Want To Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?February 14, 2017
According to a 2015 report by the International Diabetes Federation, Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations, with an estimated 10.53 percent of people aged between 20 and 79 diagnosed with the chronic disease.
Doctors attribute the high rate of Type 2 diabetes to lifestyle factors such as irregular meals, late hours, and stress. In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Ben Ng, vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore says, “Although Asian people can look thin, we actually have a much higher percentage of body fat as compared to our Western counterparts.”
Dr Alvin Ng, a consultant endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth, adds, “In many cases, obesity leads to insulin resistance, so obesity is a big driving factor behind diabetes.” Unfortunately, insulin resistance is not just linked to diabetes. This pathological condition is also a major risk factor in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
But first, what is it?
Insulin resistance describes the condition in which cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin. When insulin resistance occurs in the body, it can lead to Type 2 diabetes. When it takes place in the brain, however, it can amp up one’s risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Although most brain cells do not require insulin in order to absorb glucose, they do require the hormone in order to process glucose. However, if you’re insulin resistant, this can make it difficult for brain cells to transform glucose into the vital cellular components and energy needed to flourish.
Insulin resistance is a result of eating too many refined carbohydrates too often. While human bodies have evolved to handle whole food sources of carbohydrates such as bananas and sweet potatoes, they are ill equipped to cope with modern carbohydrates such as flour and sugar.
Tweaking Your Diet
While you can’t do anything about your genes, you certainly can make lifestyle changes in order to stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. The first step is to cut down or greatly reduce refined carbohydrates in your diet. This means avoiding sugar as much as possible (look out for hidden sugars in smoothies, dried fruit, and condiments) and sticking to whole foods like meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, and vegetables.
In addition to eating more whole foods, it’s also crucial to incorporate healthy fat into your diet. In the book, Food for the Brain co-authored by renowned Japanese scientist Dr Takuji Shirasawa and Director of the Japan Anti-Aging Food Association Daniela Shiga, the duo shares insights on how good fat plays a big role in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dr Shirasawa says, “Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — which are known to prevent heart diseases.” DHA is also critical for optimal brain health and function. In a study conducted by Dr Giselle Lim at the University of California Los Angeles, she found that the senile plaques found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s Disease decreased about 40 percent in mice fed with food high in DHA compared to those fed with food low in DHA. This proves fatty fish intake is crucial in increasing your chances of living a long life without dementia.
Another example shared by Dr Shirasawa is the seemingly miraculous transformation Dr Mary Newport saw when she fed her husband — who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease — with a diet rich in coconut oil. He shares, “In her book Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?, which I translated, Dr Newport explained that due to his condition, her husband’s facial expression and communication levels were poor. In the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a test that evaluates the disease’s severity, his score was 14 out of 30 points, which means he had middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease. To improve her husband’s condition, Dr Newport relied on the nutritional components of coconut oil, feeding him meals mixed with coconut oil.”
The results were astounding.
Dr Shirasawa says, “Four hours after having the coconut oil meal, her husband’s MMSE score improved by up to 18 points. Dr Newport persisted with the coconut oil in his meals. Surprisingly, his communication capability recovered and his face became vigorous again in two months.”
These are some of the reasons why Dr Shirasawa is a strong advocate of a diet rich in good fat. Some of these food sources rich in good fat include fatty fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, and tuna as well as coconut oil, coconut milk, and olive oil.
He says, “With Alzheimer, the brain nerve cells’ ability to use glucose is impaired, causing the nerve cells to degenerate. Thus, utilising medium-chain triglycerides from coconut fat are the next best energy source. We cannot maintain healthy brain function without healthy nerve cells. Because they are unable to utilise glucose as an energy source, the degenerating nerve cells become abnormal and die.”
However, the energy from the components of coconut oil is different, says Dr Shirasawa. “The components of coconut oil are easily absorbed and facilitates an efficient information exchange among nerve cells. This is the reason why Alzheimer’s patients improve while consuming coconut fat.”