The weight loss and short-term health gains experienced by many Paleo Diet devotees can obscure the diet’s longer-term positive health benefits.
The greatest rewards for dedicated Paleo adherents may come well after the initial excitement wanes. As they head into their 80s and 90s (and beyond), devotees have every reason to expect abnormally healthy “platinum years.”
Sadly, they may watch their non-Paleo friends and family succumb over time to “normal” (and supposedly age-related) illnesses like:
- obesity and metabolic syndrome
- heart disease
- MS and Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s and other dementia
Lengthy periods of morbidity and disability often precede death with these conditions. The unwary may spend years unable to care for themselves, incurring huge expenses in assisted living, nursing facilities, or even home support.
Data from the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance shows that the longest active long-term care insurance claim is 20 years, 9 months as of 12/31/17, with paid benefits at $2.6 million dollars.
Extended long-term care episodes sharply diminish life quality, dignity, independence and family coherence—even as each passing year becomes irreplaceable.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias often cause the longest, and costliest care episodes—including specialized “memory care” at facilities.
Even worse, the strong cultural message remains: there is no way out.
Rejecting a disease-centric mindset
Most American and European seniors are groomed from infancy to accept chronic, debilitating disease as a fact of life.
Central to this acculturation is the idea that they are helpless in the face of encroaching disease—and that “no one really knows” why, or when, health will suddenly fail.
When it does, they resign themselves to invasive, demeaning, or largely palliative interventions, becoming perpetual patients. Their diseases—and treatments—define the remaining years of their lives.
The Alzheimer’s diagnosis weighs heaviest in this illness-centric mindset.
The bleak prospect of an “irreversible, incurable, unstoppable and ultimately fatal disease” –with uncertain years of increasing mental absence–crushes most families.
A parallel tragedy is the almost complete lack of public awareness that it may not have to be this way, that Alzheimer’s etiology is increasingly well-understood, and that dietary and lifestyle changes can actually arrest or reverse dementia symptoms.
The Paleo Diet and type 3 diabetes (Alzheimer’s)
Paleo dieters lose weight, gain energy, and boost health, initially, due to:
- Reduced or resolved intestinal permeability
- Decreased systemic inflammation
- Normalized insulin sensitivity
Their new lifestyle free of grains, legumes, refined carbohydrates, sugars, industrially processed seed oils and myriad unhealthy additives quickly relieves chronically stressed digestive and endocrine systems.
Nutrient-dense lean meats, sufficient healthy fats, micronutrient-rich vegetables and fruit then help the body repair (and literally rebuild) itself according to its original genetic design.
Dieters can make surprising, dramatic progress—resolving or abating serious health problems, including autoimmune and metabolic disorders. Many type 2 diabetics have reported improvement, and now this same success may extend to dementia and Alzheimer’s (known to researchers–if not family physicians–as type 3 diabetes for years.)
A growing body of knowledge shows that insulin resistance, the main driver of diabetes, may also contribute to cognitive impairment.
Carbohydrates as cognitive culprits
In 2012 the study Relative Intake of Macronutrients Impacts Risk of Mild Cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia linked high-carbohydrate diets and MCI. It also states that diets high in fat and protein may protect against this condition.
The study shows how high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diets create advanced glycation end products (AGE-s), increase oxidative stress, and contribute to amyloid plaque buildup in the brain. (These accumulated plaques are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s.)
See also this current Washington Times article by cardiologist Eric Thorn, entitled Carbohydrates are killing us. Dr. Thorn clearly and succinctly discusses the carbohydrate/diabetes connection, and real-world success with his own patients.
More recent looks at diabetes and Alzheimer’s
In 2016, Unraveling Alzheimer’s: Making Sense of the Relationship between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease examined several theories including the idea that insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), which regulates plasma insulin levels and reduces amyloid plaques in the brain, is made unavailable by suboptimal blood glucose management, contributing to the gradual onset of Alzheimer’s (not necessarily concurrently with diabetes.)
The 2018 study HbA1c, diabetes and cognitive decline: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, examined how blood glucose issues and insulin resistance pathology relate to cognitive problems.
Though a dense read for non-scientists, this study concludes:
“…our study provides evidence to support the association of diabetes with subsequent cognitive decline. Moreover, our findings show a linear correlation between circulating Hba1c levels and cognitive decline, regardless of diabetic status.” (Emphasis added.)
Note that both studies imply that elevated blood sugar, over time, can lead directly to Alzheimer’s without manifesting first as type 2 diabetes.
If Alzheimer’s can actually be viewed, and treated, as diet-induced insulin-resistance within the brain—what would treatment look like?
A unique (and effective) diet-and-lifestyle therapy
The 2014 UCLA study Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program, is still mostly unknown outside the research and Ancestral diet communities.
Though small in scope, and not a traditional double-blind clinical trial, the actual results of each included case study are clear enough to demand replication.
Dr. Loren Cordain gives an excellent overview of this pivotal study here.
The broad outlines of the therapies studied are very congruent with the Paleo lifestyle. Results were impressive, with 90 percent of participants showing improvement.
The study itself is relatively easy for non-scientists to read due in part to its use of diet and life strategies as primary curatives. The first change on the list of therapies:
“Patients [are] given [a] choice of several low glycemic, low inflammatory, low grain diets,” in order to “minimize inflammation, minimize insulin resistance.”
Other modalities used: stress reduction, sleep improvement, exercise, intermittent fasting and extensive dietary supplementation to optimize brain function. Diet changes included increasing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding farmed fish. Participants tailored their own diets, including grass fed beef and organic chicken.
Discussing results, the study says, “Results from the 10 patients reported here suggest that memory loss in patients with subjective cognitive impairment, mild cognitive impairment, and at least the early phases of Alzheimer’s disease, may be reversed, and improvement sustained, with the therapeutic program described here.”
Only one test subject, with late stage Alzheimer’s, did not respond to therapy.
90 percent success, even given the small number of subjects, simply cannot be ignored. This study cries out for for large-scale, double blind replication.
The 10 percent failure rate tells its own story: reversing advanced Alzheimer’s may not be within reach.
Better not to let it get that far.
Seniors considering the Paleo Diet should not hesitate
It’s clear that the modern Western diet, sugar-heavy, high in processed carbohydrates, wreaks havoc on blood glucose levels. The resulting insulin resistance has many pernicious effects on our health.
Seniors have been set up for health failure by a lifetime of unconsidered eating and questionable mainstream dietary advice. They will feel the consequences sooner than most.
Alzheimer’s and other lingering, purportedly “incurable” or “irreversible” conditions can empty their pocketbooks and reduce their lives to the four walls of a nursing home suite—if they don’t take quick action.
First and foremost, they should revert to the diet enjoyed by their pre-agrarian ancestors. The worst that can happen is losing a few pounds and improving overall health.