It starts with memory lapses. Some call them senior moments. When forgetfulness
grows more frequent, happening several times a day, every day. Doctors
often turn to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease attacks half of us by age 85,” explains
Neal Barnard, M.D., President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible
Medicine and author of the book
Power Foods for the Brain. “[But there are] careful studies of large populations showing that
a particular pattern of dietary habits appears to protect the brain to
a very substantial degree.”
Dr. Barnard is pointing to long-term studies of thousands of people that
show a diet low in fat and high in plant-based foods can dramatically
reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even in people with a genetic
marker that signifies higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
“Genes are not destiny. In some cases they’re an alarm bell.
In some of the studies, the role of the gene can be dramatically diminished
by having a healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Barnard. “[For example,]
within the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, strands of beta-amyloid
protein ooze out of the brain cells. It is a bit like sausage coming out
of a sausage-maker. These protein strands collect between the brain cells
in microscopic clumps called amyloid plaques. This process appears to
be fueled, at least in part, by fatty, cholesterol-laden foods. The higher
your cholesterol level rises, the more plaques accumulate.”
To best protect against Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Barnard recommends
slowly shifting your diet from an animal based diet to a plant-based diet
that relies equally on fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables.
“At the end of three weeks [on a plant-based diet], you are measurably
more healthy. Your cholesterol is starting to come down, your blood sugar
is starting to fall, you’re losing weight,” says Dr. Barnard.
Many Torrance Memorial doctors have been emphasizing this approach for
“I recommend the anti-inflammatory food pyramid created by Dr. Andrew
Weil. It is a plant-based diet emphasizing fruit and vegetable intake
as the bulk of your diet,” explains Kate Niehoff, M.D., primary
care, Torrance Memorial Physician Network. “Whole grains, beans
and legumes, healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados, and fish
are higher up the pyramid [in smaller portions.]”
When it comes to nutritional supplements, people eating a plant-based diet
get almost every nutrient they need from food, including calcium and omega-3s
from leafy greens. Dr. Barnard recommends only supplementing with Vitamin
D and Vitamin B12. If you’re taking a multi-vitamin pill, make sure
that it does not contain iron or copper, which in high levels have been
shown to damage the brain.
“Your brain needs sleep and exercise too,” says Dr. Barnard.
“When you go to sleep, that sausage maker that cranks out the protein
strands of plaque, turns off. [For exercise,] a brisk walk, three times
a week has been shown to reverse brain shrinkage and improve memory.”
Want to Learn More?
Through a generous grant from the Graziadio Wellness Center, Torrance Memorial
presents a free lecture series falling under the category of integrative
medicine. Last year, Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee
for Responsible Medicine, pioneering researcher into dietary interventions
for diabetes, and author of 70 scientific publications and 17 books, talked
about nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease. Watch his lecture, Power
Foods for the Brain, at torrancememorial.org.
Click Here for Video
Kate Niehoff, M.D., primary care Torrance Memorial Physician Network can
be reached at 310-378-2234.
Eat Clean & Green: Torrance Memorial’s Plant-Based Living Group
Torrance Memorial’s Plant-based Living Group is a welcoming environment
to share ideas, resources and strategies for moving toward a whole food,
plant-based diet. Meets the second Monday of the month, 6:30 – 8
p.m., Free. West Tower, Second floor, Auditorium.
For a complete list of support groups visit torrancememorial.org/supportgroups