Sugar – Part 4: Ketogenic Diet, Alzheimer's
Sugar doesn't cause seizure disorders, but in the 1930's the Mayo Clinic found that a ketogenic diet (very low carb, high fat) was very effective at stopping seizures in children. MCT oil was used as the energy source. When the diet was discontinued, seizures recurred. The diet fell out of favor when drugs were discovered that helped control seizures. While these medications can help control seizures in some people, the side effects of these medications can reduce quality of life for many of those who use them.
A ketogenic diet may be helpful for neurological disorders, such as seizures, multiple sclerosis (see The Wahls Protocol – Dr. Terry Wahls healed herself from MS by using ketogenic/paleo diet principles), Parkinson's, as well as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory disorders.
It is essentially 70-75 percent fat, 20-25 percent protein, and 5-10 percent carbs. MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil) is often the main energy source as it readily converts to ketones. I would recommend staying closer to the 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs.
This can be a difficult diet to follow, but the good news is that anything you do to reduce carbs and increase fats can be helpful. This in itself often reduces cravings for carbs.
Our bodies with proper nutrition, can make some amino acids, vitamins, and many biochemicals essential for life and health. There are eight essential amino acids needed from food. There are essential fatty acids that we must obtain with food, especially the omega three fats EPA and DHA. There are no essential carbohydrates. That's right, we do not need any carbohydrates to experience optimum health. Every cell but one in our bodies can be fueled with ketones from fat. Only red blood cells can use only sugar.
There are studies now investigating whether cancer can be “starved” by a ketogenic, or very low carbohydrate diet. Our bodies do fine using ketones, energy units from fat, while cancer cells and tumors can only use sugar.
If you are addicted to soda, sweetened beverages or candy, do your best to eliminate them. Reducing, or better yet eliminating grains and sugars nearly always leads to improved health. Increasing dietary fats will help with cravings. If you feel hungry between meals, there are two likely causes, low blood sugar caused by insulin resistance, or not enough fat the previous meal.
Ketones and Alzheimer's
One of the areas of research in Alzheimer's disease by pharmaceutical companies is in enhancing ketone uptake. In addition to amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brain, another aspect is insulin resistance in brain cells, preventing these cells from utilizing glucose for fuel. These insulin resistance brain cells can still use ketones, energy units made from fats, as an alternate fuel source.
A few years ago Dr. Mary Newport's husband had early-onset Alzheimer's that did not respond to medication. Dr. Newport heard of research using ketones in Alzheimer's and began giving her husband coconut oil. He later said that it was as if a “light came back on” in his brain after that first spoonful of coconut oil. Dr. Newport began giving her husband 6-7 tablespoons daily of a combination of coconut oil and MCT oil. If he missed a dose, he became dazed and confused. He experienced remarkable improvements and has once again become functional and relational. This case history can be found at coconutketones.com.
Alzheimer's and Sugar
Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the book Grain Brain, and editor-in-chief of a new Harvard journal called Brain and Gut, says that diet plays a crucial role in brain function.
“What we've crystalized it down to now, is that diets high in sugar and carbohydrates, and similarly, diets that are low in fat, are devastating to the brain.” Dr. Permutter goes on to say, “When you have a diet that has carbohydrates in it, you are paving the way to Alzheimer's disease. It's a pretty profound statement, but it's empowering none the less when we realize that we control our diet We control our choices, whether to favor fat or carbohydrates.”
Dr. Perlmutter cites research done at the Mayo Clinic, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease showing that diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia. High fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk.
The Archives of Internal Medicine found that women given statin drugs to lower cholesterol had a 44 percent increased risk for diabetes. Diabetes doubles your risk of Alzheimer's.
A New England Journal of Medicine study in August 2013 showed that even mild elevations of blood sugar – 105 or 110 – was highly associated with increased risk for dementia.
Dr. Perlmutter's recommendations for reducing your risk of Alzheimer's:
- reduce dietary carbohydrates from sugars and grains
- increase dietary fats, especially saturated fats
- do high intensity, short duration exercise intervals
- take a DHA supplement
On a dry matter basis, our brains are 80 percent fat. Half of that is saturated fat, 25 percent of our brain fat is DHA, an omega three fat found in cold water fish and grass fed meats and dairy products.
While our brain is only 2 percent of our weight, it has 25 percent of our body's total cholesterol. Dr. Perlmutter says that those in the highest level of blood cholesterol have a 70 percent risk reduction for dementia.
Fructose is the most metabolically damaging sugar. Once thought harmless, because it does not directly raise blood sugar, fructose instead goes directly to the liver, causing glycation damage, insulin resistance and central obesity. It converts to fat more than any other sugar. Fructose causes ten times as much glycation in the body as glucose.
Cane sugar is 50 percent fructose. High fructose corn syrup is 45-55 percent fructose. Agave syrup is 70-90 percent fructose, probably the most unhealthy sweetener on the market. Honey is over 60 percent fructose and has more calories per teaspoon than any other sugar. While raw honey has health benefits applied topically to burns or infections, or taken by mouth for coughs, as soon as it is heated, such as sweetening a cup of hot tea, it loses those benefits and just becomes another high fructose sugar.
Fructose does the same damage to the liver as alcohol. It has surpassed alcohol as the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver. It is called Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) in which healthy liver tissue is replaced by fat and scar tissue caused primarily by the fructose component of sugar.
How important is it to reduce, or eliminate sugars and grains?
If you are healthy, take no medications, sleep well, exercise, have no pain, no digestive symptoms, no memory problems, very little anxiety or depression, you may get by with eating very well 80 percent of the time, and not so well 20 percent of the time.
But if you wish to reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's or have a chronic illness of any kind, including anxiety or depression, or if you have issues with low energy, insomnia, digestion is “not quite right,” or wish to strive for optimum health, you will have much more success by following an optimum diet 95-100 percent of the time. This means elimination of all sugars, grains, soy, cow's milk, processed foods, and vegetable seed oils (soy, corn oil, sunflower, safflower, canola and cottonseed oils).
If there was a drug that could do what we can do with diet, it would be declared a miracle drug. Take advantage of this knowledge to help you take responsibility for your health.
An optimal diet for most people would include protein from grass fed animals, wild caught fish and free range eggs. The bulk of your diet, three-fourths of your plate, should be vegetables, lots of green leafy vegetables, sulfurous vegetables (the cruciferous family), rainbow colors of vegetables, 1-2 servings of organic berries, and plenty of fats from meats, fish, eggs, coconut oil, olive oil, pasture butter, avocados and nuts.
When we know better, we do better.