I recently read the New York Times best seller Grain Brain by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter. All I can say is, “wow.” While I was familiar with the majority of the context, the book gave me a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the information. It also got me to thinking, “why is this information not in the core of our educational programs?” I’m going to share a few pearls of what I took away from the book. Not only will I apply the information in my own life but I’ll share it with my patients, as well. Maintaining strong brain health goes a very long way.
For quite a while a common school of thought has been, having high cholesterol is bad and can lead to cardiac events, well, not necessarily. Research has shown that there is no
direct correlation to high cholesterol levels and heart disease. Think of LDL particles as carriers for cholesterol, it is vital that there are enough LDL particles to carry cholesterol to necessary places in the body. Recent studies have shown that fat and cholesterol are severely deficient in diseased brains. Low cholesterol levels put individuals at a greater risk for dementia and various other neurological disorders. Cholesterol levels are important for maintaining brain health.
A few other areas in the body where cholesterol plays a crucial role is in the production of estrogen, androgen, vitamin D and bile salts. What is dangerous about cholesterol is when cholesterol particles become oxidized. This results in the cholesterol particles not being able to carry and deliver cholesterol appropriately. The oxidation of cholesterol is caused by excess glucose.
Glucose, the real culprit
It’s no secret that we live in a society that is addicted to sugar. The more sugar an individual consumes the more insulin gets secreted leading to insulin resistance. As the body continues to go through this cycle, the body starts taking the excess glucose floating around in the blood stream and storing it in fat cells throughout the entire body…cue obesity, fatty liver disease, diabetes, etc. Diabetes is also a HUGE risk factor for cognitive decline. The worse the blood sugar control is, the worse the cognitive function can be. For this reason, Alzheimer’s disease is now being referred to as Type 3 Diabetes. The downstream effects of good glucose control include a healthy brain.
Bring on the fat
Good, healthy fat that is. Isn’t it crazy how things change? The recommendation used to be low-fat, high-carb diet…now that over half of Americans are walking around with a large waist circumference, we see that recommendation didn’t work so well. Studies have proven a high fat, low-carb diet is the way to go for optimal health. Our brain thrives on fat. After all, it is made up of more than 70% fat!
It’s fascinating how such a tiny protein can have such a big impact on the human body. Often times when we think of patients not tolerating gluten, we think of celiac disease. 1 in 30 individuals have celiac disease. While not all of us have celiac, research has shown we are all sensitive to gluten to some degree, with celiac disease being the most severe. Gluten intake almost always causes inflammation to the nervous system and it may also go unnoticed for years until it’s too late and an individual is suffering with some type of neurodegenerative disorder. Gluten sensitivity does not always manifest with gastrointestinal issues. Many times, it manifests as neurological issues such as, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, depression, dystonia and the list goes on.
We have the power to optimize our brain health, why wouldn’t we choose to take action? By ensuring adequate sleep, physical activity, avoiding gluten containing products, keeping our waist circumference in check, eating real foods, sticking to a high-fat, low-carb diet…I bet the world would be a much happier place.
Perlmutter, D., & Loberg, K. (2018). Grain Brain. Little, Brown Spark.