Worried about the risk of dementia and memory loss that comes with aging? It might be time to cut out those refined carbohydrates and embrace healthy fats in your diet. Dr. Mark Hyman explains the risks and dangers of Alzheimer’s disease (what he calls “Type 3 diabetes”), and how unbalanced blood sugar levels may be a trigger. Here, Dr. Hyman explains what you need to know about memory loss, its complex relationship with diet, and, to top it off, a perfectly tailored list of 8 tips for modifying your diet and lifestyle to prevent or even reverse dementia.
“My parents are getting older and I want to do everything I can to help them prevent Alzheimer’s, considering both my grandmothers had this disease, and I am worried about getting it too.” writes this week’s housecall. “What can we do to prevent dementia?”
Here’s the bad news/good news. Maintaining a diet with excessive sugar and refined carbs can ultimately lead to pre-dementia and dementia. But eliminating the sugar and refined carbs and incorporating appropriate, healthy fat can prevent, and even reverse pre-dementia and early dementia. It’s true- the right diet can heal!
Unfortunately, dementia is a widespread issue that is only increasing in prevalence on a daily basis. Statistically, the outlook doesn’t look good. Alzheimer’s is currently the seventh leading cause of death. Ten percent of 65-year-olds, 25 percent of 75-year-olds, and 50 percent of 85-year-olds will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Sadly, the 85-year-old population is where the prevalence is increasing the fastest. By 2050, it is estimated that 106 million people will have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
The connection between sugar and Alzheimer’s
Did you know that researchers are nicknaming Alzheimer’s “Type 3 diabetes?” The underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease begin with too much sugar on the brain. The cycle starts when we over-consume sugar and don’t eat enough fat, which leads to diabesity. Diabesity then leads to inflammation, which creates a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc on your brain. If you looked at an autopsy of a brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, you’d see a brain on fire. This inflammation occurs over and over again in every chronic disease and very dramatically with the aging brain and overall aging process.
And the insulin effect does not just impact elderly people. Diabesity and dementia don’t just instantaneously occur when you reach a certain age. Dementia actually begins when you’re younger and takes decades to establish itself and progress to the point where symptoms become obvious.
In fact, recent studies show people with diabetes have a four-fold risk for developing Alzheimer’s. And people with pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome have an increased risk for having pre-dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Furthermore, it doesn’t even take full blown type 2 diabetes to cause brain damage and memory loss. Even moderate insulin levels and insulin resistance can lead to these neurological issues.
Clearly, an unhealthy carb-heavy diet without adequate fat leads to a bleak outcome.
The Body-Mind Effect
Ever heard of the mind-body effect? Here’s a twist: there is also a body-mind effect. Choosing the right diet can positively impact your body, and in doing so, positively impact your brain too! In fact, your body and your mind aren’t two distinct entities; they’re one elegant, continuous ecosystem. In other words, they work synergistically. What you do to the body affects the brain, and what you do to the brain affects the body.
Considering this connection, we can prevent and reverse neurological impairments by adjusting the diet, healing the body, and consequently optimizing brain function. I’ve seen this magic happen many times in my medical practice. When I put people on The Blood Sugar Solution, The 10-Day Detox Diet, or on the plan in my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin, their memory, their mood and their well-being often dramatically improve. So let’s look into how we can make this happen for you.
How to Reverse Memory Loss
Dementia can be reversed if caught early enough and by attending to all the factors that affect brain function – including diet, exercise, stress, nutritional deficiencies, toxins, hormonal imbalances, and inflammation.
So there are things you can do to prevent and/or reverse neurological damage. To do this, you must control your insulin and balance your blood sugar levels, which will allow you to overcome diabesity and balance your mood, heighten your focus, boost your energy, and prevent age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
It’s all pretty simple. According to the tenets of Functional Medicine, it all comes down to targeting the disease at its root cause, rather than trying to mediate the symptoms. This allows you to optimize your biological functions, both mind and body. All you have to do is eliminate the “bad” things and integrate the “good stuff.” Your body can take it from there!
8 Steps to Reverse Memory Loss
Given these basic principles, here are my suggestions for preventing and even reversing memory loss:
1. Stabilize your blood sugar. Choose a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet. To accomplish this, get rid of the bad foods (refined carbs, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, dairy, and inflammatory, omega-6 rich oils such as vegetable and seed oils) and integrate good, healthy foods (healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, almonds and cashews, grass-fed meats, pastured chicken and eggs, olive and coconut oil) into your diet.
2. Choose fats that support brain health. These include omega 3 fats in wild fatty fish, as well as coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, whole eggs, nuts, and seeds.
3. Do some type of physical activity on a daily basis. Even a 30-minute walk will do the trick. You can increase the intensity of your exercise based on your level of fitness. Studies show physical activity can prevent and even slow down the progression of cognitive decline and brain diseases like dementia.
4. Choose the appropriate supplement regimen. Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, an omega 3 fat supplement, extra B6, B12, and folate, as well as vitamin D3. Probiotics are fantastic for the gut and the brain too.
5. Make sure your thyroid and sex hormone levels are adequately balanced.
6. Detox from mercury or other heavy metals, if you have high levels, by doing a medically supervised detox program.
7. Manage your stress. Chronic stress takes a major toll on your body and brain. The ability to relax is key. Whether that involves deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, find something that helps you calm down. Many patients find my UltraCalm CD helps them relax and reduce stress and anxiety.
8. Get your shut eye. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. Studies show poor sleep becomes a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
This is just a start, but these eight strategies go a long way by giving your brain a chance to heal, recover, and experience fewer memory problems. In general, these are great lifestyle tips for any person, at any age!
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Learn how to use diet to prevent and even reverse memory loss by reading Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook
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