Protecting Your Brain

The quick answer:  You can blame brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s on the modern diet—that’s the quick answer.  The big question is whether you can escape them.


When You Outlive Your Brain

Though dementia is a bigger problem, Alzheimer’s disease is plenty scary.  Rates of both are soaring; it’s a modern tragedy.  Dr. Perlmutter has written a book—Grain Brain­—that gathers the best available info on how to protect your brain as you age.  Perlmutter is a natural medicine neurologist who believes the cure is in lifestyle, especially diet, not prescriptions.  He takes a dim view of grains, but there’s more you’ll want to know.

My point isn’t to defend grains as the staff of life; I’ve already done that here.  Rather, I would like to review some excellent conclusions from Dr. Perlmutters book.

How Your Brain Dies

Dr. Perlmutter summarizes the process by which brain-wasting diseases arise.  You can blame it on the modern diet:

  1. We eat a high-sugar diet of refined, processed foods that are deficient in natural nutrients.
  2. This diet leads to high blood sugar, chronically high insulin, overweight and obesity for many, inflammation, and oxidative stress due to free radicals.
  3. These conditions lead to diabetes, heart disease, and diseases of the brain.
  4. Science, wrongly applied, falsely blamed heart disease on dietary saturated fat and cholesterol.
  5. In retrospect this made little sense—our brain is actually 70% fat; ¼ is saturated fat and ¼ is omega-3, mainly DHA.  Cholesterol, a form of fat, is essential to brain health; it’s also the precursor for vitamin D.  So these fats aren’t villains, they’re the stuff of healthy brains.
  6. The brain is energy intense—though just 2% of your body weight it uses 20% of all calories.  So there’s a fire in the brain as those calories are oxidized—lots of free radicals are produced and antioxidants are needed to neutralize them.  Unfortunately our diet and lifestyle aren’t helping.

That's a very brief account of how the modern diet harms the brain, and other organs.

Surprising Facts from Grain Brain

#1  The Beautiful Wife has an above-average cholesterol level and this had been a worry.  Dr. Perlmutter argues that cholesterol is necessary for brain health and people with higher cholesterol levels actually live longer and with less dementia.  The BW is guardedly pleased to hear this.

#2  The incidence of dementia is rising in step with diabetes.  Diabetics suffer a doubled risk of dementia.  They also have a higher risk of heart disease.  So managing your sugar intake is about more than getting fat—it’s about saving heart and brain.

#3  As many as 30% of people of Northern Europe extraction may be intolerant to some degree of the modern glutens.  Gluten intolerance doesn’t only attack the intestine (Celiac disease), it can attack any organ, including the brain and this can go on for years; when the damage becomes obvious it may be too late.  Here are some signs to look for.

#4  If you suspect a gluten intolerance, ask your doctor about being tested.  This is a serious issue.  Dr. Perlmutter recommends the Cyrex Array 3 test.  For more information, visit

Twelve Steps to Brain Protection

You may recognize these from our Healthy Changes, but here are some of Dr. Perlmutter’s recommendations, slightly paraphrased:

  1. Fast periodically, 24-72 hours.  (I’m thinking 24 hours each month is a wise plan.)
  2. Do aerobic exercise most days.
  3. Eat real food especially low G.I. fruits and vegetables; avoid processed foods. 
  4. Minimize sugar and avoid refined carbs.  (The fiber>sugar rule is a good guide.)
  5. Avoid refined seed oils (soybean oil, corn oil, etc.)
  6. Enjoy natural oils including EVOO, coconut oil (and good butter).
  7. Get omega-3 fats daily (fish or DHA from algae or fish oil)
  8. Avoid soda drinks.
  9. Get plenty of sleep, 7 hours or more, in a darkened room.
  10. Get plenty of vitamin D, from the sun if possible.
  11. Meditate (or use some method of stress relief).
  12. If you’re sensitive to gluten, avoid it. 

The title of Dr. Perlmutters book was misleading—as you can see, it’s about much more than grains. 

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Reader Comments (3)

Thanks for the timely comment on "Grain Brain."
The "staff of life" is pretty diluted- hawaiian rolls?

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Falck

Thanks for the timely comment on "Grain Brain."
The "staff of life" category is easily overextended- hawaiian rolls?

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Falck

My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and it was heart breaking. I definitely want to do what I can to protect my brain. Thank you for this post

March 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

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