By Dr. Mercola
It is projected that Alzheimer's will affect one in four Americans in the next two decades, rivaling the current prevalence of obesity and diabetes. At present, the disease afflicts about 5.4 million Americans.
One of the potential reasons for the skyrocketing increase in Alzheimer’s may be related to rising glyphosate residues in our food supply. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, used in ever-increasing amounts on genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Glyphosate is a potent mineral chelator, binding up minerals like zinc and manganese from being used by the plant, or anyone who eats the plant since it is impossible to wash off glyphosate as it becomes integrated into all the plant cells. Zinc deficiency in turn, is thought to contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
There is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s, and very few treatments. Alzheimer's drugs are often of little to no benefit, which underscores the importance of prevention. Fortunately, there’s compelling research showing that your brain has great plasticity and capacity for regeneration, which you control through your diet and lifestyle choices.
Avoiding gluten appears to be of critical importance, as is making sure you’re getting plenty of healthful fats (including demonized saturated fats). Fasting also has a remarkably beneficial influence on your brain health. At the end of this article, I share my best tips for avoiding this devastating brain disorder.
How Zinc Deficiency May Contribute to Alzheimer’s
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,1 zinc deficiency may play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s. The disease has already been linked to accumulation of clumps of defective proteins in your brain, and zinc, it turns out, is critical for preventing such accumulation. As reported by the featured article:2
“With proteins, shape is everything. The correct shape allows some proteins to ferry atoms or molecules about a cell, others to provide essential cellular scaffolding or identify invading bacteria for attack.
When proteins lose their shape due to high temperature or chemical damage, they stop working and can clump together - a hallmark of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
The UW researchers have discovered another stress that decreases protein stability and causes clumping: a shortage of zinc, an essential metal nutrient. Zinc ions play a key role in creating and holding proteins in the correct shape.”
As mentioned earlier, modern agricultural chemicals may be a significant driver of this disease, as many herbicides and pesticides are potent chelators. In fact, glyphosate was initially patented as a mineral chelator.
Chelators immobilize nutrients, by binding them so they’re not physiologically available for your body. They do this by forming a barrier around specific nutrients, effectively preventing them from being utilized properly by either soil microbes, plants, animals or humans.
Even if the mineral is present in the plant, if it’s chelated with glyphosate, those minerals will not be physiologically available for your body to use.
This concept has been discussed at some depth by Dr. Don Huber, an award-winning, internationally recognized scientist and professor of plant pathology at Purdue University for the past 35 years.
His agriculture research is focused on the epidemiology and control of soil-borne plant pathogens, with specific emphasis on microbial ecology, cultural and biological controls, and the physiology of host-parasite relationships.
Glyphosate in particular is a significant threat to health as it’s one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. We are currently using about 880 million pounds—that’s nearly ONE BILLION pounds—of glyphosate annually on food crops grown worldwide.
GE plants in particular are being sprayed with ever increasing amounts of Roundup as weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to the herbicide. As a result, genetically engineered grains tend to have the highest levels of glyphosate residue. In one test, GE corn was found to contain 13 ppm of glyphosate, compared to zero in non-GE corn.
According to Dr. Huber, the nutritional efficiency of genetically engineered (GE) plants is profoundly compromised. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants! Naturally, health effects are bound to occur if you’re consistently eating foods from which your body cannot extract critical nutrients and minerals.
Glyphosate Appears May Be One of the Most Potent Drivers of Modern Diseases
As Dr. Seneff and Samsel reveal in a recent study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, glyphosate is probably the most harmful chronic toxin we’ve ever encountered, and could possibly be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies today—including Alzheimer’s, autism, Crohn’s disease, gluten intolerance, leaky gut and many others.
Besides chelating micronutrients, glyphosate is also patented as an antibiotic. And like all antibiotics, it indiscriminately kills both detrimental and beneficial soil and human gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria are in fact a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm, as microbes have the pathway used by glyphosate to kill weeds, called the shikimate pathway.
For every cell in your body, you have 10 microbes of various kinds, and all of them have the shikimate pathway, so they will all respond to the presence of glyphosate, which causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle.
What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease.
It’s well worth noting that, on May 1, 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doubled the amount of glyphosate allowed in food... Soybean oil may now contain as much as 40 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate. Meanwhile, research by Dr. Monika Krueger at Leipzig University shows that a tenth of a part per million is all that it takes to kill your Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus faecalis. So soybean oil is now allowed to contain a whopping 400 times the known limit at which it can impact your health.
From my perspective, there’s little doubt that if you want to protect your brain and physical health, ridding your diet of foods that have been genetically modified (GMOs) is a critical step. Ideally, you’d want to eat a primarily organic diet, in order to avoid agricultural chemicals entirely.
ICU Stays Lead to Symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 1/3 of Patients
In related news, new research3 shows that a stay in an intensive care unit (ICU) frequently results in symptoms of dementia in patients that have no cognitive problems prior to being admitted. In many, cognitive problems were found to persist for more than a year after being discharged from the hospital. Incredibly, 75 percent of ICU patients experienced delirium and left the hospital with symptoms of cognitive problems; one in three exhibited symptoms seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Dr. Wes Ely, a professor of medicine and critical care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville told CBS News:4
“We knew that something was going wrong with people's brains when they were getting out of medical and surgical ICUs but we didn't understand to what degree their brains were being disabled and then having to live with that throughout their life. So, we set out to define exactly what was going on with the survivors of critical care in terms of brain function."
One major factor that appears to contribute to this is the administration of sedatives, which can increase your risk of delirium, and subsequent longer-term cognitive problems. Interestingly, this phenomenon is not restricted to the elderly. Healthy people in their 30s and 40s also developed cognitive problems after a stay in the ICU. As reported in the featured article:
“[Dr. Ely] thinks more needs to be done to keep patients in the ICU alert, awake and walking around if possible to reduce their odds of developing delirium. Exercising your brain with puzzles and games like Sudoku and Scrabble while in the ICU may also boost brain function. Monitoring how much patients sleep may also improve outcomes, since beepers, lights and staffers taking X-rays or blood tests may prevent someone in the ICU from getting adequate rest.
...In an accompanying editorial published in the same journal issue, researchers at the University of Toronto pointed out that not all patients had delirium, and some of the patients with cognitive problems at three months showed improvement by 12 months. Still, the study 'unequivocally' showed that cognitive impairments in these patients is a public health concern.”
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General Anesthesia Could Increase Risk of Dementia in Elderly by 35 Percent
Related research suggests that being exposed to general anesthesia can increase the risk of dementia in the elderly by as much as 35 percent. The research was presented at this year’s annual congress of the European Society of Anesthesiology (ESA). As reported by Medical News Today:5
“Postoperative cognitive dysfunction, or POCD, could be associated with dementia several years later. POCD is a common complication in elderly patients after major surgery. It has been proposed that there is an association between POCD and the development of dementia due to a common pathological mechanism through the amyloid β peptide. Several experimental studies suggest that some anesthetics could promote inflammation of neural tissues leading to POCD and/or Alzheimer's disease (AD) precursors including β-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.”
In this study, participants aged 65 and over were followed for a total of 10 years. Participants exposed to at least one general anesthetic over the follow-up had a 35 percent increased risk of developing a dementia compared to those who were not exposed to anesthesia. According to lead researcher Dr. Francois Sztark:6
"These results are in favor of an increased risk for dementia several years after general anesthesia. Recognition of POCD is essential in the perioperative management of elderly patients. A long-term follow-up of these patients should be planned."
Tips for Maintaining Healthy Brain Function and Avoiding Alzheimer's Disease
The beauty of following my optimized nutrition plan is that it helps prevent and treat virtually ALL chronic degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Remember, while memory loss is indeed common among Westerners, it is NOT a "normal" part of aging, and cognitive changes are by no means inevitable.
As explained by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, Alzheimer’s is a disease predicated primarily on lifestyle choices; the two main culprits being excessive sugar and gluten consumption. Another major factor is the development and increased consumption of genetically engineered (GE) grains, which are now pervasive in most processed foods sold in the US. His book, Grain Brain, provides a powerful argument for eliminating grains from your diet.
Knowing that it is a preventable disease puts the power into your hands. People who experience very little decline in their cognitive function up until their deaths have been found (post-mortem) to be free of brain lesions, showing that it's entirely possible to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place… and one of the best ways to do this is by leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Avoid sugar and refined fructose. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin resistance or any related disorders.
- Avoid gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but not dairy fat, such as butter). Research shows that your blood-brain barrier, the barrier that keeps things out of your brain where they don’t belong, is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don’t belong. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
- Optimize your gut flora by regularly eating fermented foods or taking a high-potency and high-quality probiotic supplement.
- Increase consumption of all healthful fats, including animal-based omega-3. Beneficial health-promoting fats that your brain needs for optimal function include organic butter from raw milk, clarified butter called ghee, olives, organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, wild Alaskan salmon, and avocado.
Contrary to popular belief, the ideal fuel for your brain is not glucose but ketones. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy. The medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil are GREAT source of ketone bodies, because coconut oil is about 66 percent MCTs. In fact, ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes or Alzheimer's.
Also make sure you’re getting enough animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. (I recommend avoiding most fish because, although fish is naturally high in omega-3, most fish are now severely contaminated with mercury.) High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder.
- Reduce your overall calorie consumption, and/or intermittently fast. As mentioned above, ketones are mobilized when you replace carbs with coconut oil and other sources of healthy fats. A one-day fast can help your body to “reset” itself, and start to burn fat instead of sugar.
As part of a healthy lifestyle, I prefer an intermittent fasting schedule that simply calls for limiting your eating to a narrower window of time each day. By restricting your eating to a 6-8 hour window, you effectively fast 16-18 hours each day. To learn more, please see this previous article.
- Improve your magnesium levels. There is some exciting preliminary research strongly suggesting a decrease in Alzheimer symptoms with increased levels of magnesium in the brain. Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements do not pass the blood brain levels, but a new one, magnesium threonate, appears to and holds some promise for the future for treating this condition and may be superior to other forms.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels with safe sun exposure. Strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer's patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests have been revealed. Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of the glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health.
Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on Alzheimer's through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Sufficient vitamin D is imperative for proper functioning of your immune system to combat inflammation that is also associated with Alzheimer's.
- Keep your fasting insulin levels below 3. This is indirectly related to fructose, as it will clearly lead to insulin resistance. However, other sugars (sucrose is 50 percent fructose by weight), grains and lack of exercise are also important factors. Lowering insulin will also help lower leptin levels which is another factor for Alzheimer’s.
- Eat a nutritious diet, rich in folate, such as the one described in my nutrition plan. Vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day.
- Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity. However, you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
- Avoid aluminum, such as antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, vaccine adjuvants, etc.
- Exercise regularly. It's been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized,7 thus, slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer's. Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha. Research has also shown that people with Alzheimer's have less PGC-1alpha in their brains and cells that contain more of the protein produce less of the toxic amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's. I would strongly recommend reviewing the Peak Fitness Technique for my specific recommendations.
- Avoid flu vaccinations as most contain both mercury and aluminum, well-known neurotoxic and immunotoxic agents.
- Eat blueberries. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. Like any fruit though, avoid excesses here.
- Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
- Avoid anticholinergics and statin drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10 and neurotransmitter precursors, and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein.
Other Natural Treatments for Your Anti-Alzheimer's Arsenal
Finally, there are a few other nutritional recommendations worth noting for their specific benefits in preventing and treating dementia. So, although your fundamental strategy for preventing dementia should involve a comprehensive lifestyle approach, you may want to consider adding a few of these natural dietary agents to your anti-Alzheimer's arsenal. These four natural foods/supplements have good science behind them, in terms of preventing age-related cognitive changes:
- Astaxanthin is a natural pigment with unique properties and many clinical benefits, including some of the most potent antioxidant activity currently known. As a fat-soluble nutrient, astaxanthin readily crosses your blood-brain barrier. One study8 found it may help prevent neurodegeneration associated with oxidative stress, as well as make a potent natural "brain food."
The molecules of astaxanthin neutralize free radicals and other oxidants without being destroyed or becoming pro-oxidants themselves in the process. It's is a unique molecule whose shape allows it to precisely fit into a cell membrane and span its entire width. In this position, astaxanthin can intercept potentially damaging molecules before they can damage your cells.
You can get some astaxanthin by taking krill oil, which is a fantastic omega-3 fat supplement. But you can boost your astaxanthin even MORE by adding a pure astaxanthin supplement to your nutritional regimen. For optimal absorption, make sure to take krill oil and/or astaxanthin with a fat-containing meal, since both are fat-soluble.
- Gingko biloba: Many scientific studies have found that Gingko biloba has positive effects for dementia. Gingko, which is derived from a tree native to Asia, has long been used medicinally in China and other countries. A 1997 study from JAMA showed clear evidence that Gingko improves cognitive performance and social functioning for those suffering from dementia. Research since then has been equally promising. One study in 2006 found Gingko as effective as the dementia drug Aricept (donepezil) for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer's type dementia. A 2010 meta-analysis found Gingko biloba to be effective for a variety of types of dementia.
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): ALA can stabilize cognitive functions among Alzheimer's patients and may slow the progression of the disease.
- Vitamin B12: A small Finnish study published in the journal Neurology9 found that people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's in their later years. For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 the risk of developing Alzheimer's was reduced by two percent. Remember, sublingual methylcobalamin may be your best bet here.