Did you know that every 66 seconds, someone in the United States will develop Alzheimer’s disease? In fact, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the country.
While there is no cure yet for the disease, we do know food matters and that certain foods raise Alzheimer’s risk. On the flip side, diet is also one of the natural treatments for Alzheimer’s. And it’s ever-more important: a new study shows that a Western-style diet heavy on meat, sweets and high-fat foods is linked to higher levels of Alzheimer’s.
The study found that amongst nine other countries, including Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Mongolia, individuals in the U.S. have a 4 percent increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s. In fact, when Japan’s traditional diet shifted more towards its Western counterpart, Alzheimer’s rates soared (along with waistlines) from 1 percent in 1985 to 7 percent in 2008.
Clearly, certain foods raise Alzheimer’s risk. But this latest study is the latest in a string of evidence showing that diet is a major form of natural Alzheimer’s treatment options. What you eat (and don’t eat) matters. Let’s take a closer look.
Science Says These Foods Raise Alzheimer’s Risk
While I’m a fan of red meat, too much of a good thing might increase your chances of Alzheimer’s. (And, of course, eating low-quality red meat is a big no-no.) Red meat is an iron-rich food. And though your body needs enough iron to avoid anemia, chronic fatigue and muscle weakness, too much iron can actually speed up damage created from too many free radicals unleashed in our bodies.
As the iron builds up in the brain, it does so in an area known as “gray matter,” a part of the brain that shows one of the first signs of degeneration as we age. Too much iron in that area seems to speed up the process even more.
That doesn’t mean saying goodbye to hamburgers and steaks, but rather being mindful of how much you’re eating a week and choosing the best quality, grass-fed beef available is key.
Refined Carbohydrates & Sugars
If you needed another reason to stay away from starchy pasta and breads, here’s one. Diets high in carbohydrates and sugar can raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2012 study found that people 70 years or older who ate a diet heavy in carbohydrates were almost four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their healthier eating counterparts. That spike in Alzheimer’s is far beyond normal age-related issues you’d expect to see in regards to memory and thinking.
This makes the sugar industry scandal even more devastating. Industry funded Harvard research in the 1960s blamed downplayed sugar’s role in coronary heart disease. Today, we know sugar’s role go far beyond heart disease and greatly impacts the brain, too.
The theory behind why carbohydrates, which are often loaded with sugar (check out a white bread label sometime!), affect the brain so strongly is that carbs raise glucose and insulin levels rapidly, causing a blood sugar spike. Eventually, that can lead to insulin resistance over time. (In fact, reversing diabetes naturally could be one of the best things you can do for your brain, since Alzheimer’s is now being pegged “type 3 diabetes.)
The more our bodies ignore insulin, the more our pancreas produce. These high levels of insulin now coursing through the body might actually damage blood vessels in the brain, leading to issues with memory. In fact, in Alzheimer’s patients, parts of the brain become resistant to insulin — and while researchers aren’t sure why, there seems to be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
No, not old foods! “AGEs” stands for advanced glycation end products. These are chemicals that are found both naturally in our bodies and in some foods. Scientists previously linked foods high in AGEs to diabetes and poor cardiovascular health. Now it seems it might play a role in a declining brain. When foods raise Alzheimer’s risk, AGEs are top of the list.
A 2014 study first examined the role of AGE in mice. After feeding the creatures’ three different types of diets — one low in AGEs, one high in AGEs and a “normal” diet — those mice who were eating the least amount of AGEs enjoyed improved cognitive function. (6)
Next, the researchers put their theory to the test with humans. They studied the diets of 90 healthy people 60 years old or older. Those with high-AGE diets fared the worst, showing decline over the course of the 9-month study.