Two weeks ago my husband and I made the switch to eating very low-carb (up to 80 grams), high healthy fat, and gluten free – which research tells us is how our ancestors ate before the dawn of agriculture. How do we feel? GREAT!! The information that “made us go over the edge” is summarized in this blog post.
David Perlmutter, MD, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Grain Brain, was recently interviewed by Jimmy Moore (on Ask the Low Carb Experts) and Sean Croxton (on Underground Wellness Radio). I learned a lot from these interviews. Here are my key take-aways:
Diet affects brain health and overall health
With every bite we eat, we send signals to our DNA! Consuming foods to which our DNA is not adapted leads to inflammation and oxidation by free radicals. Simply stated, when the LDL in your arteries gets oxidized, you get heart disease. When the brain gets oxidized, you get Alzheimer’s disease.
What kind of diet is best for health?
A gluten-free ketogenic diet (very low in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and high in healthy fat) is the best tool we have to prevent/delay/and reverse many diseases.
Even slightly elevated blood sugar (by today’s standard) is bad for the brain.
Individuals with slight elevations of blood sugar (105 and 110) are at a dramatically increased risk of developing dementia. (New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 369, August 8, 2013)
Dr. Perlmutter says that a healthy fasting blood sugar is in the low 90s. (The standard your doctor’s lab uses for blood sugar is based on “normal” or average blood sugar, not what’s healthy.)
Fat, including saturated fat, is very good for the brain!
1. When a baby is born, its brain cells replicate exponentially. The best food for babies is human breast milk which is high in fat, and 50% of the fat in human breast milk is saturated fat!
2. Persons with the highest carbohydrate intake, had a 90% increased risk of developing dementia. Those with the highest fat intake, reduced their risk of dementia by 44%. (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Jan. 2012),
The most powerful blood test for shrinkage of the brain is Hemoglobin A1C which measures sugar bound to protein (glycated protein).
Individuals with the highest hemoglobin A1C (highest amount of sugar bound to blood protein) are at dramatically increased risk for brain shrinkage and memory decline. A hemoglobin A1C level of 5.8 puts you in second highest category for brain shrinkage! To reduce glycation and lower your hemoglobin A1C, eat a ketogenic diet. (Journal Neurology, Vol. 64. page 1704).
A fasting insulin level is a much more powerful marker of your body’s ability to handle sugar than a fasting blood sugar level.
Ask your doctor to check your fasting insulin level. Keep fasting insulin under 8.0, and ideally below 2.0!
The higher your insulin level, the more resistant your body is to responding to the insulin signal, leading to a rise in blood sugar. Being insulin resistant represents a significant threat to your brain. Becoming diabetic doubles your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
You can reverse Alzheimer’s disease!
The brain has the ability to grow new brain cells. Individuals given a prescription for a medical food that raises blood ketone level show a measurable improvement in cognitive function. Another very powerful intervention associated with improvement of memory is exercise (Proceedings National Academy of Science, Feb. 5, 2011).
Type II diabetes is avoidable.
Type II diabetes is so powerfully influenced by dietary choices that it’s an avoidable disease!
Cancer is a metabolic disease.
Dr. Thomas Seyfried, author of the book, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease, is an expert on treating aggressive brain cancer with a ketogenic diet. The rationale for this diet is based on the fact that sugar promotes cancer! And if you know anyone who ever had a PET scan (a test to visualize the presence of cancer), you may know that a PET scan requires injecting radioactive sugar into the body. Why inject sugar? Because sugar goes right to the tumor and lights up on the scan. Malignant tumors aggressively metabolize (consume) sugar! Many tumors can ONLY metabolize sugar — no other nutrients! Normal cells can metabolize sugar and fat as fuel. In other words, you can selectively starve many tumors by cutting the availability of sugar to the body (to the cancer)!
Turmeric and other foods turn on genes that reduce inflammation.
When the genes that reduce inflammation are turned on, your body itself produces lots of antioxidants.
There’s a big difference between direct and indirect antioxidants. For example, one molecule of vitamin C (a direct antioxidant) quenches one free radical. But your body creates billions of free radicals every day. So you could never get enough direct antioxidants in your diet or through supplements to quench the amount of free radicals that your body produces!
Our bodies have to produce antioxidants or we could not survive. So we have gene pathways that turn on the body’s own production of various antioxidants like super oxide dismutase and glutathione and at the same time turn on pathways by which the body reduces inflammation and even detoxifies itself.
What factors stimulate the pathways by which the body produces antioxidants?
These factors are stimulated by food and substances found in food, for example, turmeric, broccoli, omega-3 (DHA), coffee, resveretrol, and green tea extract. The commercially available product, Protandem, also stimulates this pathway as does exercise.
Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist, puts virtually all of his patients on a gluten-free diet.
Gluten consumption increases the body’s production of zonulin, which damages the effectiveness of the blood gut barrier and the blood brain barrier producing “leaky gut” and “leaky brain.” And when you have a leaky gut or brain, proteins get into blood where they don’t belong and are perceived as foreign substances.
Gluten consumption through the action of zonulin can affect anyone. Perlmutter has seen his patients’ joint pain, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and skin irritation go away in a matter of weeks after starting a gluten-free diet!
For many years we were told that celiac disease (an auto immune reaction induced by foods containing the protein gluten) is characterized by digestive issues. In recent years, lots of research has shown that in addition to celiac disease, there’s a condition known as “gluten sensitivity” which has non-intestinal manifestations, including neurological problems (depression), skin disorders, joint disorders, fatigue, and other issues. We now understand that gluten sensitivity can involve the brain without a person having any other manifestations of gluten sensitivity.
6.5 milliion kids in U.S. have the label of ADHD attached to them and 2/3 of these kids are on mind-altering drugs.
Dr. Perlmutter recommends no drugs for kids, if possible. Many kids with ADHD benefit from a gluten-free ketogenic diet. Also he generally supplements the kids’ diets with about 600 mg DHA and an aggressive probiotic supplement. Note: Amount of DHA in krill oil is only 10% of what’s found in fish oil. (Krill oil is popular because of the carotenoid that’s good for heart health.)
Rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease) is gut related.
Set point of immune system depends on the gut! For a healthy gut, go gluten-free.
Cardiovascular risk markers including C-reactive protein, oxidized LDL, size of LDL particles, and triglycerides are all favorably influenced by eating more fat and cutting back on carbohydrate.
High blood cholesterol is associated with a dramatic risk reduction of dementia as well as death — especially in the elderly.
Framingham Heart Study: Individuals with the highest blood cholesterol levels, had lowest risk for developing cognitive issues. Higher cholesterol translates into longevity!
It takes a few weeks to adapt to a ketogenic diet.
This is because it takes a few weeks to shift your metabolism from burning carbohydrate to burning fat (ketones).
Bone health and a ketogenic diet
For people who do not have diabetes, there’s no bone loss from ketogenic diet. Ability to absorb nutrients that are good for bone is enhanced when you body is in mild ketosis.
Paleontological research indicates that mild ketosis is the normal state of human physiology and is good for the brain.
Beta hydroxy butyrate (a ketone) is a supremely powerful fuel for the brain. The mechanism of action: beta hydroxy butyrate enhances the ability of the mitochondria in the brain to produce energy while at the same time reducing free radical production.
Coconut oil is good for you because it’s very effective in increasing beta hydroxy butyrate. Also, medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil) increases beta hydroxy butyrate.
The ketogenic diet recommended in the book, Grain Brain, limits carbohydrate to 60-80 grams a day.
LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol,” is actually not bad at all.
Risk of Parkinson’s disease is 350% increased in people with lowest LDL!
LDL cholesterol is a life-sustaining carrier protein that delivers life-sustaining cholesterol to every cell in the body, including heart and brain cells. Having a high LDL cholesterol is not a problem. But oxidized LDL is powerful risk marker for narrowing of coronary arteries and other degenerative problems.
What oxidizes LDL? When LDL binds to sugar (through the process called glycation), the LDL gets oxidized. When a protein is bound to sugar (glycated), the glycated protein is seen by the body as a foreign protein, and the body reacts by increasing inflammation and turning on the production of free radicals.
You control how much of your LDL gets bound to sugar or glycated! A diet high in carbohydrates promotes the glycation of protein which “lights a fire to the process of inflammation and the production of free radicals in the body! When a protein in the body gets glycated, it can increase production of free radicals as much as 50 fold!” So eat a low carbohydrate/high fat diet!
Note: Hemoglobin A1C perfectly correlates with glycated LDL.
Vitamin D is key to brain health.
What is the raw material from which our body makes vitamin D? Answer: Cholesterol! Our “pathetic war on cholesterol” is causing people to end up in Dr. Perlmutter’s office with neurological consequences from ultra low vitamin D levels: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and especially multiple sclerosis. Canadians and people living in northern tier of U.S. tend to have very low vitamin D levels and should raise their levels.
Brain is 2-3% of body weight, but 25% of all cholesterol in the body is in the brain.
Cholesterol in the brain has many functions: antioxidant, key player in building neuronal membranes, and providing the substrate from which the brain makes vitamin D. In February 2012, the FDA issued an order that now accompanies all statin medications that says that statins (which lower cholesterol) can affect brain function and cause memory failure.
Which of the following foods have the highest glycemic index (a tool that indicates how high blood sugar rises and how long it stays elevated after eating different foods):
1. Whole grain bread
2. White bread
3. Pure white sugar
4. Snickers bar
Answer: The foods are actually listed in order from highest to lowest glycemic index. Snickers bar is lower because is has fat in it; not just carbohydrate.
Are the whole grain foods recommended in USDA Food Pyramid healthy? No! Whole grains cause blood sugar go up and stay elevated, and therefore whole grains are toxic to the brain!
To learn more
- Dr. Perlmutter’s book: Grain Brain. To learn about the new science that supports the dietary habits that will keep our brains healthy, read, underline, and re-read this book!
- Listen to Jimmy Moore’s interview on Ask the Low Carb Experts and Sean Croxton’s interview on Underground Wellness Radio, go to Itunes and download the podcasts. Or better yet, subscribe to these shows. I listen to both of these shows all the time!
Keep up with Dr. Perlmutter and let others know if you have had success with his book’s diet
- If you’ve had success with a gluten-free or ketogenic diet, you may want to go to http://www.drperlmutter.com/category/success/ and leave a summary of your experience! We can learn from each other!
My husband and I are now following a gluten-free ketogenic diet. I’m enjoying the challenge of coming up with a system for making healthy and, of course, delicious ketogenic meals easily. More on all of that in the coming posts!