Neal Barnard`s true story
My father died on 8 February 2012. That was the day his heart stopped beating. But actually, my father had died years earlier. It started with slight forgetfulness, and over time his memory failed more often and more often, and it came to the point where he no longer recognized his own children. His personality changed, and he could no longer take care of himself.
And… If you could make a list of everything that could happen to you, then the last on your list, at the very bottom, what you the least want is Alzheimer’s disease, because if you lose your memory, you lose everything. You lose everyone you ever loved. If you look at the brain of someone with that disease, you see that there are crazy structures between the brain cells.
Beta-amyloid protein is derived from the cells and it piles into small meatball-like structures like this one here, on a microscopic plate. They shouldn’t be there, and they are a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
This disease affects nearly half of Americans in their mid-80s. You could tell your doctor: “Okay, I don’t want that. What can I do to stop it?” Your doctor will say, “Well, it’s aging and genes.” There is a gene — the APOE- [epsilon] 4 allele.
If you inherited this gene from a parent, your risk tripled. If you inherited it from both parents, your risk is 10 to 15 times higher.
What is the solution? Take new parents? No, I don’t think so. That is not the solution. So I’m sorry: it’s aging, it’s the genes, period; there’s nothing you can do about it, just wait for it to happen. Or maybe not.
Researchers started in Chicago the Chicago Health and Aging Project. They looked at what people ate in Chicago. They made accurate reports of what hundreds of people ate, and then they began to see who, as the years passed, remained mentally clear and who developed dementia.
The first thing they came up with was something I already knew as a child when I was growing up in Fargo, North Dakota. My mother had five children, each of whom ran into the kitchen with the smell of bacon.
My mother then took a fork, put it in the pan and fished out the hot bacon to put them on kitchen paper to cool, and when all the bacon was out of the pan, she carefully lifted the hot pan and poured the fat into a jar for storage — that’s good bacon fat, you don’t want to waste that! My mother then took the pot, and she placed it not in the fridge but on a shelf, because she knew that when fat cools down, what happens with it? It’s getting hard. And the fact that it is fixed at room temperature shows that bacon fat is full of saturated fat, bad fat.
We have known for a long time that it raises cholesterol, and bacon fat is full of it. And by the way: the next day she spooned it again in a frying pan to bake eggs; unbelievable that none of her children died young.
This is how we lived. However, bacon is not the main source of saturated fat.
These are dairy products: cheese, milk, etc.; and meat gets a second place. In Chicago, some ate relatively little saturated fat, about 13 grams per day, and others ate twice as much, and the researchers just looked at who developed Alzheimer’s.
Here is the low group, and here is the high group. Those who avoided bad fat ran a fairly low risk, but who filled themselves with cheese and bacon had a risk of two, three, or even more times higher.
After this, they not only looked at saturated fat but also the fat that you find in donuts and pastries; you know them, trans fats, as indicated on the labels. They found the same pattern there.
So people who avoided saturated fats and trans fats did so in view of cholesterol and heart disease, but apparently, they also have an effect on the brain.
After this, Finnish researchers said, “Wait, we dig deeper.” There is a disease called mild cognitive impairment. You are still yourself — you manage your finances, drive the car, your friends will remember you — but you are mistaken on a regular basis, especially concerning names and words.
They took over 1,000 people aged 50 years and took a closer look at their eating habits. They investigated over time who developed mild cognitive impairment. Some ate relatively little fat, some a larger amount, and they watched whose memory began to deteriorate.
They found exactly the same pattern. In other words, it’s not just: “Shall I get Alzheimer’s?”
But: “Will I only have age-related memory problems?”
But what about that gene, that APOE [epsilon] 4 allele that you curse to Alzheimer’s? They did the study and only focused on those people, and some ate relatively little fat, some ate more fat, and — Exactly the same.
In other words, if you avoid bad fats, even if you have that gene, reduces your risk of developing memory problems by 80%.
And this is my most important point: genes don’t determine your destiny. Let’s review those protein slices.
We know that it is beta-amyloid, but there is also iron and copper. Metal in my brain? Yes, there is metal in food and that ends up in your brain. Now think for a moment: I have a cast-iron pan, and we had a barbecue in our yard, and a week later I remember: “Oh… I left the pan on the picnic table, and it rained last week.”
What happened to my pan? She rusted, and that rust is oxidation. Or take a shiny new coin, will that shine forever? No, it also oxidizes.
Well, iron and copper oxidize in your body, and while they do that they cause the production of free radicals.
What food do you need
You probably already heard about it: free radicals are molecules who swim in your bloodstreams and get into your brain, and they act like sparks which burn the connections between cells.
How does this happen? How do I get that iron? How do I get that buyer? How did that happen? Which of you has a cast iron pan? Put your hand up.
If you only use it once a month, I say, “What difference does it make?”
But if you use them daily, iron will end up in your food and that is more iron than your body needs. Or copper pipes. Who has copper pipes? The water is in this copper pipes all night and goes into the coffee machine in the morning, and then you drink that copper, more than you need, and that then produces free radicals that go to the brain.
If you eat meat — and especially liver — you also get iron and copper as a result. We used to think, “Isn’t that fantastic?” until we realized that iron is a double-edged sword. You need some, but if you get too much, it becomes toxic.
Vitamins. Vitamin producers add vitamin A and vitamins B, and vitamin C, and vitamin D. Then they add iron and copper, because ‘You need them anyway’, without acknowledging that we have had enough of it through our diet, and through those supplements you get too much.
Okay, so what do I want to say now? I want to say that not only saturated and trans fats increase our risk, but also those metals and that they form sparks in the brain, free radicals that scorch the connections.
If that’s the case, I need a fire extinguisher. And we have that, namely vitamin E. Vitamin E is in spinach and in mangoes and especially in nuts and seeds. And in Chicago, some ate a bit of it, and some ate a lot of it, and the beauty is that vitamin E is an antioxidant: it destroys free radicals.
So if what I claim is true, then the people in Chicago would eat just a little bit of vitamin E run a much higher risk than those who ate a lot, and that is exactly what the research showed. Who ate eight milligrams of vitamin E a day, the risk of Alzheimer’s nearly halved compared to those who ate less.
Hmm, okay, how do I get enough in then? That is very simple: go to the store and just buy some pills with vitamin E. No, not because of that. In nature there are eight forms of vitamin E. It is in nuts and seeds, but if I put it in my supplements, Is it legal to have vitamin E if only one form is present?
And if you eat too much of one specific form limits the absorption of all other forms. So you want to take it through food; that’s how nature designed it for us and that is the form in which we evolved.
We can go one step further. By the way, I forgot to mention something. How much do we need? If I take some nuts or seeds in my palm and it comes to your fingers, that’s about 30 grams, and that’s about five milligrams of vitamin E. The thing is: don’t eat that, because you know what happens then.
If you take such salted almonds and you eat your hand empty, then you fill it up again and eat it again. Salted nuts are irresistible, or is that me? They are addictive in a certain way.
So don’t do it that way, you consume more than necessary. You better take them in your hand and then crumble and put on your salad, in your oatmeal porridge, or on your pancakes.
Use them as a seasoning and not as a snack, then you’re in the right place. Good, researchers at the University of Cincinnati went one step further. Not just saturated fats, trans fats, or vitamin E, but they said: “What about color?”
Take a look at blueberries and grapes: that color is particularly intense. And the color of blueberries is not just for beauty; we call it anthocyanins. They investigated a certain group with an average age of 78, of which everyone had memory problems.
They asked them to drink half a liter of grape juice every day. A glass in the morning and an evening. Three months later they tested everyone, and their memory was better. Three months?
That sounds too simple. How is that possible? Think for a moment: a grape has a hard life. It must hang on the vine all day under the sun, exposed to the elements, without protection. Or is it?
That purple color, those anthocyanins, forms a powerful antioxidant, just like vitamin E, but then in grape form. And when you eat it, it ends up in your bloodstream. They don’t necessarily have to be grapes, but anything with that color. Such as blueberries.
Back to the laboratory: a new group of patients came, all with memory problems. Blueberry juice after three months their memory was better. The moral of the story is not to eat grapes and blueberries and drink their juice. No, color is the answer.
If we look at colorful food, we learn an important lesson. You walk into the supermarket, and from meters away you recognize in the shelves beta-carotene, lycopene, anthocyanins.
Your retina can detect them because it is the orange color of carrots, or the red color of tomatoes, or the purple color of grapes. And your brain then tells you that this is beautiful and attractive, you recognize the antioxidants and are attracted to them.
So in 2009 my organization went, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, to the department of agriculture. We said, “This is important. Get rid of the food pyramid.”
It had a nice shape, but it had a box for meat, and a box for dairy, despite the fact that people who do not eat meat or dairy be healthier than people who do. By the way, who eats from a pyramid now?
We eat from a plate. So we came up with a plate indicating fruit, grains, legumes, and vegetables because they must be our main components. We passed this on to the USDA in 2009, but we heard nothing from them. So in 2011, we sued the federal government. The Physicians Committee against the USDA, simply to provoke a response. And did you see what the American government came up with that year?
I don’t want to walk with honor but this is now the government policy called MyPlate, and it looks somewhat similar on what we sent them a few years earlier. Fruit, and grains, and vegetables, and there is a so-called ‘protein group’. That group may consist of meat, but also beans, or tofu, or nuts, or anything rich in protein, it doesn’t have to be meat. There is actually no meat group in the federal guidelines. There is still a dairy group, but soy milk is included.
So it’s heading in the right direction. What we talked about so far is the avoidance of saturated fats, such as in cheese, bacon, and meat; avoiding trans fats and snacks; eating vitamin E and colorful food, and there is one final step.
It is not only about nutrition, but also about exercise. At the University of Illinois, researchers brought in 120 adults and allowed them to walk briskly three times a week.
A year later, everyone took a brain scan. They looked at the hippocampus, the memory station in the center of the brain: that determines what is stored in the memory and what is not allowed. It now appeared that this body, that with age gets shrinking, suddenly stopped shrinking. They saw with the moving group that the hippocampus got a little bigger, and a little bigger, and a little bigger, as if time went backward: It reversed the shrinking of the brain, and they clearly outperformed on memory tests.
So I designed my own sports plan. I would like to introduce it to you, I do this three times a week. Arrive at the airport as late as possible, carrying extremely heavy luggage, and then running for that plane.
They had a different idea at the University of Illinois, and that was a bit simpler. Take a ten-minute walk and do it three times a week. The following week you do a 15-minute walk, and the next week 20. They just added five minutes a week to 40 minutes.
Such a brisk walk of 40 minutes — this is not about dribbling, but really decent steps — 40 minutes, three times a week, is all you need for your memory and the size of your brain. Very easy.
I would like to go back in time, and talk to my father and say to him:
“Dad, I have discovered something very important. We change our diet, we don’t really need that cheese and that bacon. There are more than enough healthy things to eat. We go for colorful vegetables and fruit and make it a daily habit. We put on our sneakers and move together. “
It’s too late for him. But it’s not too late for you. Neither for me and if we use what we have learned now about how we can protect our brain, then families might be able to stay together with a little longer.
Via: Neal Barnard