|Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter|
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease—A Neurologist Speaks Out
by Dr. Mercola, 29 September 2013
Alzheimer's disease is at epidemic proportions, with 5.4 million Americans—including one in eight people aged 65 and over—living with the disease.1 In the next 20 years, it is projected that Alzheimer's will affect one in four Americans, rivaling the current prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
There is still no known accepted cure for this devastating disease, and no effective treatments. Alzheimer's drugs are often of little to no benefit at all, which underscores the importance of prevention throughout your lifetime.
Fortunately, Alzheimer’s prevention is actually easier than you might think. There’s exceptionally compelling research showing that your brain has great plasticity, which you control through your diet and lifestyle choices.
Here, Dr. David Perlmutter—probably the leading natural medicine neurologist in the US, from my perspective—shares his insights into this pervasive problem. I don’t know anyone who exceeds his level of expertise in traditional neurology and still shares the same philosophical orientation that I have.
He has a clinic in Naples, Florida, and he’s been very active in publishing his findings in peer-reviewed medical journals. He’s also a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, as am I.
“I have a very strong background in traditional neurology,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “As a neurologist for many years, I became more and more frustrated with our lack of ability to actually treat diseases. We were really only treating symptoms.
When I finally began to understand what the proximate cause of the various illnesses we were dealing with was, I realized that mainstream neurology, though I don’t want to sound too critical, really pays no attention to the causation part of the story.”
The Role of Grains in Disease Propagation
He realized an answer would never become apparent by simply writing prescriptions and hoping for the best. Instead, he began investigating the role of nutrition on brain health. Alzheimer’s, according to the RAND Corporation, is currently costing us some $200 billion a year, yet it is largely preventable. And virtually no one talks about that!
“This is a disease that is highly revenue-producing for mega factories of various so-called Alzheimer’s drugs,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “The point is there is no meaningful treatment in 2013. It is a disease predicated on lifestyle choices primarily, because of the high amount of carbohydrates/sugar that we now, as Western-culture individuals, are consuming.
It’s a preventable disease. It surprises me at my core that no one’s talking about the fact that so many of these devastating neurological problems are, in fact, modifiable based upon lifestyle choices.”
Dr. Perlmutter specifically looked at the impact of gluten and casein, or wheat and dairy primarily, on autoimmune diseases. His New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain, reveals his findings, the cornerstones of which are the powerfully toxic role of glucose (sugar) and carbohydrates in one's diet.
He also stresses that gluten sensitivity is involved in most chronic disease, including those affecting the brain, because of how gluten affects your immune system. Unfortunately, many people, physicians included, still believe that if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten is fair game and you can eat as much of it as you like.
Full-blown Celiac disease, which is gluten sensitivity affecting your small intestine, affects an estimated 1.8 percent of people in Western cultures. But gluten sensitivity may actually affect as much as 30 to 40 percent of all people, and according to Dr. Alessio Fasano at Massachusetts General Hospital, virtually all of us are affected to some degree.
This is because we all create something called zonulin in the intestine in response to gluten. This protein, found in wheat, barley and rye, makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream that would otherwise have been excluded. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity. This kind of gut permeability is also promoted by things like antibiotics and chlorinated water.
The Gut-Brain Connection is Critical to Understand
Once gluten sensitizes your gut, it then becomes more permeable and all manner of previously excluded proteins—including casein and other dairy proteins—have direct access to your bloodstream, thereby challenging your immune system.
“They’ve been talking about it for years and years (which is now just gaining traction in mainstream medicine) that our health really depends on maintaining a barrier of the intestine from the bloodstream,” Dr. Perlmutter says.
“We now understand that the so-called blood-brain barrier, or that barrier that keeps things out of the brain where they don’t belong, is also affected by gluten, according to new research. It’s a very exciting time when we recognize that our biggest exposure to the environment is actually the lining of our intestines – not our lungs, not our skin. We are in fact very much dependent on the microbiota, the bacteria living in the gut, to maintain our health.”
According to Dr. Perlmutter, much of our current disease burden stems from the fact that we are contaminating our immune systems with proteins to which the human immune system has never, in the history of humankind, been previously exposed to. While not discussed in this interview, a MAJOR factor is the development of genetically engineered (GE) grains, which are now pervasive in most processed foods sold in the US. These GE crops create proteins never before encountered in any natural grain or food, so GE grains deliver a double-whammy against your immune system. Food allergies clearly appear to be one of the most noticeable side effects of a GE-grain diet.
“We recognize that food is far more than protein, carbohydrates, fat, and micronutrients, and that food really does represent information. The foods that we consume are instructing our genes. Therefore, that’s a very empowering notion: you can change your genetic destiny based upon the food choices that you make,” Dr. Perlmutter says.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, another neurologist who has also done remarkable work in this area as a result of seeking a solution for her autistic son, came to the same conclusion discussed by Dr. Perlmutter. Essentially, preventing and treating neurological disorders requires severe restriction of gluten and casein. You also need to address your gut flora.
“With specific response to your comments about autism, we do know that some of the milk-related proteins tend to lead to antibody production in the brains of autistic children, blocking what’s called the folate receptor,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “One of the propositions is that there’s this blockage of the ability of folate to get into the brains of certain children, and this leads to all kinds of cognitive and neurocognitive issues.
The State University of New York has actually developed a screen for looking at folate receptor antibodies. We have found that to be actually very helpful... It’s a very exciting time for those of us not just in neurology but in all branches of medicine, who are suddenly realizing that we’ve come full circle. We’re now back to understanding that nutrition plays a pivotal role in the health of humans.”
Avoiding Dairy Does NOT Include Avoiding Dairy Fats
I believe it would be wise for most people to avoid pasteurized dairy (primarily casein but also other proteins) and gluten. That said, there are subgroups of people who are particularly prone to harm from these proteins, and as a rule must avoid them in order to maintain their health. Bear in mind that dairy fat like butter, which has virtually no protein, is not problematic and can be consumed even by those who are sensitive to milk proteins. As stated by Dr. Perlmutter:
“We need to eat fat. We’re suggesting a revolutionary dietary change, telling people they should go on this new diet—which is only the diet humans have eaten for the past 2.6 million years! We’ve always eaten fat. Fat is the most wonderful health-providing food that we can obtain in the human diet. Of course, we have to qualify that with what type of fat you are eating.”
Beneficial health-promoting fats that your body—and your brain in particular—needs for optimal function include organic butter from raw milk, clarified butter called organic grass fed raw butter, olives, organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, wild Alaskan salmon, and avocado, for example.
According to Dr. Perlmutter, our current dietary fat phobia “has absolutely been the cornerstone of our most common degenerative diseases of the day, including Alzheimer’s.” Why? Because when you cut dietary fat and keep protein about the same, you’re going to fill in the gaps with health-harming carbohydrate foods, predominantly grains.
“This whole grain goodness, as the US Department of Agriculture is trying to convince us we should focus on in terms of our dietary choices, is the cornerstone of our most devastating diseases. I mean, brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and obviously, what leads to them, diabetes, which is so prevalent in Western societies. Again, it’s the getting away from fat and the substitution with wheat- and corn-based carbohydrate (high-fructose corn syrup) that really, in my opinion, explains this huge explosion of degenerative conditions that are crippling us medically and crippling us economically as well,” he says.
“But the quality of the fat that we consume is absolutely fundamental. When we’re saying high-fat diet, we’re not talking about prepared foods on the Twinkie aisle at the grocery store that contain modified trans fats; hydrogenated fats that are clearly coffin nails. They’re a great risk for brain disorders, heart disorders, diabetes, etc. We’re talking about these beautiful, natural fats that we have been consuming for more than two million years.”