When new books on diabetes or low-carbohydrate diets are published, I will almost always read them, as you know from following this blog. However, you may not know that my father died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2004, so my siblings and I are always on the lookout for new research on dementia, as well. Little did I know that the two were interconnected, but Dr. David Perlmutter has put forth some very controversial and fascinating new research in his book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers. Dr. Perlmutter is a neurologist, as is his 96-year-old father, who now has Alzheimer’s, so the author has a vested interest in his subject. In the long run, this is very hopeful information, since it is the first time that anyone has stated that Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems are actually related to the food you eat, and, therefore, preventable!
Until very recently, scientists believed that neurological problems were almost all due to genetics. However, with the explosion of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s in the past few decades, they began noticing that the two diseases were tracking together. Why? Although patients with diabetes and other digestive issues tend to show symptoms years before the final diagnosis, the damage wrought in the brain by grains is silent until it is too late. Dr. Perlmutter began drawing connections between the rapid increase of carbohydrate consumption since the advent of the low-fat, high-carbohydrate government dietary guidelines and the increase of inflammation-related neurological disorders, including dementia, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson’s disease, migraines, and even autism. We consume much more gluten in our diets today than we ever have before, both because of our dietary guidelines and because of the change in our wheat, as outlined in Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly*, quoted often in Grain Brain. Gluten contains substances that connect directly to the opiate receptors in the brain, resulting in a very real addiction. But it is not only wheat, but all kinds of carbohydrates that cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain. Even people who are not showing gastric signs of gluten sensitivity are being affected.
Just as the medical establishment has decided that 40% of the population should be on statin drugs just on general principles, Dr. Perlmutter sets out to convince us that cholesterol is not bad for us. I have not heard that opinion since Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, who wrote Protein Power in 1999, published a graph showing how cancer rates rise much more precipitously under 140 total cholesterol than heart disease rates do over 200 total cholesterol. Cholesterol is a substance that maintains the integrity of the cell wall throughout the body and is necessary to form the synapses between brain cells. Perlmutter notes that the Framingham Heart Study shows that people with higher cholesterol also have higher cognitive strength. Although he is not a fan of statin drugs, since cholesterol is obviously important to brain health, he does acknowledge that inflammation is the root cause of many of our most dangerous chronic illnesses today (thereby agreeing with Dr. David Agus in The End of Illness*), but he believes that the inflammation is caused, in large part, by what we eat. For most of history, scientists believed that brain cells were fixed, and although they could be damaged, they could never be repaired or replaced. The very encouraging news that the human brain can, in fact, regenerate is a real motivator to follow Perlmutter’s guidelines to maintain and improve your habits early in life so that you can avoid serious consequences later in life.
There is not even room in this review to tell you all that Dr. Perlmutter has to say about movement disorders, depression, fructose vs. glucose, how exercise affects your brain, and so much more, but about two-thirds of this book sets out the research and reasons for changing to a low-carbohydrate diet. The final third is a very practical guide to help you make that change. Dr. Perlmutter lays out a four-week plan to change your diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, and follows with menu ideas and recipes. The recipes, compared to many of the fabulous cookbooks I’ve reviewed, are quite basic, but when you’re new to the idea of giving up bread forever, basic can be very helpful. He also has charts of recommended supplements, good vs. bad oils, lists of gluten-containing substances, and more.
By this time, I hope that our culture is waking up to the fact that carbohydrates are not contributing to optimum health. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to find healthy choices in restaurants, and I still have to shop online or in more expensive stores to find some of the basic items in my pantry. I suppose eating well has always been more expensive, but I hope that almond flour, grass-fed beef, and a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables will soon be more mainstream. There are many restaurants out there whose side dish options extend to baked potatoes, fries, or rice. No wonder we’re all so sick.
I highly recommend Grain Brain to everyone, because we all know someone suffering from ADHD or depression right now and we all need to help ourselves to avoid dementia in the future. Add it to your pile of books on the carbohydrate-diabetes connection, and before you know it, you’ll put away the chips and soda. Just switch to red wine and dark chocolate!
*These titles are also searchable in this blog. Sometimes they were discussed within wider posts on the topic.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.