Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s Disease

The weight loss and short-term health gains experienced by many Paleo 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 common “normal” (and supposedly age-related) illnesses like:

  1. Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  2. Cancer
  3. Diabetes
  4. Heart disease
  5. Stroke
  6. MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease
  7. Alzheimer’s and 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 at home.

Data from the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance show 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.

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 require the longest and costliest care  — including memory care at specialized 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® Connection to Diabetes Type 3 (Alzheimer’s)

Paleo dieters initially lose weight, gain energy, and boost health due to:

  1. Reduced or resolved intestinal permeability
  2. Decreased systemic inflammation
  3. Normalized insulin sensitivity


Their new lifestyle free of grains, legumes, refined carbohydrates, sugars, industrially processed seed oils, and other 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 and dramatic progress — resolving or abating serious health problems, including autoimmune and metabolic disorders. Many Type 2 diabetics report improvement, and this same success may now 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 (AGEs), 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 sub-optimal 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 diet and lifestyle. Results were impressive, with 90 percent of participants showing improvement. The study itself is relatively easy for non-scientists to read through, 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 include 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 and 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 Paleo diet enjoyed by their pre-agrarian ancestors. The worst that can happen is losing a few pounds and improving overall health.


Alzheimer's Disease and The Paleo Diet

One of the latest, fascinating publications from Science Daily, “Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed: Small trial succeeds using systems approach to memory disorders,” was called to my attention. The UCLA study suggests the potential lifestyle changes which may prevent or even reverse the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. This study has relevance to both aging Paleo Dieters and to Paleo Diet enthusiasts who may have parents or grandparents at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

First, let me point out that the study is anecdotal in nature, and until randomized controlled trials are carried out, it is premature to draw definitive conclusions. Yet the following recommendations have virtually no risks involved and a number of these recommendations occur spontaneously when people adopt contemporary Paleo Diets.  Let me address each of the 14 recommendations:

  1. Eliminating all simple carbohydrates, leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds;

The Paleo Diet is devoid of refined sugars and cereal grains, hence, it goes without saying that it is a lifetime program of eating that contains few simple carbohydrates.

  1. Eliminating gluten and processed food from her diet, with increased vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish;

Eliminating gluten from the diet may be therapeutic for the brain, nervous system, gut, immune and endocrine systems. Gluten containing grains upregulate one of the body’s own molecules called transglutaminase 2 which may be involved in the formation of molecules associated with brain lesions occurring in Alzheimer’s disease. There are absolutely no known nutritional or health risks with elimination of gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley) from your diet, and the health benefits are many.

I don’t think you will find nutritionists anywhere who do not recommend eating more fresh fruits and vegetables along with non-farmed fish.  These dietary recommendations are all mainstays of The Paleo Diet.

  1. To reduce stress, she began yoga;

Natural stress reducing activities such as yoga, exercise, walking, gardening, reading, interacting with friends, family and even pets should be encouraged for people of all ages.

  1. As a second measure to reduce the stress of her job, she began to meditate for 20 minutes twice per day;

Meditation has been demonstrated to produce multiple therapeutic effects for both mind and body.  Look no further than PUBMED for the scientific references.

  1. She took melatonin each night;

Improving melatonin metabolism has proven therapeutic effects upon sleep.  Less well appreciated is that the Paleo Diet is a low salt, low alcohol diet – both of which also are known to improve sleep and have beneficial effects upon melatonin metabolism.

  1. She increased her sleep from 4-5 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night;

Besides a low salt and alcohol diet, exercise can also improve sleep.

  1. She took methylcobalamin each day;

Normal melatonin metabolism required for proper sleep has frequently been demonstrated to be improved by vitamin B12 administration (either methylcobobalamin or cyanocobalamin). It should be noted that the Paleo Diet is naturally high in vitamin B12 because meat, eggs, fish and other animal products which are all excellent sources of vitamin B12 and consumed at virtually every meal.

  1. She took vitamin D3 each day;

The majority of elderly people in the US and elsewhere have been frequently shown to be deficient in vitamin D3, which really is not a vitamin at all, but rather a crucial hormone required for our body and mind’s optimal functioning.  As I have repeatedly stated in all of my popular books, if you cannot or do not get regular sunshine exposure, then this is one of the few supplements you will need to take on the Paleo Diet.

  1. Fish oil each day;

Fish oil is a concentrated source of two long chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), both of which have numerous therapeutic health effects upon the brain and nervous system. If you don’t eat fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines etc.) regularly then you will likely need to supplement with fish oil — one of the few supplements other than vitamin D that Paleo Dieters will need to consider.

  1. CoQ10 each day;

Natural concentrated sources of CoQ10 are meat, poultry and fish, which are staples in the Paleo Diet. There is little or no need to supplement with CoQ10 once you begin to eat meat poultry and fish at every meal.

  1. She optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush;

One of the little appreciated sources of chronic inflammation stems from our mouths. Numerous scientific studies show that plaque, gum disease and poor oral hygiene are known to increase systemic inflammation and be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Natural diets (like the Paleo Diet) which are high in soluble fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables and low in simple carbohydrates (refined sugars, refined grains) promote good oral health and reduced risk for dental caries.

  1. Following discussion with her primary care provider, she reinstated hormone replacement therapy that had been discontinued;

This is a controversial topic which will require an entire new article to address — stay tuned!

  1. She fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime;

From our non-published studies of meal frequencies in hunter-gatherers, at least two common patterns are apparent: 1) extended daily periods with little or no food, or 2) snacking throughout the day.

Pattern 1, frequently occurs when little or no food remains in “camp.” Consequently, men, women, and children set out typically in the morning to hunt, gather and forage for food. Their bounties are typically brought back to the home base and shared with everyone in a single large evening meal.

Frequently, foods are snacked upon as they are gathered. If sufficient food remains from the afternoon or evening meal, it is consumed continually for the next few days. These types of food procurement patterns produce patterns of fasting interspersed with patterns of snacking. Hence, it seems likely that fasting was a normal part of the human dietary pattern as hunter-gatherers.

  1. She exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-6 days per week.

As I have always said, any exercise is better than no exercise. And that exercise improves virtually all physiological measures including brain function.

In conclusion, I am supportive of the recommendations of this study. There are absolutely no health risks from following most of this advice, which dovetails nicely with Paleo dietary and health recommendations, yet the benefits may be great.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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