By Marika Sboros
Alzheimer’s disease – the words are enough to strike terror in the hardiest of hearts and minds. Doctors call Alzheimer’s the “thief of the mind” because it steals its victims from their family, their friends and themselves.
The Alzheimer’s Antidote, by US nutrition specialist Amy Berger, is a game-changer. It is also a possible “miracle” thief-blocker. It is an antidote to the medical profession’s pervasive pessimism about age and declining brain function.
Between the pages of this book is also a prescription against dogma on diet. It’s dogma that doctors and dietitians still spread with a devotion bordering on religious.
Berger draws on an exciting, relatively new path of scientific research. Best of all, she offers safe, effective and cheap dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent Alzheimer’s. And if it has already taken hold, Bergers offers hope for ways to reverse the worst of its symptoms.
The subtitle says it all: Using a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease, Memory Loss, and Cognitive Decline. That’s based on compelling science behind the metabolic model of disease. Thus, the solution is also metabolic.
Berger uses current medical literature to make a strong case for Alzheimer’s as largely a problem of brain fuel metabolism. In other words, the brain isn’t getting enough of the right nutrients to generate energy. This prevents brain functions from flowing smoothly.
She shows how an evidence-based metabolic strategy effectively restores energy utilisation in the brain.
In a foreword to the book, US neurologist Dr David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain focuses on Berger’s dietary advice. She “welcomes healthful fat back to the table while virtually eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates”, he says.
Berger restores cholesterol to its rightful glory as a major player in building, maintaining and repairing delicate brain cells. She calls cholesterol the “brain’s best friend”. She also highlights the devastating effects of sugar and carbohydrates on brain function.
Berger gives the best foods to boost the way brain cells naturally power themselves.
She also gives the worst foods. It’s no coincidence that these form the basis of conventional, low-fat, high-carb dietary guidelines. The same guidelines which the US launched onto an unsuspecting public in 1977, without science to back them up. Thus, Berger shows how bad sugar and other carbs are for brain function.
She therefore challenges the “amyloid hypothesis” – that a build-up of a sticky brain protein fragment, beta-amyloid, causes plaque build-up that eventually causes Alzheimer’s.
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Perlmutter makes a shocking observation: that research efforts focused on the amyloid hypothesis “have almost uniformly intensified the rate of cognitive decline in human subjects”.
The fact is that foods we eat interact continually with our DNA, Perlmutter writes. They change our gene expression from “moment to moment, for better or worse”.
In this sense, food is “information”, he says. Food choices provide instructions to our DNA. These instructions regulate processes such inflammation, detoxification, and antioxidant production. These processes are critical for health or decay of the brain.
Berger’s solution “specifically targets gene expression”, Perlmutter says. It can calm inflammation and rid the body of potentially brain-damaging toxins. It can also increase the production of brain-protective antioxidants.
These gene pathways exist in all of us, he says. They are “ready to participate in protecting, enhancing, and even restoring brain functionality”.
Berger effectively “harvests our most highly regarded scientific research to create an empowering, user-friendly game plan”. It is one that “rewrites our health destiny as it relates to the brain”.
Yet despite decades and billions of dollars spent on Alzheimer’s research, modern medicine is no closer to a cure. Countless pharmaceutical “breakthroughs” have fizzled out.
The lack of progress is “discouraging and disheartening”, Berger says. Consequently, the best advice doctors and therapists offer is to “keep the mind active” by having new hobbies, doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles or learning foreign languages.
To imply that crosswords and Sudoku puzzles can prevent something as devastating as Alzheimer’s is “irresponsible and downright insulting”.
“Cognitive decline is not inevitable as you age,” says Berger. And if it happens, you don’t have to sit by idly and helplessly while it progresses.
Alzheimer’s and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), are multifactorial conditions that require multifactorial solutions. “The disease process is complex,” she writes. However, that doesn’t mean potential solutions must be equally complex.
Solutions require understanding the biochemical and physiological aberrations underlying brain changes that result in Alzheimer’s and MCI. Thereafter, solutions become “self-evident and quite elegant”, she says.
She takes readers on a remarkable journey in this book. She has divided it into four sections. The first is an exploration of the metabolic origins of Alzheimer’s disease.
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Berger makes crucial connections between modern diet and lifestyle and how Alzheimer’s develops and addresses key factors. These include brain fuel metabolism and chronically elevated insulin levels from excess sugar and carbohydrate intake. She explains why dementia diseases have become common. And why doctors call dementia type 3 diabetes because of the documented link with diet.
She explores the logic behind low-carbohydrate, high-fat plans to prevent memory loss and cognitive decline.
Berger devotes the second section of the book to nutrition to restore healthy cognition. The third looks at lifestyle factors, such as stress, exercise and sleep and brain function. She also looks at intermittent fasting to “clean house” and boost the brain’s best fuel sources – ketones.
The final section is a “roadmap” for readers to steer clear of Alzheimer’s. Prevention is, after all, always so much better than cure.
Her intended audience is people with MCI or Alzheimer’s and loved ones and caregivers. Consequently, she has simplified explanations of relevant biochemical and physiological mechanisms. Berger based that on the cautionary principle often, though possibly wrongly, attributed to Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Her book is the best weapon against doctors and dietitians who believe that lifestyle can’t prevent or treat Alzheimer’s effectively. However, my concern about this book is that those doctors and dietitians won’t read it.