If, by changing your diet, you could reduce your odds of hellish suffering decades from now, would you do it?
Wait, let me explain the hellish suffering part: We’ve lost my Mom, sort of — and that’s the hard part. She’s got Alzheimer’s. My Dad and my brothers and sisters and I have watched it unfold over the last seven or eight years in a slow but steady progression.
It’s not easy to watch someone you love go from mildly forgetful, to completely dislocated in time and space. It’s surreal and disturbing and difficult. And I’m doing it from a distance, while other family members are there every day. I fly back a couple times a year, try to stay in touch with the family, and look for things that might help relieve her suffering — a quick aside — like small doses of cannabis.
Yes, cannabis can help calm Alzheimer's patients
Lab studies at the Salk Institute have found that THC reduces beta amyloid proteins (the culprit found in Alzheimer's patients brains) in human neurons. But nursing homes won’t countenance cannabis, of course, so we’re stuck with Marinol, and that has actually helped level her out, in a way. But as the disease continues to progress day by day, it’s frustrating, bewildering and devastating. As one brother has put it, “She’s gone around the bend.” And there's no coming back.
She still recognizes us, but not always. She doesn't know where she is or what's going on around her. It's confusing for her, as you can imagine. About all you can do is try to minimize her suffering. You do that by making sure she's as safe and comfortable as possible, which means entrusting her care to the staff of a nursing home. That in itself requires good luck, lots of hard cash and ongoing vigilance.
There's a lot to that story and we'll come back to it in subsequent posts, but here's the purpose of this post: Alerting you to the fact that your diet may be setting you up for Alzheimer's — actual brain damage. The horrific damage that can cause you to lose your mind. And you can avoid it!
Do whatever you can to avoid Alzheimer's
While medical science is progressing, as far as I know, there’s no official ‘cause,’ and there’s certainly no cure yet for Alzheimer's. So when I saw a teaser to the story “Preventing Alzheimer’s is easier than you think” at PyschologyToday.com last week, I had to click through. The headline is misleading — what a shock, people write misleading headlines? — because the dietary changes we're talking about are not easy.
And who knows, there may well be multiple factors contributing to Alzheimer's. But the upshot of this story is that insulin resistance and how you metabolize glucose could cause you to develop type 2 diabetes, and ultimately can affect your brain chemistry in a way that can result in Alzheimer's — what they are beginning to refer to as “type 3 diabetes.” Please read the story; there are links where you can get information on how to determine if you’re at risk. The conclusion is that if you are insulin resistant, you need to avoid refined carbohydrates, and all sugar, “like the plague.”
It might be do-able, but it’s not easier than you think. Not to my thinking, at least. Avoiding all refined carbs? Think whole grain bread is OK? Not really. Smoothies, no way. Natural sugars like dried fruit, maple syrup and honey? Say goodbye. Not to mention ice cream, pretzels, potato chips, pizza. Gummy bears. Sodas and sports drinks. Beer, for Christ's sake.
Is life worth living if you can't eat the things you like?
Seems drastic, but seriously, what can you eat? Fresh fruit and vegetables — but not sweet and starchy vegetables. Whole foods including meat and poultry, nuts, vegetables and fruits. There's more information here from Georgia Ede, M.D. on how to determine if you're insulin sensitive or insulin resistant. As noted there, “carbohydrate metabolism tends to worsen with age.”
I used the information in Dr. Ede's PDF to determine that I'm not in the danger zone; and because that's a danger zone I want to stay far out of, I'm already taking steps to avoid sugar and refined carbs. But sugar is everywhere: Donuts at the office to celebrate every birthday; sandwiches, crackers, chips. You can try to eat a paleo diet, but isn't that incredibly difficult? Can you cheat occasionally?
Here's how I'm approaching it. I lean towards paleo, choosing:
- Salads for lunch and meat and vegetables for dinner as often as possible
- Still having oatmeal for breakfast, but it's a whole grain, and it has some protein
- Avoiding pure sugar in the form of donuts, ice cream
- Tapering my alcohol consumption
If it helps to avoid Alzheimer's, I can do it. How about you?