Saving Your Brain From Dementia

September 1st, 2015

Viewpoints from a Naturopathic Physician

By Dr. Kendra Pearsall, N.M.D.
Member of the LHS Physician Review Board

An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease or dementia and two-thirds of these are women. One in three seniors (those 65 and older) die of dementia. Your odds of being diagnosed with dementia after 65 are high unless you undertake preventative measures to protect and preserve your brain.

One of the main ways this can be accomplished is through diet. Research shows that sugar consumption disrupts memory and contributes to the shrinking of the hippocampus, a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer's disease. Your hippocampus is involved in the formation, organization, and storage of memories.

The number one thing you can do to prevent dementia and memory loss is to follow the advice of Dr. David Perlmutter, a medical doctor and neurologist who is a top expert in the world where it comes to Alzheimer's prevention and treatment. The following is a summary of the advice he gives in his best-selling book Grain Brain, which I highly recommend.

1. Eat a ketogenic diet (very low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein) to keep your glucose and insulin levels low to normal.

2. Assess your brain health with the following blood test and see how your lab results compare to these:

  • Fasting glucose < 95 mg/dL
  • HA1c 4.8-5.4 %
  • Fructosamine 188-223 umol/L
  • Fast insulin < 8 uIU/ml (ideal is < 3)
  • Homocysteine < 8 umol/L (above 10 doubles the risk for Alzheimer's)
  • Vitamin D 50-80 ng/mL (always take 5,000-10,000 IU of Vitamin D for 8 weeks before your test because otherwise your results are bound to be low and you will have to repeat the test with the supplementation)
  • CRP 0-3 mg/L

3. Take this pop quiz on your understanding of sugar: Which of the following will raise blood sugar the most?

  1. Banana
  2. 1 Tb sugar
  3. Whole wheat bread slice
  4. Snickers bar

The correct answer is 3! The glycemic index associated with each item is as follows:

  1. Banana: 54
  2. 1 Tb sugar: 68
  3. Whole wheat bread slice: 71
  4. Snickers bar: 55

All of the above will raise your glucose levels. The ideal way to prevent the spikes in blood sugar that can harm your brain cells is a ketogenic diet that is 70-90 percent healthy fat and limits carbs to 30-40 grams a day for the first four weeks, then 60 grams after that. After one week, you can test to make sure you are in ketosis (the proper range) with ketone urine test strips.

A few other tips to protect your brain:

1. Exercise regularly. Engage in aerobic exercise at least five days a week for 20 minutes per session. Aerobic exercise produces new neurons and protects the existing ones.

2. Consume 1-3 tablespoons of coconut oil daily.

3. Take these supplements:

  • Curcumin and DHA 200-300 mg daily
  • Resveratrol 100 mg twice a day
  • Turmeric 350 mg twice a day
  • Probiotics at least 10 billion/capsule, 1-3x day, 10 different strains
  • Alpha-lipoic acid 600 mg daily
  • Vitamin D 5,000 IU daily
  • DHA 1,000 mg daily, found in green tea extract, milk thistle, bacopa, DHA, sulforaphane (in broccoli), ashwagandha, and organic coffee

4. Stay intellectually stimulated. One way to accomplish this is by learning a second language.

5. Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Those with impaired sleep are two times more likely to develop dementia.

Here is a very basic list of what makes up a ketogenic (low-carb) diet:

Healthy fats: avocados, organic/grass-fed butter, nuts and seeds (not peanuts as they are legumes), olive and coconut oil, olives, herbs
Low-sugar fruits: avocado, peppers, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, lemons and limes, berries (in moderation)
Veggies: excluding corn, potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips.
Protein: fish, lean meats, and poultry (preferably wild-caught, grass-fed, and free range, respectively)

Foods to eat in moderation (2x a week to 1x a day): Carrots, parsnips, cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, cow's milk, heavy cream (sparingly), legumes, non-gluten grains, sweeteners (stevia), chocolate (75 percent or more cocoa), whole sweet fruit, wine. Avoid gluten altogether.

Follow the 90/10 Rule: 90 percent of the time follow the diet and 10 percent eat what you want.

Drink water equal to half your body weight in ounces.

Meal ideas: When you travel, take avocados and cans of sockeye salmon as a ketogenic meal you can have on the go.

Breakfast: Two eggs, cheese, veggies stir fried
Lunch: chicken with greens
Dinner: steak, greens, veggies
Dessert: 1/2 cup berries with cream

For more details on brain health and dementia prevention read the book Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter.

Special thanks to Dr. Kendra Pearsall for contributing this article. Dr. Pearsall is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor practicing in Longmont, Colo., and a member of the Liberty HealthShare Physician Review Board.