By now we are almost all pretty much aware that eating carbohydrates (sugar but also all grains, pasta, bread, pizza, sweets etc.) highly increases the risk of getting obese, diabetic, or cardiopathic (prone to heart attack and strokes). The bad deed of carbohydrates comes from their triggering an inflammatory process in the body – including the brain - that is the doorway to chronic diseases.
What most people might not know yet is that nutritional and medical research is now focusing on carbohydrates as the cause of brain degeneration and cognitive impairment. Just after the onset of our early adulthood we are all ageing, and with that comes a more or less slow decrease of most functions of the body, including brain function. After year 40 we lose 5% of cognitive ability per year. We are experiencing this on an everyday basis, either directly on us or on our grandparents, parents, teachers, whoever has reached the stage of not growing up anymore but growing further. Moving does just not feel the same, with the same easiness; thinking, remembering, learning do not work as well as when we were 15. Whatever we do for a living, wherever we live and however we manage our health, we might live to 60 or 110, regardless of all these differences, we are all going through this natural process, although at different rates. Now, in an era of mind power and such focus on intellect much more than physique, the thought of losing one’s brain with the years feels pretty depressing if not scary. The idea of having to rely on other people’s support because we lose our abilities is pretty demeaning. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Not to scare anyone out there, but lately the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the elderly has been rapidly increasing, especially in the US, where the rate of neurological mortality, or else death due to brain dysfunction, has increased by 66 to 92% since the early 70s. There is most probably one simple reason of this increase: a better monitoring of such condition; and another one is the longer life span achieved through elevated use of pharmaceutical drugs - which increase the number of living years but do not do much in decreasing the crippling effects of dysfunction: we live longer but not free of pain and impairments. However, these two factors do not alone explain the fast rate of increase of mental dysfunctions. And what is most scary is that the onset of Alzheimer’s is happening earlier and earlier in life: there are more people getting affected by 55 years of age and even younger.
This prospect is not appealing. Not to me. Therefore, I’ve been studying the reasons of such an increase of mental disabilities and the possible ways to counteract these conditions.
What one can extract from recent science is that the degeneration of the brain seems to be explained in different ways, but which all have a common denominator, i.e. the inflammation of the brain and the death of neurons as a consequence of such inflammation.
Many of us follow the recommendations of eating blueberries in the morning, or goijy berries or omega 3, because it’s been said that they protect us from ageing. But how? The reasons for this is that such food or supplements are antioxidants that fight the daily, hourly creation of free radicals, from natural reactions in the body itself but also from pollution, as well as bad nutrition. We might even know that Gingko is a good herb for memory and that turmeric is anti-inflammatory. So we do buy our fish oils or feed on flax seeds and swallow capsules to slow down the wrinkle appearance and keep our memory in shape. And we should feel fairly safe....
However, not all of us know that high carbohydrates consumption increases the level of free radical formation and the consequential inflammation process, which aggress the joints but also the brain. An inflamed brain is the beginning of degenerative process and loss of cognitive function and sugars seem to be the easiest culprit. For example, it has been shown that a level of blood sugar well below the threshold for detecting appearance of diabetes 2 elevates the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.
Although causes of brain degeneration are found in high blood pressure at midlife age, diabetes, high fats in the blood, smoking, midlife obesity, heavy metals, low vitamin D, - which all lead to inflammation - it is high levels of sugars in the blood from elevated consumption of carbohydrates that have been pinpointed as the leading causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairing conditions. High glucose in the blood has been for example determined to shrink our hippocampus, the center of memory creation.
Glucose in the blood is a dangerous molecule because it binds to proteins - those of the body and those ingested with food -, creating AGEs (Advanced glycated end products). When you cook on the barbeque or grill or deep fry or even bake at high temperature, you create a high amount of such dangerous molecules. These highly modified molecules turn on oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and in the brain.
Drivers of inflammation are also to be found in dysbiosis (a badly assorted gut biota), chronic infections, bad diet, stress, high amount of free radicals, drugs and toxins (pollutants in the food, water and air).
Another uncovered culprit of dementia and the like is gluten and the molecular reaction it creates in the body. We know that some people cannot eat any gluten because they have an autoimmune disease, the celiac disease, in which gluten from bread, flour, pizza and all cereals destroys the lining of their gut preventing absorption of nutrients. And we also know that other people are not celiac but they are ‘only’ gluten intolerant, meaning that they get bad gut reactions when eating gluten-containing food. However not everybody knows that EVERYONE gets affected by gluten in high or low degrees, in the sense that this protein found in bread and flour derivatives disrupts the integrity of our guts and creates inflammation, locally and then throughout the body. The scientist who discovered and described the cellular mechanism of such disruption is also suggesting that a similar process happens at the level of the blood brain barrier, a sort of protective boundary between blood vessels and brain mass. This disruption of the integrity of the barrier lets go through into the brain molecules that are supposed to stay out of it, and this invasion triggers local inflammation directly in the brain.
Inflammatory process of the brain can also come from elevated physical or mental stress, a number one cause of cardiovascular problem as well.
Solutions??What can one then do to slow done if not prevent an ageing brain?
Here are ten behavioral steps to keep a healthy brain:
1. Eat the good diet. A lot comes from food and in the choice we make at the shop and in the kitchen. Avoiding carbohydrates, especially refined ones (white bread, white flour, and their derivatives), is the rule number one to prevent dementia as well as obesity, diabetes and strokes. So replace them with whole grain but remember to limit the consumption of high gluten wheat.
But also include lots of fats, the right fats. The brain is mostly made of fat tissue thus we need to supplement it with fats from food: fish oils and omega 3 from flax and walnuts but also some of the saturated fats. It has been shown that the right plant-based saturated fats (like coconut oil) are protective of Alzheimer’s and dementia and reverse the degenerative process. What is interesting is that eating such saturated fats would also lower cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, and improve our lipid profile….as well as help in losing extra weight! Extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet which is based on it are also highly protective of the brain due to the high concentration of antioxidants and phytonutrients in olive oil. Prefer fresh food, and avoid package food and fast food.
High consumption of vegetables is naturally protective because rich in antioxidants, and including high consumption of fish for the omega 3 and white organic meat from chicken are further healthy choices for your brain. Important is also the way this food is cooked, paying attention not to deep fry it, char it, charbroil it, grill it, deep fry it or caramelize it which would create those dangerous AGEs.
Other food and herb supplements could support a healthy brain, such as Gingko, Turmeric, ginger, berries, garlic, green tea and cocoa.
2. Quit smoking: smoking creates a high level of free radicals and inputs pollutants, including heavy metals, into your body
3. Do movement on a regular basis
4. Sleep a good amount of hours to get recharged and detox the brain
5. Stay socially engaged and relate to people
6. Challenge your mind through math, quizzes, crosswords, learning a language or to play an instrument and the like
7. Learn to meditate to increase your brain mass and neurons connections and lower your stress level
8. Lay in the sun to get your dose of vit D.
9. Read and educate yourself throughout your life
10. Breathe properly to give your brain a good amount of oxygen and slow your pulse
These information was extracted from the scientific medical peer-reviewed papers Neurology, Journal of the American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Alzheimer disease, Journal of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry