Oct
19
2013

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

You may have seen the CNN heading “Where is self-control in the brain?”  If we want to make any healthy choices in life including sound financial choices, we need a balanced brain that makes the right decisions for us.

Researchers at the Caltech in Pasadena, CA have examined this question in detail using functional MRI scans and found out that there are two loci on the frontal lobe of the brain that control your impulses: the “ventral medial prefrontal cortex” (red in this link) that processes your initial image (like seeing a delicious ice cream cone”) and the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”(green in this link), where you decide that this is not healthy for you because it has too much sugar in it. The Caltech researchers found a group of volunteers who were impulsive and made the wrong choice simply based on their taste buds without consideration for their health in general. An equally large group of volunteers was also found who had functional activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the latter of which modified the final decision into the healthy choice. The impulsive group made their decision to buy simply with the activation of only the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

The researchers think that it is this kind of lack of balanced thinking that decides whether we are going to make the right or wrong health choices for ourselves. The sad part is that ultimately, the summation of bad health decisions during life can become the cause of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that many of the causes of dementia can be avoided, which means that the average person could prevent dementia. I will discuss this in detail here.

Causes of dementia

It is interesting to study patients with various forms of dementia as it is often in the frontal and temporal portions of the brain where brain cells are dying off resulting in impulsive buying, impulsive behavior and lack of recent memory. It is also important to recognize that a number of conditions or factors can cause dementia:

1. Genetic causes

Here is the

There are two types of frontotemporal lobe dementias, a tau-protein positive FTD and a ubiquitin-positive FTD, which has been shown to be due to a deficiency in progranulin. Both of these genetic defects are located on chromosome 17. In Alzheimer’s dementia, which occurs later in life there can be genetic defects at chromosomes 21, 14 or 19. Epigenetic factors like exercise, avoidance of alcohol, and taking omega-3 supplements can even partially prevent or postpone the onset of dementia from genetic causes.

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

2. Toxins like alcohol

Another example of how people can get dementia is through the effect that regular alcohol consumption has on our brains and bodies. This image of an MRI scan shows a normal brain for comparison on the left and  the MRI scan of the brain of a chronic alcoholic on the right.  When a chronic alcoholic has severe atrophy of the brain a psychiatric condition, called Korsakoff’s syndrome can occur. This psychotic condition as a result of the brain having been poisoned by regular alcohol intoxication. Essentially the toxic effect of high daily doses of alcohol have shrunk not only the surface of the brain, but also the deeper substance of the brain. The patient is psychotic, has loss of memory and is unable to care for him/herself.

3. Vascular damage to the brain

Strokes can cause vascular dementia that leads to Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss. This link points out that diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease and dyslipidemia all predispose you to possibly get a stroke with subsequent dementia.

4. Traumatic head injuries

In boxers, football players and combat soldiers brain cells can get lost from repetitive head trauma leading to dementia (in this case it is called “dementia pugilistica”).

5. Infectious dementia

HIV in AIDS patients can affect the brain and cause an HIV-associated dementia. Bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis can kill brain cells and cause a form of dementia as well.

6. Immune disorders

We know that MS can go on to develop dementia as a late complication. In MS there are autoantibodies against myelin, the insulation material that surrounds nerve fibers. An important category of immune disorders is autoimmune disease that can cause dementia. The cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, has presented compelling evidence that wheat allergies can cause dementia, but if detected early and treated by a gluten free diet, this clears up the mind and stops further development of dementia (Ref.1 describes wheat allergies causing dementia; a wheat free diet is described in Ref.2).

7. Hormone deficiencies

A classical example is hypothyroidism, which in the past before thyroid medicine was available, often led to dementia. A simple blood test, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can detect whether or not you are hypothyroid. The A4M recommendation for a normal level is below 2 (not below 5 as often reported by official lab value reports).

8. Lack of vitamins

Thiamine (=vitamin B-1) is often missing in alcoholics. If you are missing vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 in your diet, this can predispose you to develop dementia as well. Aging people lose a factor from the gastric mucosa (the intrinsic factor) that is essential to absorb vitamin B-12 in the mall bowel, which predisposes them to develop pernicious anemia and dementia. A simple vitamin B-12 injection can prevent this from happening.

9. Too much sugar consumption

Sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the 1900’s and keeps on going up in the new millennium as well. Here is a review that discusses the possibility that Alzheimer’s can be triggered by overconsumption of sugar. The higher the blood sugar levels in diabetics, the higher the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Seattle has confirmed this. High insulin levels are found in type 2 diabetes; they are responsible for making brain cells stimulate the production of the gooey substance amyloid that causes Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of this study showed this to be true both in humans and in animal models.

10. Lifestyle issues like lack of exercise, excessive weight (obesity, being overweight) and poor diet (fast foods) play an enormous role in terms of causation of dementia in addition to the other factors mentioned. On the other hand organic foods Lack of toxins) and a Mediterranean type diet will preserve your brain cells.

Treatment of dementia

At present treatment of dementia is very limited, as we do not have a complete understanding of dementia at this point. The traditional treatment of dementia outlined here will only marginally delay further deterioration of dementia, but ultimately fail. In my opinion this is because the medical profession has been concentrating on fighting the symptoms of dementia rather than the cause.

Given the list of known causes above, I like to give you 6 recommendations that will help you to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.

  1. I would suggest that you cut sugar out of your diet and replace it with stevia. This also includes dates, grapes, bananas; also wheat and wheat products and starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread (see Ref. 1 and 2 for details). The manufacturers of soda drinks, pies and cakes will not be happy about this recommendation, but it will please your brain cells. You will also be surprised how easy it is now to lose weight, which will please you (this also lowers your risk for heart attacks and strokes).
  2. Severely limit your alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day (better still would be to stay sober) unless you want to become part of the hospital population mentioned in one of the links at the beginning of this blog.
  3. Have your hormones checked, particularly your thyroid hormones, but also estrogen and progesterone levels in women and testosterone in men. Our brain cells have hormone receptors for a reason. They need to be stimulated by our hormones, even in menopause or andropause. Replace the missing sex hormones with bioidentical hormone creams and missing thyroid hormones with thyroid tablets (Armour is the best mix of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, not Synthroid).
  4. Prevent repetitive brain injuries before it is too late. Rethink whether you really need to box, street fight, play football, rugby or hockey.
  5. Use vitamins for prevention of dementia: The B complex vitamins like B-2, B-6, B-12 (by injection); vitamin D3 has recently been shown to be effective in slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D3 is low in Alzheimer’s patients and vitamin D3 supplements will slow down this disease. Although vitamin C showed equivocal results, it does have some neuroprotective qualities and decreases β-amyloid production and acetyl cholinesterase activity. A Mediterranean-type diet (Ref.2) is also helpful in preventing dementia.
  6. Exercise daily. It will discipline you to stick to the other points mentioned above. It gives you some extra endorphins and will make you feel good about yourself.

Conclusion

Although we do not yet have a complete picture regarding Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, we do know enough to reduce our risk of getting them. When you cut out wheat and wheat products, autoimmune antibodies against your brain cells will not be produced, your opiate receptors in the brain will not be seduced to eat more and more sugar, starchy foods or high fructose corn syrup, so you will have no problem in cutting out high glycemic index foods (Ref.1). This will reduce insulin and reduce IGF-1 growth factors that would have made you vulnerable to produce the gooey amyloid substance that makes you lose your memory. The orbitofrontal part of your brain (particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) will be reminding you what you read here: healthy lifestyle choices start in your brain.

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly. Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2011.

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Last edited Oct. 19, 2013

Apr
07
2013

Caution, Processed Food Ahead

During the last month there have been three large studies that drew media attention regarding healthy food intake. The first study dealt with processed meats (sausages, ham, bacon). Over 12.7 years those consuming 160 Gm per day (=5.64 oz.) were 44% more likely to die prematurely than those who ate only 20 Gm (=0.7 oz.) of processed meat per day. The study included 10 European countries including about 500,000 people over almost 13 years; nearly 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart problems.

Then there was the Harvard study that analyzed 114 national dietary surveys around the globe and came to the conclusion that every year there are 180,000 obesity related deaths from overuse of sugary drinks. The US stands third highest on the ranking list regarding deaths from drinking sugary soda pops. The deaths are due to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, which associate with obesity.

As if this was not enough the third bad news story was published shortly after regarding salt overuse: At a cardiology conference in New Orleans Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the main author regarding the sugar study mentioned above, revealed a long-term study regarding salt intake between 1990 and 2010 .  He determined that 15% of all deaths that occur around the world every year (which translated into 2.3 million people) are the result of salt overuse. The recommended salt limit is 1500 mg per day. But many people in the study consumed 4000 to 6000 mg of salt per day or more. This led to hypertension, heart attacks and strokes with the yearly mortality rates indicated.

Caution, Processed Food Ahead

Caution, Processed Food Ahead

 

What do these studies have in common and why is processed food so devastating?

All these studies pointed out that processed foods are dangerous to your health. Sausages, ham and bacon contain a lot of fat and salt; they are full of extra calories and they elevate your fatty substances in your blood (triglycerides, cholesterol). The extra salt raises your blood pressure. Processed meat is also poor in omega-3-fatty acids. No wonder that they can cause heart problems and cancer.

Next we have the sugary soda drinks, but also the hidden sugar in starchy processed foods like cookies, bagels, bread and cakes. Dough and pasta digests within 30 minutes into sugar, which your gut absorbs and your liver processes as extra calories to be stored as fat. Where? As visceral fat and subcutaneous fat,  and the end result is obesity. At the same time the sugar from soft drinks and the sugar from starches stimulate the pancreas to produce extra insulin, which leads to hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. This is known as metabolic syndrome and was found to be an independent risk factor for heart attacks apart from high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides. We know for quite some time that obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are all associated with a higher rate of deaths from heart attacks and strokes.

Finally, there is the salt overuse story. In 2009 the same Harvard group that gave us the world data on salt mortality now, stated that 102,000 Americans die every year from salt overconsumption. The same study cited that 82,000 Americans die needlessly every year due to their love affair with deep fried foods (due to high trans fatty acids) , and 84,000 die from a lack of omega-3-fatty acids in their diet, which when present in the diet protects from heart attacks and strokes. What does food processing do? It reduces or eliminates dietary omega-3-fatty acids, adds cheap oils containing omega-6-fatty acids (the fatty acids that lead to inflammation), adds salt, sugar and starch. It is the perfect recipe to die from strokes and heart attacks. The same research group from Harvard University did a study in India, published in 2010, where they established that salt overconsumption caused insulin resistance and this was the cause of higher mortality from heart attacks and strokes.

Other studies pointing to the dangers of processed food

Deficits in cognitive function (dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) have been linked to dietary habits, particularly sugar and starch overconsumption. Research has established that hyperinsulinemia or insulin resistance is responsible for the degenerative changes in the brain of Alzheimer patients. This study also pointed out that these diets are typically very low or deficient in omega-3-fatty acids, which is necessary for normal nerve cell metabolism in the brain. The lack of it leads to brain cell disease like Alzheimer’s and a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in nerves leads to damaged nerves which in turn cause excruciating pain.This condition is also known as neuropathy. Here is a good blog about why you should avoid processed foods, if you want to keep a clear mind as you are aging.

In the middle ages it was first observed that overindulging in red meat and sausages caused gout attacks.Gout was known as a disease of the rich. Higher uric acid levels, which are found in gout have been linked to higher mortality rates from heart attacks and stokes. A low purine diet can lower the risk for gout and also the risk for heart attacks and strokes. It is interesting that this type of a diet is also devoid of processed food at the same time.

What can we do to reduce dangers to our health?

We have identified the suspects; it is sugar, starchy foods, salt and processed meats. Instead of just buying precooked meals, boxed foods and other processed foods from the center of the grocery store or from a fast food place, look for original ingredients more at the periphery of the grocery store.  Read food labels and look for sugar, fat and salt content. Start buying organic food and buy the ingredients you need to prepare a meal by yourself. When you start preparing your own meals with organic ingredients, you may as well avoid the toxins that I described in a recent blog.

By buying organic foods, you largely avoid these toxins. Don’t exceed your daily limit of 1500 mg of salt, as your kidneys are not able to process this and would cause you to get high blood pressure. Personally I cut out all sugar and starch from my diet since 2001. This includes potatoes, pasta, bread, bagels, French fries, toast etc. However, you will get enough complex carbohydrates (from vegetables and greens), which get absorbed much slower and do not cause the insulin surge by the pancreas as highly processed carbs would do. You want to eat foods rich in omega-3-fatty acids, but there are problems with seafood (even salmon) as it is often contaminated with mercury. You can circumvent this by taking three capsules of high potency, molecularly distilled omega-3 per day. This is free of toxins and protects your brain and nerves from the dangers mentioned above. Your organic vegetables and greens have enough natural minerals in them that you will hardly ever require to add salt to your food. Do not add extra salt when you cook or when you eat your prepared meals. Use spices instead. Also avoid eating out too often. Restaurants are notorious for overusing salt.

More information on nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Here is a useful blog that helps you to identify the problems with processed food and what you need to do to improve your food intake. http://www.healthy-eating-politics.com/processed-foods.html

Other links:

1. Processed meat: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/processed-meat-cancer-heart-disease-death-risk_n_2829092.html

2. Sugary drinks: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/19/health/sugary-drinks-deaths/index.html?hpt=he_c2

3. Alzheimer’s and pre-diabetes with insulin resistance: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/17/carb-diet-alzheimers/1637481/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Dec
11
2012

What a Wonderful World

Recently I traveled from Palm Springs to the Caribbean and back. There were connecting flights and there was waiting at various airports, so I had lots of time to watch people and to observe what was happening around me.  Louis Armstrong’s song (1967) “What a Wonderful World“ came to mind , and I thought that this would be a fitting title for this Blog. Earlier we had come from Canada escaping the winter. The deep blue sky of Southern California and the sight of palm trees (instead of pine trees) is something that makes our hearts beat faster. The desert is a special place. We had friends join us for a week and we had visited Joshua Tree Park with the grotesque looking rock formations. During the flight it was interesting to see the landscape, as we crossed the desert areas of Arizona and New Mexico, seeing what difference people make when large areas are irrigated and the desert transforms into lush, green areas. It is also very visible, where the desert has taken back the land that no longer is irrigated.

We came to Dallas Fort Worth and the sky was clear. We traveled on to Miami and the sky was showing signs of pollution, although it was a sunny day. After our take-off from Miami we saw the ocean. I have flown over that region many times before, but this time I detected oil slicks on the surface of the ocean of the Gulf of Mexico, leftovers from previous oil spills. So, the Armstrong song of a “wonderful world” came back to me in a different context. I looked at the landscape and what industries can do to it. Erroneously we had just seen several BP commercials while waiting for our plane at the airport where BP was congratulating itself for the role it plays in cleaning up the environment having spent several billion dollars. But there are still oil slicks…

What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World

I looked at the people around me in the plane. More than 35% of them were obese; many of their faces looked sagging and prematurely aged, particularly in women. Males, even middle aged ones looked like they were pregnant (abdominal fat) and often their hair was receding, thinning on top and quite a few were bald. All of the texts I had read about anti-aging medicine came back to me. Too bad that people were eating the wrong foods and obviously did nothing to counter their built-in aging clock from depleting hormones as we age. I looked at the menu of the airline (I won’t mention the name of the airline, but I can assure you that 10 different airlines would have almost the same menus), but there would only have been one chicken salad that I could have eaten. In the past I tried to order this and I was told that due to popular demand this item was sold out. Instead they wanted to offer me potato chips, cheese and crackers. My wife and I had anticipated this scenario and we had bought a chicken salad and water before we boarded the plane. We also had packed healthy organic energy bars and a trail mix consisting of nuts and raisins to use as snacks during the trip. While travelling we stuck to the same principal of cutting out starches, bread, rice, pasta and only eating fresh vegetables, salads and lean meat (chicken, grass fed beef, ribs, lean pork and veal), which we always do since the fall of 2001.  We also avoid all alcoholic beverages and sugar containing sodas. When we returned to Southern California we were delighted to see that our body compositions when measured with the body composition scales were identical to what they were before the trip.

I think we can all contribute to this wonderful world, if we participate in whatever we can do such as these steps.

  1. End wars because on the long-term they do not lead anywhere to solve conflicts (in my lifetime I am thinking about the Vietnam war, long-winded Ireland crisis, the Korean war and the German reunification at the end of the Cold War). Right now there is the Middle East conflict, which screams for a peaceful solution. As we are conscious about the devastation that is caused by wars, we have to start with ourselves. We have to resolve our own conflicts that may be present in our own lives. Tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness are the tools.
  2. Pollution needs to be addressed by the US and all of the world’s countries (including Canada where I live most of the time). This means that anti-pollution devices need to be installed in industrial plants and chimneys. Recycling needs to be done on a larger scale. China and India and other emerging market countries need to be taught how these new anti-pollution measures work. This is an ongoing project, but we need more co-operations between government, industry and countries all around the globe. Also we have to start with our own behavior: we can become more aware of reusing and recycling instead of creating more waste in our landfills.
  3. What can we do to make us part of this wonderful world? We need to become better caretakers of our bodies. Instead of looking at quantity we must look at quality in choosing  natural food wherever possible. Growing up in Germany after the Second World War in the 1960’s and early 1970’s made me witness that high consumption of fat, sugar and starchy foods (potatoes, pasta and bread) caused people to age prematurely and get heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, diabetes and cancer. At that time the “Wirtschaftswunder” (translated into English it means “economic miracle”) had propelled Germany into a nation of  high consumers. During the war they had been poor and often went hungry, they were slim and heart attacks were at an all-time low. After the war they made up for times of deprivation and overindulged:  pretzels, buns, bread, butter, French fries, sweets, cakes, cookies, jams, chocolates, pralines-everything was consumed with gusto!  What happened to Germany in the 1960’s and 1970’s is happening again right now in front of our eyes with the obesity wave in the US, Canada and all the other civilized countries around the world. Food companies have been very successful with their advertizing through the media. Already kids get hooked to the wrong foods! Hyperinsulinism will ensure that we get hungry every two or three hours. Refined carbs and extra calories are turned into fatty acids by the liver and stored as fat. It shows that we have to resist the wrong food temptation and cut out all refined carbs. It is healthier to stick to salads and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and spinach and eat a small piece of lean meat with it. Have probiotics as plain yoghurt (0% to 2% fat). If you need a sweetener, use a small amount of Stevia, which is a natural sweetener that leaves your body chemistry untouched. Have some fruit as a dessert like blueberries, cherries or strawberries. Eat an apple, the occasional grape. Drink lots of purified water or mineral water.
  4. Buy ORGANIC food whenever possible. Most of the vegetables and fruit have been treated with insecticides, which contain residuals in them. When these are ingested, they act like estrogenic substances causing breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. The safest in our society is to stick to organic foods. More expensive, but the best insurance against future disease. Question politicians whenever possible to make yourself heard. You want unadulterated food and water. And as I’m writing about water, have a water filter under the kitchen sink with a carbon filter or have reversed osmosis to get rid of chloride or fluoride from the city water. This is what you use to cook your food. You may want to take an iodine tablet once or twice a day to counteract the negative effects of chlorine from having a bath or shower (chlorine gets absorbed through the skin). Why? Because chlorine and fluoride can displace the iodine of the thyroid hormones and make you hypothyroid.
  5. Exercise every day. Nobody gets fit in their muscles from sitting in front of the TV for hours or from spending hours and hours of computer work. If you have to, counterbalance this with an exercise program of 1 hour per day. Walk 30 minutes on a treadmill and do 30 minutes of weights or use specific exercise machines in a gym to strengthen your upper and lower extremity muscles.
  6. Did I mention hormones? Yes, I did above when I mentioned depleting hormones as we age. It is known now for some time that each hormone of the body has its own peak in life and then it declines in production as we age. Or should I rather say, we age when these hormones decline? I like the latter way of wording it, because we can measure hormone levels and when one of the hormones is too low, we can replace it with a bio-identical hormone and the person’s energy comes back and whatever function was missing is restored. This is in essence what anti-aging medicine does. Many conservative physicians and clinics do not like to hear this. Big Pharma does not like to hear this, as I am talking about replacing hormones in the body with bio-identical hormones, not with patented cheap copies that are mass manufactured, sold at inflated prices, but are no fit to the hormone receptors in the body and therefore are dangerous. The artificial drugs cause heart attacks, strokes and cancer as the Women’s Health Initiative has shown in 2002.
  7. What should have been done with the people I watched on the plane? They should have been hormone tested by their physicians. Many of the overweight or obese patients would likely have had high fasting insulin levels. The extra fat does not just sit there; it is a hormone producing factory for inflammatory compounds and estrogen-like substances. This causes heart attacks and strokes in women. It causes prostate cancer and hair loss in males as well as impotence (“erectile dysfunction”). What I said under point 3, 4 and 5 would help these people that I met. When fat is lost through changes in the diet and when an exercise program is started, the body mass index slowly comes down as fat melts away. The estrogen production comes down, the inflammatory substances abate. The person feels more energetic and may even think straighter. One special test is a saliva hormone test that looks at 5 steroid hormones: DHEA-S (storage form of DHEA), testosterone, estradiol, progesterone and cortisol. Every man and every woman needs a certain balance between these hormones and this test should be done when there is a change in energy or appearance (hair loss) somewhere when we are 35 to 40 years. In women it is important that the progesterone level is 200 times fold higher than the estradiol level (progesterone/estradiol ratio) or she is at risk of developing breast cancer and other cancers (ovary, colon etc.). In a man it is important that his testosterone to estradiol ratio is higher than 20 to 1. This protects him from cancer of the prostate or other cancers. Whatever is missing can be prescribed by the physician or a knowledgeable naturopath who is familiar with the use of bio-identical hormone creams. This program can prevent diseases like osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. It also prevents disabilities.

So with a view towards a new year (2013) and with a sense of leaving 2012 behind, I am looking forward to the time when more people can see Louis Armstrong’s vision of a “Wonderful World”.

More information on:

1. Pollution: https://www.askdrray.com/protecting-yourself-from-environmental-toxins/

2. Obesity: https://www.askdrray.com/stop-obesity/

3. Processed food: https://www.askdrray.com/caution-processed-food-ahead/

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014