  

The standard American diet (SAD) is in much need of an overhaul and our national food systems need to change if we wish to reverse or at least slow down this trend. Many say that it would take the same determination as the campaigns to change behaviors that were utilized during the campaigns against smoking. .

Prevention awareness should be first on the front lines of treating the people with prediabetes that can often be reversible using lifestyle modifications. There are already some prevention models in the community; however, these should be expanded so that they become more easily accessible to more people. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) uses intensive behavioral therapy to help people lose a little bit of weight (typically 5-10%). When this program is followed, the number of people progressing to have diabetes comes down by more than half; In people over 60, the reduction was 70%.

Nutrition education should be incorporated into the school system in the early years to help young children understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from and why healthy foods are the best choice. They can be taught about balanced eating, calories, reading labels and grocery shopping. Nutrition education can also be offered at the middle and high school levels by returning to a totally revamped and modernized home economics course in the curriculum. Involving students in their nutrition education is key.

A lingering problem has existed for many primary care physicians for many years in that they say they were never adequately prepared in nutrition principles in medical schools. In a survey of family physicians (2009), two thirds said that dealing with extremely obese patients is “frustrating “and one-half said treatments are often ineffective. This is reflected by a lack off obesity training.

Shockingly, another survey in 2010 of 140 doctors revealed that nearly one-third were not even familiar with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) prediabetes guidelines. Only 6 percent were able to identify all 11 risk factors and on average, the doctors could only identify just eight of the warning signs. Only 17 percent knew the correct laboratory values for blood glucose and only 11 percent said they would refer a patient to a behavioral weight loss program. If the medical community was more involved in increasing access to prevention programs or other options, more attention might be paid by individuals in seeking these treatments. In other words, people listen to their doctors.

There should be an increased number and access to professional treatments. Medical professionals not trained in obesity management should refer their patients to outside providers such as dietitians, exercise trainers, behavior therapists, psychologists, or a new concept of health coaches. These providers should be trained, certified, and credentialed to protect the public from unscrupulous treatments and to provide quality care. Reimbursement of qualified health professionals needs to be enhanced.

We have become a nation of non-cooks and prefer to have our meals prepared by someone else. Encourage home cooking and home kit meals to help to counter using fast foods and packaged highly processed meals loaded with calories, fat, sugar and salt.

Educate the public on food labeling, ingredient lists and marketing techniques. Beware of food companies that promote products with a “health halo” meaning exaggerated claims are made that appear to make unhealthy foods seem healthy because of an added nutrient or ingredient. Corporations also mislead consumers with their labeling. For example they may include four different types of sugar to keep sugar from being listed as the first ingredient. This is misleading to the consumer when attempting to make wise food choices.

Stop corporate-government partnerships and lobbying influences.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is funded by a myriad of food companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. The dairy industry has a long history of influencing the food pyramid and Dietary Guidelines. Another health organization guilty of taking in millions from food companies is the American Heart Association. They offer a “Heart – Check logo for a price: $5, 490 to $7,500 that is renewable for another annual fee. The product has to be low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to gain this “honor.” However, some products such as Boar’s Head processed meats have the logo and still may contain high levels of sodium. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. May 17, 2010

Bottom Line: It will take a concerted effort from government, politics, industry, communities, and other perpetrators of our obesigenic culture to begin to change this disturbing trend and prevention is the key. It may take decades; however, there has to be a beginning.