By Dr. Bo Rosenblat
Chief Physician for Dr. Bo’s Diet
You’ve heard it from your dentist: sugary drinks and junk food will rot your teeth. Your primary care physician and pediatrician have also probably advised you and your family to steer clear of junk food. Emerging evidence, however, may soon have you getting that same lecture from a somewhat surprising source: your neurologist. Scientists have been exploring brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and have made an interesting connection—diet and nutrition play an integral role in the health of your brain.
Recent trends toward greater consumption of “superfoods” have been spurred by the recognition that vitamin-rich, antioxidant packed foods may help give your health, memory, and body a boost; newer research is proving that the converse holds true as well. Nutritionally devoid foods, like those high in saturated fats, sugar, and additives actually lead to a degeneration of your body and brain.
A New York Times article popularized the idea that Alzheimer’s might be “Type III diabetes,” and that it might be linked to poor nutrition. Indeed, since 2005, researchers have determined that there is a connection between brain health and diet and nutrition, and recent studies are strengthening the argument and stressing the importance of healthy habits.
The two known types of diabetes affect the body’s ability to make and/or process insulin. Type I diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is caused by an internal malfunction, whereby the individual’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas, requiring them to inject foreign insulin into the body. Type II diabetes is caused by an external source, most often poor diet and nutrition habits including high-sugar and high-starch food choices. This leads to an insulin resistance where the cells have become overwhelmed by the demand to process insulin at such a high level. The cells essentially give up because they can no longer handle the stress of the job and they begin to fail. Although both types are treatable, neither is curable.
The proposed Type III diabetes is similar to Type II in that they share the same causes. The same high-fat, high-sugar, and high-carbohydrate foods that lead to high blood sugar and weight gain also act to deteriorate the brain and impair its function, leading to or accelerating Alzheimer’s and dementia. Diabetes affects all organs, as well as the circulatory system, and the brain may be especially susceptible to damage due to its delicate makeup. Tiny blood vessels in the brain rely on glucose to function; however, when the body has excess glucose levels over a long period of time, it causes these brain cells to swell, impairing—or worse, eliminating—their function.
Individuals who don’t have diabetes are not immune to these findings. Additional research has found that people with elevated blood sugar levels, not in the diabetic range, are still 20 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with lower levels.
The silver lining of these findings is that while Alzheimer’s and dementia were once thought to be purely genetic, scientists may now have the ability to delay or eventually stave them off. Changes in lifestyle—such as managing your weight, eating fewer high-calorie processed foods, and exercising—can all reduce your risk factors for this and many other degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers, and type II diabetes. Practically speaking, you can help yourself by taking the following steps:
Eat “real” food. Prepackaged and frozen foods are laden with sugar, artificial colors and sweeteners, saturated fats, chemicals, and preservatives. So while they may be an easy and hassle-free option in the short-term, in the long term they wreak havoc on your body and brain.
Bo’s Tip: Try to get 80% of your calories from whole-food sources, and only 20% from pre-packaged or frozen items. You will shave off calories and also cut your sugar intake.
Eat food rich in omega fatty acids. Salmon, tuna, spinach, walnuts, and chia seeds are a few great sources for your omega fill. These foods contain healthy fats that, when eaten regularly, help to protect your cognitive function.
Bo’s Tip: Did you know your body doesn’t manufacture these fatty acids on its own? The only way we can get them is by ingesting them!
Stress less and sleep more. Besides being bad for your waistline, increased stress will eventually eat away at the part of your brain responsible for memory. Stress causes increased cortisol levels in the body, which in turn raises the amount of cortisol in the brain. Research has shown that this increased level deteriorates certain brain areas. Sleep helps to repair and rest the brain for optimal memory and decision-making.
Bo’s Tip: Stress directly affects another crucial area: sleep. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario between sleep and stress. Being well-rested will help one to feel calmer and less stressed; however, the stress itself may be the very thing keeping you from sleep. Try exercising, but not too close to bedtime as it may cause a boost in endorphins, giving you even more energy. Work out at least three hours prior to bedtime to get the maximum calming benefits. An added bonus is that regular workouts help to reduce your blood sugar. v
Dr. Bo Rosenblat is a board-certified medical doctor and Chief Physician of Dr. Bo’s Diet Center with office locations in Hewlett and Manhasset. For more information about Dr. Bo’s Diet program, please call 516-284-8248 or visit www.DrBosDiet.com.