Low-Carb Diet May Slow Alzheimer's Disease

by Joseph Mercola

Recently by Joseph Mercola: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You — Vital Strategies That Could Save Your Life

Story at-a-glance

  • A deficiency of healthy fats, combined with too many carbs may be at the heart of the Alzheimer's epidemic
  • A growing body of research suggests there may be a powerful connection between the foods you eat and your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, via similar pathways that cause type 2 diabetes. In one recent animal study, researchers were able to induce dementia by disrupting the proper signaling of insulin in the brain
  • Previous animal research has shown that calorie restriction protects against aging, oxidative stress and neurodegenerative pathologies, and that reduced levels of IGF-1 mediate some of these protective effects.
  • Recent research has also shown that intermittent fasting triggers a variety of health-promoting hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those of constant calorie restriction – including reduced age-related brain shrinkage

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. This fatal and progressive condition destroys brain cells, resulting in memory loss and severe thinking and behavioral problems (aggression, delusions, and hallucinations) that interfere with daily life and activities.

The cause is conventionally believed to be a mystery. While we know that certain diseases, like type 2 diabetes, are definitively connected to the foods you eat, Alzheimer’s is generally thought to strike without warning or reason.

That is, until recently.

A growing body of research suggests there may be a powerful connection between the foods you eat and your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, via similar pathways that cause type 2 diabetes. Some have even re-named Alzheimer’s as “type 3 diabetes.”

Top Dietary Factor Now Implicated in Skyrocketing Dementia Rates

Faulty insulin (and leptin), signaling caused by a high non-fiber carb diet is an underlying cause of insulin resistance, which, of course, typically leads to type 2 diabetes. However, while insulin is usually associated with its role in keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, it also plays a role in brain signaling.

In a 2012 animal study,1 researchers were able to induce dementia by disrupting the proper signaling of insulin in the brain.

All in all, it seems clear that your diet plays a tremendous part in Alzheimer’s, and the low-fat craze may have wrought more havoc than anyone could ever have imagined. It was the absolute worst recommendation possible, limiting the nutrient you, and your brain, need the most in your diet.

The disease is currently at epidemic proportions, with 5.4 million Americans — including one in eight people aged 65 and over — living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this is expected to jump to 16 million, and in the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer’s will affect one in four Americans. If that comes to pass, it would then be more prevalent than obesity and diabetes is today!

How Carbohydrates Can Activate Disease Processes

Dr. Ron Rosedale, a prominent expert in the low-carb, high-quality fat approach to improving your health, was possibly the first person to advocate both a low-carb and moderate protein (and therefore high fat) diet. Most low-carb advocates were very accepting of, if not promoting, high protein, and protein was, and still is, often recommended as a replacement for the carbs.

However, a high-fat, low-carb diet is very different than a high-protein, low-carb diet and this is a major source of confusion by both the public and researchers when doing studies and publishing conclusions as if all low-carb diets are the same.

You cannot live without protein, as it’s a main component of your body, including muscles, bones, and many hormones. We also know that protein was instrumental in advancing our intelligence. However, most people today are indulging in hormone laced, antiobiotic loaded meats conveniently available at fast food restaurants and processed meats in grocery stores.

How Much Protein is ‘Enough?’

Dr. Rosedale believes the average amount of protein recommended for most adults is about one gram of protein per kilogram of LEAN body mass, or one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. (As an example, if your body fat mass is 20 percent, your lean mass is 80 percent of your total body weight. If your total weight is 200 pounds, you would divide 160 by 2.2 to convert pounds to kilograms and come up with 72.7 grams of protein. If you are doing vigorous exercises or are pregnant you can add up to another 25 percent or another 18 grams in this illustration to increase your total to 90 grams per day.)

This is something that makes sense to me and something I seek to apply personally, but this is partly because I foolishly had my amalgam fillings removed 20 years ago by a non-biologically trained dentist that caused serious kidney damage, so I can’t tolerate high levels of protein anyway. However, it seems obvious to me that most people consume too much low-quality protein and carbohydrates, and not enough healthy fat.

So it would make sense that the majority of your diet should be comprised of good fats, followed by good proteins like whey protein concentrate from grass-fed cows, and organic grass-fed beef, pastured organic eggs and chicken, and fish like wild caught salmon. Your healthiest option is to ensure your carbs come primarily from fresh, organic vegetables, high-quality protein, and eat primary a high fat diet. Depending on the type of carbs (high fiber or not), most people need anywhere between 50-75 percent fat in their diet and sometimes even higher for optimal health.

Another Brain-Boosting Alternative: Intermittent Fasting

Recent research has also shown that intermittent fasting triggers a variety of health-promoting hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those of constant calorie restriction — including reduced age-related brain shrinkage. According to Professor Mark Mattson,2 head of neuroscience at the U.S. National Institute on Ageing:

“Suddenly dropping your food intake dramatically — cutting it by at least half for a day or so — triggers protective processes in the brain.”

He likens the effects to those from exercise, stating intermittent fasting could help protect your brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Constant calorie restriction typically includes restriction of protein, and as discussed above, some of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction may actually be due to the reduction in protein. Likewise, intermittent fasting, where meals are either restricted to a small window of time each day, or calories are restricted on specific days of the week, will also typically lead to a reduction in the amount of protein you consume.

Again, going back to the featured study, the animals were only given a protein-restricted diet every other week for four months — essentially, they were on an intermittent fasting-type diet. So we’re not promoting going vegan here. Just cutting your protein back to what your body really needs, and no more. The science on this is relatively new and there are many different protocols but I personally have evolved to the point where I do it on most days. I will make exceptions a few times a month.

Alzheimer’s Might be ‘Brain Diabetes’

No discussion of brain health can be complete without emphasizing the need to dramatically cut down on the sugars in your diet. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the same pathological process that leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes may also hold true for your brain. As you over-indulge on sugar and grains, your brain becomes overwhelmed by the consistently high levels of sugar and insulin and eventually shuts down its insulin signaling, leading to impairments in your thinking and memory abilities, and eventually causing permanent brain damage.

You may already know I have become passionate about warning of the dangers of fructose. There is NO question in my mind that consuming more than 25 grams of fructose regularly will dramatically increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Consistently consuming too much fructose will inevitably wreak havoc on your body’s ability to regulate proper insulin levels.

Additionally, fructose has other modes of neurotoxicity, including causing damage to the circulatory system upon which the health of your nervous system depends, as well as profoundly changing your brain’s craving mechanism, often resulting in excessive hunger and subsequent consumption of additional empty carbohydrate-based calories. In one study3 from UCLA, researchers found that rats fed a fructose-rich and omega-3 fat deficient diet (similar to what is consumed by many Americans) developed both insulin resistance and impaired brain function in just six weeks.

More Tips for Avoiding Alzheimer’s Disease

The beauty of following my newly revised Nutrition Plan is that it helps treat and prevent all chronic degenerative diseases, from the common ones like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s to the ones you have never heard of or can’t even pronounce. It is divided into three helpful sections, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced to help you start at the right level.