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Is Alzheimer’s Disease Caused by Diet?

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Caused by Diet?

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is now as epidemic as heart disease, diabetes or cancer in the U.S., except Alzheimer’s is always fatal. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death for all Americans, and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that can’t be cured, or even significantly slowed. 

With AD, there is no silver lining, no blessing in disguise, no happy ending whatsoever for anyone involved. It sucks the Spirit out of everyone it touches—patient, family and caregivers alike—until it has extinguished at least one Spirit forever, if not more.

And as you wither inside watching your loved one’s mind turn into mush, sometimes it can take everything you’ve got to hold onto some sense of meaning, some sense of faith that world isn’t random and cruel.

I’ve personally experienced the toll this wretched disease takes on everyone around it. You see, Alzheimer’s has been my hateful, horrifying houseguest every day for the last three years. And I have a lot to say about it.

Every minute—in fact, before you get to the end of this article—another American will develop Alzheimer’s. One out of every eight older adults, or 5.4 million Americans have already been formally diagnosed, and millions more are undiagnosed—or diagnosed with some form of dementia that could actually be Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease cost Medicare and Medicaid $140 billion last year. Individual Medicare costs for people with AD are nearly three times higher than for seniors without the disease, and Medicaid costs are 19 times higher.

As 78 million baby boomers enter their golden years, the numbers of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to grow to 16 million people and the cost to American society is expected to be $20 trillion between now and the year 2050.

That’s right—$20 TRILLION dollars. That’s more than the total cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, just for Alzheimer’s disease care!

There’s no doubt about it: We are in the midst of a national emergency, and we’re woefully unprepared.

The Full Cost Accounting of Caregiving

But if the direct cost to society weren’t high enough, in 2011, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated that more than 15 million friends and family members provided over 17.4 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $210 billion dollars.

The role of caregiving for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is primarily a woman’s role, and this role has grave financial and medical repercussions for us. Of the 15 million Americans caring for a person with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or other dementia, about 75% are women, mostly wives and daughters.

For decades, women have fought for respect as mothers and for recognition that mothering is real work. Now we have to fight for respect as caregivers and recognition that caregiving is real work, too—billions of dollars worth of stressful, heartbreaking, often thankless work.

Many women also face the extremely difficult challenge of balancing the demands of caregiving with their marriage, children and employment. Including me.

For most women, the time, energy, and stress of caring for an elder family member or spouse leads to a significant reduction in work hours and annual salary, as well as a loss of benefits, including health insurance. It also leads to a grave reduction in earned Social Security benefits later.

Primarily due to caregiving responsibilities, women average 14 years out of the paid workforce. And when a two-income family is forced to lose one person’s income altogether because of caregiving responsibilities, it is usually financially devastating, and deeply affects any children in the home.

And lest you think people can get help from the government, let me tell you that in California, budget cuts have eliminated virtually all funding for caregiver services like respite and adult day care services, making it almost impossible for caregivers to work or even get a short break from providing care, unless they either have tremendous extended-family support or can afford the exorbitant cost of these services on the for-profit, free market. ($50-$100 per day for adult day care; $100-$200 per night for respite.)

Residential facilities specializing in the unique needs of people with dementia cost between $3,000-$6,000 a month, and are NOT covered by Medicare or Medicaid at all. Medicaid (MediCal) only covers the cost of a board-and-care ($2000-$4000 a month) or a nursing home ($5,000 a month or more) once a person with AD has no other options or can no longer feed, bathe or toilet themselves—which doesn’t happen for many, many years with the disease.

Medicaid can provide a part-time, in-home assistant, which can be enormously helpful, if you qualify, but seldom is the help substantive enough to allow a caregiver to do things like resume a career or bear children. Filling in the gaps with an in-home assistant hired from the free market costs $10-25 per hour, and you definitely get what you pay for in terms of quality and skill.

The situation is very similar in most states, and our country’s lack of preparation and support for citizens with dementia and AD essentially gives most families no real choice but to take on full-time caregiving in their homes, even when they don’t have the money, skills or resources to do it—simply because they cannot afford to do otherwise.

At these prices, could you?

And if things weren’t already hard enough for families living with AD, if the current Congress somehow manages to pass their recently proposed draconian budget, there won’t be any Medicaid or help for people with AD at all.

That means that the $140 billion we currently spend every year on Alzheimer’s care through the fixed pricing of Medicare and Medicaid will triple or quadruple as it falls to taxpayers to foot the for-profit, free-market cost of unpaid emergency room visits, medical treatment, prescriptions and mental health care for AD sufferers and their caregivers who can’t get health care any other way.

Caregiving Kills

Caring for someone with AD is very, very stressful. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s recently released report on Stress in America was dedicated in large part to their findings about the most stressed out population in America. No, it’s not cops, or poor people, or even soldiers returning from Iraq, as stressed out as these folks might be.

The most stressed out people in America, with the shortest life expectancy of all, are caregivers, particularly caregivers living with a family member with dementia or AD.

Institutionalization and specialized care is very expensive, of course. But, taking care of your spouse or parent at home is not much cheaper, and it has other collateral costs too. Unless you’re a professional caregiver, you’re unlikely to be able to cope with the demands of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

You will eventually have to give up your job, and even your social life as your loved one grows to need 24-7 supervision. If you have children, their needs will be frequently compromised as you become increasingly unable to leave the house (even for a quick trip to the store), and more and more of your time is spent managing the disturbing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

And imagine your heartbreak and grief as your spouse or parent transforms into a shell of their former self, right in front of you, in spite of all your sacrifices and hard work!

Many people don’t realize that AD is primarily a mental illness until the later stages. Alzheimer’s doesn’t just take your memory, it takes your sanity. Many people with AD not only lose all short term memory (as if that weren’t undignified enough!), but they also often exhibit symptoms of clinical depression, anxiety and panic, schizophrenia, psychosis, and/or paranoid delusions.

I’ve either heard stories of, or personally experienced, AD patients chasing their family caregivers with guns or knives; physically and verbally assaulting their caregivers; going on credit card sprees costing tens of thousands of dollars; letting themselves into strangers’ houses; developing drug or alcohol addictions (even if they never touched either in their lives before AD); stealing and shoplifting; undressing or masturbating in public; and expressing dramatic personality changes that leave one wondering if they ever really knew their loved one at all.

Most family caregivers are alone and unprepared on every level to deal with these very erratic, disturbing and sometimes extremely dangerous behaviors from their loved ones with dementia.

In later stages, Alzheimer’s takes away the ability to learn, read, speak, eat, walk, and use the bathroom, rendering the victim as dependent on the caregiver as a 150-pound newborn baby, until the brain finally atrophies so badly it can no longer sustain a heartbeat.

Watching this happen to your loved one (despite your best efforts) is hard—traumatic even. Depending on the source, up to 80% of dementia caregivers report very high levels of stress, 65% of dementia caregivers have depressive symptoms and up to a third of dementia caregivers have clinical depression. It is extremely common for caregiving spouses to die from stress-related illnesses before their charges do.

Chronically high levels of caregiver stress have serious health impacts, including depressed immune response, and elevated inflammatory markers in the blood which are associated with cardiovascular disease and increased vulnerability to cancer and autoimmune disease. Caregiving is precisely why I have struggled to get on top of my chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal burnout, despite adopting the best diet and treatments for the illness.

The chronic stress of caregiving doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease, and increases the risk of mortality 63% over non-caregivers. Family caregivers report having more than twice the rate of chronic medical conditions as non-caregivers. And since many of these caregivers are uninsured because they cannot work, this costs families—and the nation—greatly.

Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving on their own health, Alzheimer’s caregivers had $8.7 billion in additional health care costs in 2011.

Women are particularly vulnerable to the stresses of caregiving. We tend to compromise our own lives and personal health when we assume the caregiving role, whether for our children or our dependents with AD. We are often quick to give up exercise, leisure activities, socializing, and personal time for the needs of our loved onesand our families often let us do it.

This is by no means sustainable for us or for our country, much less for the world.

 ___________

Now that I’ve got you totally freaked out and sad, the good news is that, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, Alzheimer’s disease was once very rare. And like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, AD certainly is not inevitable, even if it runs in your family.

In fact, just like heart disease, diabetes and most cancers, Alzheimer’s is a lifestyle disease.

Which means it is also preventable.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease is the Only Cure

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and there won’t be one coming, because there is no way to replace brain tissue once it has died. Current medications only manage symptoms, and alternative therapies, while more effective than pharmaceuticals, only slow the disease down by reducing inflammation or providing an alternative fuel to the brain (see video below). Neither approach can reverse the root cause of this disease.

Even if you did find a way to stop AD, if you didn’t act very early on in the disease, you could never fully restore what was lost. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the beginning of the end of the road—a road that begins decades before symptoms appear.

Preventing Alzheimer’s disease is the only real cure.

Since a diet high in processed foods, sugar and inflammatory, industrial seed oils is THE common denominator in a host of epidemic, chronic diseases that rarely occurred 100 years ago, it would stand to reason that diet might effect Alzheimer’s disease too.

Well, it turns out that a very large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer’s is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it Diabetes type 3. (See video below.)

 

Decades of study has led many scientists worldwide to conclude that insulin and insulin-like growth factor are produced not only in the pancreas, but also in the brain. Insulin in the brain not only regulates glucose metabolism and energy in the brain, it also helps regulate the neurotransmitters that send signals from one nerve cell to another, and affects their growth, plasticity and survival.

In Type 3 diabetes, brain cells develop insulin resistance and simply cannot get enough glucose to function and die, leaving the brain tissue—and therefore the mind—open to a host of metabolic problems and side effects, just like Type 2 diabetes does to the rest of the body.

Just like Type 2 diabetes can lead to losing a limb or one’s eyesight, the metabolic changes caused by Type 3 diabetes destroys brain cells and jams up neural connections. And once those brain cells die, like an amputated limb, they are gone forever. This is why Alzheimer’s is always undignified and always fatal.

But, insulin resistance in the brain not only explains why so many AD patients have incredible sugar dependency (and why diabetics, alcoholics and sugar addicts are at highest risk), but it also points a gigantic, blinking arrow at where to look to prevent, or even treat, Alzheimer’s disease.

Dietary Factors

It is not an accident that people with AD are frequently diabetic, alcoholic or, at least, majorly sugar addicted. Diabetics and alcoholics are at three times the risk for developing Alzheimer’s compared to the general population. This month’s New Scientist lead story makes a powerful case that the standard American diet is as devastating for our brains as it is for our bodies:

“In the U.S. alone, 19 million people have now been diagnosed with [diabetes type 2], while a further 79 million are considered “prediabetic”, showing some of the early signs of insulin resistance. If Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes do share a similar mechanism, levels of dementia may follow a similar trajectory as these people age.”

Can you imagine the ramifications: 19 million people (and growing) at very high risk for Alzheimer’s, and another 79 million (and growing) at high risk? Plenty of research still needs to be done, but it is looking like Alzheimer’s disease could be another catastrophic impact of the industrial processed food system—and the worst discovered thus far.

And if insulin resistance in the brain wasn’t bad enough, a study released in the March 1, 2012 issue of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that high fructose corn syrup commonly contains small amounts of reactive alpha-dicarbonyl compounds which can react with proteins causing neurodegenerative disease, among other problems. And early studies found high intake of fructose was associated with high risk of dementia.

Anecdotally, my mother-in-law has had a sweet tooth her whole life, and lived largely on a low-fat, low-nutrient packaged food diet her whole life, too. But for much of the past decade, she took it to a whole new level by consuming 2 liters of orange soda or corn-syrup sweetened cranberry juice between breakfast (pastry) and dinner, followed by a dozen cookies and an entire bottle of cheap, sweet wine before bed—every single day! And I’ve heard similar stories from other AD patients and their families.

Wow! Can you imagine consuming that much sugar every day? 

But, you don’t have to have a sweet tooth to get that much sugar though. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day (up to 160 pounds a year). This added sugar is often hidden in things like yogurt, ketchup, crackers and low-fat microwave meals to make them taste more appealing.

Then when you add in the fact that the USDA wants us to eat 11 (!) servings of grain-based carbohydrate a day (which is just converted into more sugar in your body), Americans are taking in massive amounts of sugar never seen before in human history.

Diabetes, obesity and heart disease are all epidemic because of our national carbohydrate addiction. Alzheimer’s appears to be no different.

Other Dietary Factors

According to new research in the journal Neurology, people who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA in particular, which is found mostly in wild-caught seafood) and plenty of vitamins B-6, folate, B-12, biotin, zinc, C, D, and E have bigger brains and better cognitive function than those whose diets are unhealthier

The standard American diet that most of us eat is very low in all of these nutrients, especially zinc, B-vitamins and omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, which are crucial for a healthy brain. Rather, the standard American diet is high in cheap industrial oils (like canola) that contain omega-6s which promote inflammation, including in the brain!

In fact, a deficit in zinc  (primarily found in high quality meat and eggs) can lead to a build up of copper in the body and brain. While copper is an essential micronutrient in very small amounts, when not properly balanced by sufficient dietary zinc, it can build up to toxic levels. Zinc is not stored by the body, and must be consumed every day. 

Most Americans do not get enough zinc at all, and they have too much copper in their systems already from copper water pipes, vitamin pills, medications, cheap processed foods, and other sources. Unfortunately, a zinc-poor diet can turn copper into a toxic contributor to a number of health conditions. In fact, copper toxicity is a major factor in depression and mental illness, including Alzheimer’s. 

New Research

This may not sound like anything new, but it is, reports Time Magazine. For years, studies have hinted at the right foods to eat to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, but often these recommendations haven’t held up under further study or been replicated by other research. That’s because they tend to be based on observational studies where people self-report what they ate, which is notoriously unreliable data.

The new research, conducted at Oregon Health and Science University, is different. It’s the first study of its kind to measure a variety of nutrient levels in the blood of elder adults and compare them to cognitive test results and MRI scans that measure the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It was also the first study to look at combinations of nutrients, rather than just one isolated vitamin at a time.

The bottom line: Those with healthy, nutrient-dense diets lower in sugar/carbohydrate had better mental function scores (including memory, attention tasks, visual skills, spatial skills, and language skills) than those who ate diets heavy in processed foods, packaged foods, fried foods, baked goods, and fast food.

In other words, the Standard American Diet that is very low in nutrients and full of sugar and cheap industrial oils causes Alzheimer’s, and a whole food, nutrient-dense, traditional or ancestral diet can prevent it.

Diet isn’t the only risk factor for Alzheimer’s, of course. But researchers say that diet plus the known factors of age, gender, and genetic mutations explain a whopping 76 percent of the variance between those with more cognitive decline.

“That tells us that structural changes in the brain may be very sensitive to dietary intake,” nutritional epidemiologist Gene Bowman told Time. “That’s quite remarkable.”

Indeed, it is.

A Time for Reckoning

A national conversation about Alzheimer’s and chronic disease and lifestyle in America is long overdue. As you learned in the video above, very promising AD therapies based on ketones from coconut oil can’t come to market because they aren’t Big Pharma pills, and can’t get funding for development.

If we can’t even fund the most promising therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s to date because it isn’t “profitable,” how can we ever expect to handle this massive national problem, much less address the dietary and lifestyle factors that cause it?

The upside is that our good health is almost always in our own hands. Alzheimer’s disease takes 10-20 years to develop. This means that you need to start getting your diet and health right in your forties, at the latest. 

To prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia decades before it develops, we can make sure that our families eat a whole food, traditional or ancestral diet today.

A traditional diet that prevents horrible chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s is full of organic vegetables, grass-fed animal foods and organ meats, wild-caught seafood, and other nutrient-dense, bioavailable sources of Omega-3/DHA, and Vitamins B-6, B-12, folate, zinc, C, D and E.  Supplement your diet with generous amounts of coconut oil, butter and other brain-feeding natural fats, and you have a recipe not just for preventing Alzheimer’s, but for ensuring good, longterm health.

(If you would like help improving your health and preventing diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s with a grain free, low carb ancestral diet, check out the Go Grain Free E-Course over at Real Food Forager. Dr. Jill is a real expert!)

You Can Make A Difference Right NOW

Making sure you and your family eat whole foods and get enough sunshine, sleep and exercise is important, but it’s not enough. All of us (and our children) will soon feel the strain of the Alzheimer’s epidemic on our economy and our lives, no matter how healthy we are.

But, as the number of people with the disease grows, and the cost of providing care skyrockets, our nation can take steps to support Alzheimer’s research, public awareness and education, health provider training, and family caregiver support.

We can also advocate for a farm bill that supports health by subsidizing nutritious whole foods instead of more processed, sugar-laden, factory-made junk.

Right now, Congress has a chance to provide $100 million to address Alzheimer’s steadily mounting impact on families, our healthcare system and the economy. Initially proposed by the President in his recent budget request, these funds depend on Congressional action, as the power to actually provide this funding is limited to Congress.

Right now, go tell Congress it is critical that our nation make Alzheimer’s disease a national priority before it destroys us. $100 million is nothing compared to the $20 Trillion we might have to spend if Congress does nothing, as usual.

After you have signed the petition, look into buying a long-term care insurance policy, so in the event you are one of the 60% of people who will need care of some kind in your old age, it is does not fall entirely on the shoulders of your spouse, children and grandchildren—or the rest of us via our tax dollars—to provide it.

Most importantly, if someone in your life is caregiving for someone with dementia, AD or other mental illness, you can make a big difference for them by giving them respite for a couple hours so they can go do something for themselves for a change. Caregiving is just too hard to do alone.

Sources:

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MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.




53 Comments

  1. Dawn, I am so grateful I came across this article, the facts and figures presented are truly astonishing, and the more we educate ourselves, the more we can be of benefit to others. Thank you very much for this piece. I am going to share this on my FB page The Sunshine Path in the hopes that more folks learn of this debilitating disease.

    Again, thank you!

    - BN

    • Thank you so much for sharing, BN. It means a lot for every family touched by this devastating disease.

      • Knowledge is power we believe, and your post needs to be shared to the furthest corners of the world (in our opinion).

        Thanks again!!

        BN

  2. Great article! The amount of time, effort and research you have put into it is clearly evident. Thank you for that! A nutrient dense diet will go a long way to helping prevent AD, particularly preventing the gut and brain inflammation associated with it, but I also wonder about environmental factors that may be added into the mix for consideration – notably statins and mercury-containing flu shots that are routinely given on a yearly basis to over 65s. Any thoughts? Once again, many thanks! Charlotte.

    • Avoiding statin drugs, heavy metals and other environmental toxins is a big factor in preventing any disease, including AD, and I would avoid them whenever possible. However as bad as these drugs and toxins are alone, the healthy, well-nourished body can usually handle them. But, these toxins in combination with a nutrient-poor, high sugar diet? I believe with this combination, you are basically loading the gun for dementia. Thank you for your comment!

  3. One thing I have recently learned due to my stepmom being diagnosed with a rare form of dementia, is that Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Many different illnesses fall under the dementia umbrella. Alzheimer’s is the most common one.

    My mom is suffering from what they believe is a hereditary form of dementia: Frontal Temporal Dementia. She is only 63.

    You hit the nail on the head with the effects it has on caregivers. Unfortunately with this type there is no diet or lifestyle change that will affect it.

    Currently my mom is still living at home. My dad is retired and his full time job now is to take care of her. He gets respite from us kids — we try to help out as often as we can. I watch my mom 2-3 times per week for a few hours, and my siblings and I take turns taking her for the full day on Saturday so my dad has at least one day to not worry about her.

    We cook for them in the evenings, send them with leftovers for lunch the next day. (Otherwise they would be eating canned food or boxed food everyday!)

    The toll it is taking on my dad is just too much. My real mom died when I was a baby, after fighting cancer for years (and she was dying of cancer when she was pregnant with me) and my stepmom raised me. The only reason I say “stepmom” is to differentiate. Both are my moms. (And because this type of dementia is hereditary and since we are not blood related it shouldn’t affect me).

    Prevention is totally worth it. SEriously. Maybe you don’t care whether you get this horrible disease, but it is really more horrible for those around you than it is for you.

  4. Count me among the grateful to have read your stories. They’re heart-felt and inspiring. Earlier this year, I interviewed Pamela Atwood, Director of Dementia Care Services at Hebrew Health Care in West Hartford, Connecticut. The topic was “Caregiving and Dementia.” I was intrigued and alarmed by the statistic that 65% of caregivers die before their patients die. What was initially to be a single, thirty-minute interview wound up being a series of four interviews. They aired on several public access stations in CT and MA and are now on my YouTube channel. Here’s the link to the first of the four interviews. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiSQWLZKbHw

    • Thanks for your kind words. Everyone needs to know more about this disease that devastates families, so thank you for your work!

  5. Very informative article. My grandfather passed away last year from dementia. I recently was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and now suspect he may have had undiagnosed Lyme Disease instead. There are a lot of new studies coming out in the Lyme community that have found when they test people with dimentia/alzheimers that a very large portion of them test positive for Lyme. My grandfather being a lifelong outdoorsman it makes a lot of sense to me.

    • Corah, I’m sorry you lost your grandfather this way.

      I’ve also wondered if my mom could have Lyme disease when I think about the problems she has had over the years. I didn’t know anything about it until my daughter was diagnosed with it 2 years ago and I was too a year ago. I may see about getting her tested for it. Our doctor said he couldn’t treat her aggressively if she did have it since she is weak, but maybe some things could be done. I know nothing will return her to the person she used to be, though. It’s so hard to watch then slowly die. The stress is dragging me down too. I recently bought a Vitamix blender and have been making green smoothies. Now that I’ve been through some trial and error with them, I’ll start making some and take some for my mom too since she’d benefit from more nutrition and she might digest it this way better too.

      My best to everyone who has a loved one going through this awful disease.

  6. Hi – what an amazing post. So many things to consider. My paternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the mid to late 1980′s. She eventually went into the nursing home where my mother worked. My father saw her every day. He never let her forget him – it was amazing. Sadly, to her I became her sister and if she saw me she would freak out and cry, wanting to go home and asking why was I leaving her there in that awful place. It wasn’t an awful place, but it wasn’t her home of over 50 years. Our family found ways to cope but it was difficult. She was an amazing, lovely woman. On a side note, I have a friend from college who wrote a memoir about caring for his mother-in-law. You can find more info about the book here: http://www.herfinalyear.com/. The front page explains the book much better than I could. Thanks again for all the information!

  7. Lovely blog! Just wanted to give you a tip about B12 and Alzheimers. It isn’t just the fake foods; it’s a bit more complicated than that. With the recent advances in genetics, we’ve learned that almost half the population has mutations that lead to incomplete synthesis of important B-vitamins, such as folate and cobalamin. I urge you to read the book Could it be B12) While B12 deficiency is not the cause of Alzheimers it is likely to play a huge role, and it is important to treat it before it is too late. It is one of those books that saves lives.

  8. This is an excellent article on Alzheimer’s, and I have read many while taking care of my Mother for four years until she passed last May. I focused on diet for her care and was very successful managing the intensity of the disease, however, I was not able to stop it’s progression. We do not use sugar in our house, however, whenever she would spend time with my siblings they would load her up with sugar and junk food, and then I would be left alone to deal with the sugar hangover, which would mean a very confusing “Alzheimer’s Day” for her. By managing her diet she remain rather lucid to the end. She suffered a couple falls, broken hip, fractured vertebrae, which caused her great pain and resulted in terrible panic attacks. The doctors gave her opiates and benzos, which she did not tolerate well, I tried many different natural remedies. She was put on hospice and they put her on Morphine and Ativan. For two weeks I watched her struggle in a vegetative state, and then one morning I gave her a dropperful of marijuana tincture, I had read that might lessen the need for morphine in a dying patient. The next morning I gave her another dropperful and she sat up in bed and told me “You signed me up too early”, meaning for hospice! It was evident I found her remedy. She never had anymore pain after that, none! I gave her the tincture under her tongue each morning, and if she got panicky during the day, I might give her another dose in the afternoon or early evening. She lived another 8 months, quite happy, content and rather lucid for an end stage Alzheimer’s patient. I also added coconut oil to her diet. I had been cooking with it but I started adding it to her tea and in her morning smoothies, 4-6 tablespoons each day. and it seemed that as all her other bodily functions were deteriorating, her cognizance was very stable if not slightly improved. An added bonus to the coconut oil was her beautiful, supple skin and well lubricated bowel movements. Adding these things kept her very comfortable to the end.

    Sorry to be so lengthy with this. Thought you would appreciate my story. You are so right about the toll that caregiving has on the caregiver. I am still working through some very real stress related illnesses that snuck up on me while I was not paying attention to my own needs. I had a very supportive husband and my daughter was out of the house already. I can’t imagine the added stress of children in the home.

    Thanks for this blog, I just found it and I love it! You are an amazing soul, enjoy your journey.

    P.S. I forgot to mention that after my Mother moved in with me and I fed her a good whole food diet, and found her a new doctor, I was able to get her off all of her prescription drugs; statins, blood thinner, atenelol, digoxin…..the same drugs her previous doctor told me were “keeping her alive” for the past twenty plus years.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I do appreciate your story very much. We have a similar story, and have found similar results from diet moderation, coconut oil and medical marijuana. The medical marijuana had the most profound effect on her happiness, lucidity and sense of wellbeing, as well as her appetite. It also reduces her sundowning panics, which helped everyone a lot. But, alas, we cannot afford to provide it any longer, and the dispensaries here have been largely shut down. :(

      Thank you for all that you did to help your mother’s last days be lucid, well-loved, and dignified. We all deserve such treatment!

    • Thank you . My mom died from complications of Parkensens Disease. That was more than two years ago, Mom was on all kinds of drugs (to keep her “alive”) and eating the S.A.Diet. Now I know how not to make the same mistakes that Mom did, no wheat/gluten, no GMOs, eat organic, enjoy coconut oil, use earth friendly products and drink filtered tap water out of reuseable containers. We are what we eat. We can all learn how to be better, healthier and happier. Peace

  9. Can totally relate to this. I just started taking care of my mother who has dementia and diabetes. It has always been my theory that the foods that she raised us with is what is slowly killing her. I love the way you have outlined this with statistics. Trying to convince others of this with just a theory has been overwhelming. For me, I will do what I can to avoid processed food in hopes that I don’t become part of the statistics

  10. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. i will share on FB.

  11. Wow. Very well written, and although not surprising after what we’ve learned in general about processed food, sugar and disease, but still kind of shocking. Thank you so much for sharing this. I found you at the Adorned from Above Linky Party.

  12. Dawn,
    Great information. I really appreciate it. My mother in law has Alzheimers. Thank you so much for sharing with Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party last week. This weeks Link Party is opened at
    http://www.adornedfromabove.com/2012/10/almond-sugar-body-scrub-and-wednesdays.html
    from Wednesday until Sunday.
    Hope to see you there.
    Debi Bolocofsky
    Adorned From Above
    http://www.adornedfromabove.com

  13. There is a history of early-on-set Alzheimer disease in my family. My grandfather, father, his sister and brother have all suffered and died at the hands of this disease. From a genetic standpoint the likely hood that I too will suffer from this disease and join the statistics you list above is high. It’s a sobering fact to live with as I enter my 40′s knowing I may only have 15 years before I’m drooling into my cereal. That being said, diet is a huge factor in chronic and auto-immune diseases…here the ironic / sad / crazy part. All of these people above were Greek. Lived on Crete and ate very (very) little meat, lots of veggies and very little sugar. None of them had a sweet tooth or were alcoholics. The disease was not officially named and recognized until 1910 which may explain the lack of “data” prior. They would just call people senile. Senility has a long documented history…I wonder if these have been compared in studies?
    I have RA and diet plays a big factor in regulating my symptoms. I’m positive the SAD does not do anything to prevent Alz. Disease, but I’m not sure that diet alone can prevent it. Too much genetics, history of head injuries, exposure to radiation (x-rays, cat scans, etc.) that can also contribute and whose effects cannot be changed by diet.

    • The data are pointing to diet influencing about 75% of all cases. That is a staggering number, and it makes AD an epigenetic disease NOT a genetic one. That means that while diet alone will not stop all cases, there is good hope for everyone who takes on a “brain-feeding”, whole food diet full of good, saturated fats, as well as a healthy, active, low stress lifestyle.

      Other factors involved in AD in addition to diet include side effects of medications like statins, environmental toxins and heavy metals, long-term high stress, as well as head injuries and the other things you mentioned. Most of these are lifestyle factors and therefore largely preventable too. While we may have always had dementia (sadly), it is only in recent times that it has become the sixth deadliest disease in America. Fortunately, it looks like most of us—even if you have the gene for it—can prevent AD with healthy lifestyle practices, so I hope you don’t worry too much! Your geneology is NOT destiny! :)

  14. My 87 year old grandfather died of AD this last April. He was totally vegan to an obsessive level for over 5o years. In his case I think not eating fat & cholesterol and way too many grains that were not soaked, sprouted, or lactofermented along with belieiving he should not eat more than twice per day put his pancreas and liver into such fatigue that he most likely did have type III diabetes. We can not forget that the low or no cholesterol and fat diet pushed in this country is totally unnatural and humans never ate like this until the very recent modern age. The brain is made of almost pure cholesterol. It requires it right along with regulated blood sugar levels.

    • I couldn’t agree more. This is a very important point, and very well put. Thanks for commenting!!

    • Here in the UK the government is telling us we should eat less meat to reduce many of the western diseases the afflict us. But I guess that wont happen in the US even though so much research indicates that eating large amounts of meat and dairy causes many of our most serious diseases. I have recently read four books on the subject of nutrition and health and they all say the same thing. The one I would recommend as a must read is The China Study by Colin T. Campbell.

      • The China Study has been thoroughly debunked. We have successfully eaten meat and dairy for over 10,000 years without these problems. Western diseases only became health epidemics once we started eating (and feeding our animals) tons of sugar and processed foods that have zero nutrition. I suggest you check out this site to see just how poor the science is behind the studies you are citing.

      • It’s not so much the meat itself, it’s how the animals are raised. When they’re raised on a lot of grain, then they produce fat that isn’t good for us to eat much of, but when they’re on a species appropriate diet, which is grass and hay, they have healthy fat. Americans have been taught to be on a low fat, low cholesterol for so many years that people often don’t get enough fat and cholesterol to fuel their brain and that contributes to neurological diseases. Eating vegetable oils and margarine contribute to it too. Unheated olive oil is good, but most of the others aren’t.

        Nourishing Traditions is a good cookbook and text book to learn a lot about it.

  15. Thanks so much for sharing this on Natural Living Mondays. It is amazing what health problems can be resolved with proper diet. I am sorry you have to deal with the stress of being a caregiver. I hope you have people around who can help.

    You were featured on Natural Living Monday! I cant wait to see what you have going on this week. http://www.naturallivingmamma.com/2012/09/30/natural-living-monday-4/

  16. Dawn, this is amazing stuff! I’ve learned so much from this post about this seemingly mystified disease, and to think it’s no different from heart disease and diabetes in that it can almost be completely prevented through diet and lifestyle changes…. My mom has diabetes now and is taking a few different meds, and although she’s made some changes to her diet, in my opinion, they’re not nearly drastic enough to make a real lasting change in the long run – and definitely not enough to get her off the meds.

    What kills me about all of these stories about our loved ones is that the doctors we trust with our lives, unfortunately, are just not trained in proper nutrition and its wonderful healing powers. Too many are just trained in how to identify symptoms/disease and what prescription to write for said symptoms. A lot of people, like yourself, have been forced to take their health issues into their own hands, and heal themselves using traditional methods. I pray I can make the same impact on my mom, but I know at least I can implement changes with my little family, from now, which will affect our future.

    Thank you so much for all the research you’ve done and provided here. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts!

    • Thanks, Sarah! It is too bad that most doctors have only drugs and surgery as tools for healing. But as Hippocrates said, “Food is the First Medicine.” It would be great if doctors could get back to that!

      Blessings to your mom!

  17. Very good article! I clicked on the link in the sources about alzheimer’s and diet and it took me to a paid magazine. So, I was curious if there was any more info in the article than what you already shared. Also, do you know any specifics to reverse diabetes or pre diabetes (or just elevated fasting glucose)? I have been interested in that for a while, but haven’t done a ton of research. I know some say to take out carbs completely for a little while( or forever depending on who you talk to). But I often wonder if that is necessary, and especially if the person has weak adrenals.

    • There are a ton of articles in the sources. New Scientist is only the latest one.

      I reversed my diabetes with a grain free, traditional, whole food diet like I advocate on this site. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and my adrenals are shot, so I do eat root veggies, wild rice and some beans, but no grains, little that is sweet (even fruit) and pretty much nothing from a package, ever. There is new evidence to suggest that people with type 2 diabetes have major gut flora issues, so I add in tons of fermented foods too, and they make a big difference in my sugar cravings. Some people have success reversing diabetes on a raw food diet, and I do eat a lot raw, but more than about 50% is too much for my digestion. There’s lots of great info out there on reversing Type 2 diabetes with whole food diets. Good luck!

  18. Hi, Dawn. This is an outstanding article. Thank you!

    I moved my parents in with me in 2008. My mom had been officially diagnosed with AD in 2007, and she soon became too much for my Dad to handle alone. Now my dad appears to have AD as well. Mom is in the end stages of AD.

    My sister and I decided that we’d like to avoid institutional care for them, at least for as long as possible. It’s a giant job that colors every second of my and my husband’s life. And we are fortunate enough to have hired help for 8 hours a day. I cannot imagine how others are doing it without help. My hat is off to all of you.

    I’m an RN who has become increasingly disillusioned with the medical system. It is broken and, for the most part, profit-oriented.

    I have read about the Diabetes 3 theory before. And, yes, it does correlate with Dad and Mom’s diets. Dad has always been, and is even more so now, a sugar fiend. I don’t remember Mom eating quite as much as Dad because of her preoccupation with her weight, but she did enjoy frequent sweets. Also, as time went by, I remember Mom began using more “fast food” recipes– the kind of recipes that use French’s Onion Rings, Campbell’s soups, and white flour. As did most in her generation, she used unhealthy vegetable oils, margarine, and Miracle Whip.

    Frightening thought: I cooked that way for my own family for a good number of years as well.

    I suspect that the statins and copious amounts of Tums and other GI meds Dad took for so long have hastened his decline. There’s no doubt in my mind at this juncture that Dad has AD too. I have weaned him off of all the many pharmaceutical poisons he took for years. I have him on nourishing traditional foods, coconut oil, SuperFood Plus, dessicated liver caps, Biokult, fermented cod liver oil and butter oil, saw palmetto extract, and antioxidants. I’m going to start him on calcium bentonite clay soon. But I feel in my heart that it’s too late.

    Again, thank you for writing this article! I want to hug you.

    Ginger

    • Ginger, big hugs back to you! :) Congrats on making so many dietary changes with your father. My MIL simply won’t tolerate them for the most part, though we did get her off of any need for diabetes medications and statins with a whole food diet. But, as you said, it is often too late to make a difference with this heartbreaking disease. But traditional foods, coconut oil, liver, fermented foods and the like can make a great difference for YOU, your partner and children right now. I too am disillusioned with the “profit first” sick-care system in the U.S. Keep up the good fight; it’s the nurses who usually do!

    • Ginger, your dad is a very lucky guy to have you. Good job in getting him off of meds. and onto a better diet.

      My mom has Alzhiemers, as far as we know, but it was her meds that drug her down so fast. A BP med had a side effect of “loss on ones sense of place and self”. Her doc mentioned that he had seen this coming on for a couple of years, the length of time she had been on that med. She was put on a beta blocker at one time to ease her fears of a heart attack or stroke, with the doc saying she really didn’t need that drug yet, but he’d put her on it if she wanted. I wanted to kick the guy!! She ended up in the hospital from it lowering her heart rate too much and her gait changed while on it. I tried my best to get her to our doctor, who is a MD and ND. I don’t think she’d be in the shape she’s in if she had gone to him back then. It angers me that doctors get away with it.

      We had her with us for about 4 months, but we all got worn out from it since she needed 24 hr. care. My dd and I have Lyme disease (another cause of neurological disorders) and we just couldn’t keep it up, unfortunately. I know she would do better on a better diet, but I don’t have the energy to make her meals all the time and the place she is in doesn’t realize the impact of diet on the residents, so that’s hard for me to see. At least she’s not on any drugs now. Getting off the BP med helped her a lot, but the decline continues since it was too late. Her doc practices the oath of “first do no harm”. He had her on an antibiotic full time until recently, only because he couldn’t stop them with other ways, but he took her off of them recently and changed the herbal formula to see if it will keep the UTIs at bay. I’ve also worked with a homeopath and she has made a difference. She’s on one remedy that makes quite a difference in her brain function. The first time she took it was when she was doing really bad after a UTI and antibiotics. I thought I was going to lose her. I gave the homeopath the details she needed to choose the right remedy, so she gave mom a dose before she left and told me that it was a slow acting one and not to expect a quick change. Well, she didn’t tell mom that and about 10 min. after she left, I heard something and turned around to see what it was and it was my mom knocking on the wall, motioning for me to come over, so I did. I asked her what she needed and she said “I think that medicine is helping”. That was the first time she spoke for a week or more and for her to know she was given a med was a big surprise. The next day when I went to see her, she was at the table, feeding herself and laughing and talking to the aide. A complete turnaround from where she was the week or more before. Homeopathy never ceases to amaze me in my 25+ years of using it.

      Thanks for getting the word out everyone! Sorry this got so long.

  19. I read about Alzheimer’s being Type 3 diabetes a couple of years ago in Science Daily. My father in law had Alzheimer’s for several years before he died last year. He was also a heavy sweets eater. Another interesting thing I picked up through Blood Type Diet is that having severly reduced stomach acid can also lead to dementia. Vitamin B12 needs large amounts of stomach acid in order to be metabolized. My FIL was always popping Tums after meals because of heartburn(I’m sure from eating too many carbs since he was a blood type O). In the last few months my mother had been getting confused, foggy, and having memory problems. I said, “Well, she needs B12.” The nursing home began giving her sublingual B12 and my sister said she is regaining her memory, isn’t confused, and, is regaining strength in her hip(another B12 deficiency symptom is muscle weakness). I rarely eat processed sweets and I follow a basically healthy diet. A while back I read this statement on the state of medical and health care in this country: “No one has a statin deficiency.”

    • Haha! “no one has a statin deficiency.” Brilliant! I’m so very glad your mom turned around with enough B-12.

  20. Thank you for this post! It is a topic that is dear to my heart as my Grandfather had alzheimer’s. My family cared for him and he passed in his home, a decision we do not regret.
    It is encouraging to know that by maintaining a healthy diet we can prevent ailments that have affected our loved ones.

  21. What an interesting post — thank you for sharing. I’m completely fascinated by the idea of the disease being called Type 3 Diabetes. I’m reading a book called The Happiness Diet right now and so much of what you’ve said here coincides with the information in that book. I think many problems facing our brains, for the old and the young (like ADD/ADHD) and everyone in the middle (I struggle with anxiety and have noticed that my anxiety goes up on the days when I eat more sugar), can really be traced back to diet.

  22. It’s amazing to think of what we can help to prevent with a healthy diet. Thanks for sharing this information. Please feel free to swing by and link up at my Tuesday Greens linky at http://www.craftygardenmama.com. Have a great week!

  23. a lot of good info but my father has alzheimers and has eaten very healthy most of his life. my mother is very health conscious so he rarely ate the standard american diet. not so sure diet has that much to do with it, but of course it can’t hurt!

    • The studies show that insulin resistance in the brain caused by high-carb/low-fat or highly processed diets probably accounts for about 75% of all cases, and the condition seems to be very sensitive to dietary intake, regardless of cause. Long-term use of certain pharmaceuticals like statin drugs (for cholesterol) and heavy metals and other toxins (plus other factors yet to be discovered) may be significantly involved as well. Alzheimer’s and memory loss are not a natural part of aging. I really hope that we can soon get on top of all the things we unwittingly do to ourselves that cause this horrible disease to be such a modern epidemic.

  24. Wow! What a lot of great information in one place! This topic is highly interesting to me and is something I’d like to eventually return to school to pursue my study of: disorders of the brain/aging/targeted nutritional therapy.

  25. Thanks so much for this incredible post, Dawn. It’s a timely reminder, especially as we head into the gluttonous holiday season. I normally do get carried away with holiday sweets and treats but this just may be what I need to help me stay on track with more healthful yet still festive options. Beyond the holidays though, it’s tough to stick to my guns on a daily basis but having this info handy will help keep my resolve firm. Thanks again, I’ve shared it with others.

  26. Dawn, this is excellent information as usual. My grandfather is dealing with dementia and not technically diagnosed as Alzheimers (not certain why because all the symptoms are the same) He is not ‘demented’ so much as just not recalling and retaining information. And . . . .he has been a diabetic for almost as long as I have been alive. He never really managed his diabetes well either. Was always sneaking the sweets and then using his meds to regulate the sugar. It’s not wonder he is in this state. Your information make a lot of sense.

    Keep up the great work!

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather, Jen. I’m grateful that we have enough information now for the younger generations to avoid these problems.

  27. Wow, thank you for this. It makes so much sense, and it really sets me wondering about my elderly mom who has just in the last six months or so become rather lost with her memory and sharp thinking. She’s always eaten extremely well until about a year or maybe two ago when she quit cooking because she couldn’t see well enough anymore. She started relying on friends, neighbors, church, and meals on wheels for her meals. All well meaning folks, but definitely not the healthiest choices.
    I really appreciate your research and posting about your experience. All the best to you as a caregiver.

  28. An excellent article! I’ve been there and done that as a caregiver for my former Alzheimer’s diabetic mother in law, and now my Aunt who has Dementia your article is right on.
    I also agree with Dawn’s comment, we have an eleven year old grandson who has Autism and we discovered years ago that his diet affected his behavior, concentration, and motor skills levels and that just by eliminating artificial colors, dyes, and preservatives in his diet, and cooking from scratch with items with as little processing as possible has from made a dramatic difference.

    • Isn’t it amazing what a real food diet can do? Caregiving is a tough job! Good on you for taking care of your family! I hope you get enough respite to make it work for you.

  29. What a great post! I just shared on Pinterest.

    It makes a lot of sense that it is metabolic. Most Americans today have messed up hormones.

    There is some research to suggest that diabetes is caused by high cortisol.

    ““Diabetes” is often the diagnosis, when excess cortisol is the problem. The hormones have traditionally not been measured before diagnosing diabetes and prescribing insulin or other chemical to lower the blood sugar. Some of the worst effects of “diabetes,” including retinal damage, are caused or exacerbated by insulin itself.”

    – Ray Peat

    http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/glycemia.shtml

    • Thanks for sharing, Ann Marie! And thanks for the fascinating insight into cortisol and diabetes. The mechanism by which Alzheimer’s disease destroys the brain is extremely complex, more complex than I can understand in fact, but inflammation is a major factor in AD, just as it is in most chronic epidemic diseases we face today. And the relationship between cortisol and inflammation is very well understood; they go hand in hand.

      When it comes down to it, the great diseases of today seem to be little more than the repercussions of too much stress: emotional stress from toxic people and situations, dietary stress from malnutrition and toxic food, physiological stress from pollution and toxic chemicals, and physical stress from too little exercise, sunlight, sleep and relaxation—all of it triggering a cascade of modern health problems that are epigenetically determined by your unique genetic predisposition.

      • I do not know what causes dementia, but I do know how it affects the family. My mom was diagnosed with it at the age of 58. She and my dad both moved in with me 2 years later. My dad had cancer. Fortunately for me, my sister lived three miles up the street, so we split the overseeing of their care. I got mom up and ready for her day, and was the night shift. Fortunately for us we did have help during the day while i worked. This article said there is no silver lining…but there is. Due to this disease stealing my mother from us, we got to know my dad. All those previous years, all plans were made through mom. It was wonderful getting to know this man. My mom was a feisty New Englander, and fortunately the disease made a sweet lady out of her, finally i was able to dote on her, and hug and kiss her. Mom also made us laugh with the things that she said.

        Both my parent passed away in 2003, Dad in January, and mom in December.

        • Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Sharon. Blessings to you and your family!

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