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Monbiot reports: "There is evidence that poor diet is one cause of Alzheimer's. If ever there was a case for the precautionary principle, this is it."

Junk food could lead to Alzheimer's. (photo: Creative Loafing)
Junk food could lead to Alzheimer's. (photo: Creative Loafing)


Alzheimer's Could Be the Most Catastrophic Impact of Junk Food

By George Monbiot, Guardian UK

15 September 12

 

There is evidence that poor diet is one cause of Alzheimer's. If ever there was a case for the precautionary principle, this is it

hen you raise the subject of over-eating and obesity, you often see people at their worst. The comment threads discussing these issues reveal a legion of bullies who appear to delight in other people's problems.

When alcoholism and drug addiction are discussed, the tone tends to be sympathetic. When obesity is discussed, the conversation is dominated by mockery and blame, though the evidence suggests that it may be driven by similar forms of addiction.

I suspect that much of this mockery is a coded form of snobbery: the strong association between poor diets and poverty allows people to use this issue as a cipher for something else they want to say, which is less socially acceptable.

But this problem belongs to all of us. Even if you can detach yourself from the suffering caused by diseases arising from bad diets, you will carry the cost, as a growing proportion of the health budget will be used to address them. The cost - measured in both human suffering and money - could be far greater than we imagined. A large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer's is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it: they call it type 3 diabetes.

New Scientist carried this story on its cover on 1 September; since then I've been sitting in the library, trying to discover whether it stands up. I've now read dozens of papers on the subject, testing my cognitive powers to the limit as I've tried to get to grips with brain chemistry. Though the story is by no means complete, the evidence so far is compelling.

About 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease worldwide; current projections, based on the rate at which the population ages, suggest that this will rise to 100 million by 2050. But if, as many scientists now believe, it is caused largely by the brain's impaired response to insulin, the numbers could rise much further. In the United States, the percentage of the population with type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to obesity, has almost trebled in 30 years. If Alzheimer's, or "type 3 diabetes", goes the same way, the potential for human suffering is incalculable.

Insulin is the hormone that prompts the liver, muscles and fat to absorb sugar from the blood. Type 2 diabetes is caused by excessive blood glucose, resulting either from a deficiency of insulin produced by the pancreas, or resistance to its signals by the organs that would usually take up the glucose.

The association between Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes is long-established: type 2 sufferers are two to three times more likely to be struck by this form of dementia than the general population. There are also associations between Alzheimer's and obesity and Alzheimer's and metabolic syndrome (a complex of diet-related pathologies).

Researchers first proposed that Alzheimer's was another form of diabetes in 2005. The authors of the original paper investigated the brains of 54 corpses, 28 of which belonged to people who had died of the disease. They found that the levels of both insulin and insulin-like growth factors in the brains of Alzheimer's patients were much lower than those in the brains of people who had died of other causes. Levels were lowest in the parts of the brain most affected by the disease.

Their work led them 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 has a host of functions: as well as glucose metabolism, it helps to regulate the transmission of signals from one nerve cell to another, and affects their growth, plasticity and survival.

Experiments conducted since then seem to support the link between diet and dementia, and researchers have begun to propose potential mechanisms. In common with all brain chemistry, these tend to be fantastically complex, involving, among other impacts, inflammation, stress caused by oxidation, the accumulation of one kind of brain protein and the transformation of another. I would need the next six pages of this paper even to begin to explain them, and would doubtless get it wrong (if you're interested, please follow the links on my website).

Plenty of research still needs to be done. But, if the current indications are correct, Alzheimer's disease could be another catastrophic impact of the junk food industry, and the worst discovered so far. Our governments, as they are in the face of all our major crises, seem to be incapable of responding.

In this country, as in many others, the government's answer to the multiple disasters caused by the consumption of too much sugar and fat is to call on both companies and consumers to regulate themselves. Before he was replaced by someone even worse, the former health secretary, Andrew Lansley, handed much of the responsibility for improving the nation's diet to food and drink companies - a strategy that would work only if they volunteered to abandon much of their business.

A scarcely regulated food industry can engineer its products - loading them with fat, salt, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup - to bypass the neurological signals that would otherwise prompt people to stop eating. It can bombard both adults and children with advertising. It can (as we discovered yesterday) use the freedom granted to academy schools to sell the chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks now banned from sale in maintained schools. It can kill off the only effective system (the traffic-light label) for informing people how much fat, sugar and salt their food contains. Then it can turn to the government and blame consumers for eating the products it sells. This is class war, a war against the poor fought by the executive class in government and industry.

We cannot yet state unequivocally that poor diet is a leading cause of Alzheimer's disease, though we can say that the evidence is strong and growing. But if ever there was a case for the precautionary principle, here it is. It's not as if we lose anything by eating less rubbish. Averting a possible epidemic of this devastating disease means taking on the bullies - both those who mock people for their pathology and those who spread the pathology by peddling a lethal diet.

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+19 # juliajayne 2012-09-15 22:27
I'm going to tell you that in my case, eating wheat gluten was a main culprit in my being fuzzy headed. My naturopathic physician linked a leaky gut to a leaky brain. And by gosh, I quit eating wheat, dairy (except for eggs and butter) and sugar and alas, my brain chemistry is so much better!

It's difficult to eat at restaurants, but it has become a very pleasurable lifestyle, as I've slimmed down, stabilized my blood pressure where I got rid of medication completely, as well as seen the anti-aging effects.

I urge everyone to quit eating pre-preparded foods and eat 5-6 fruits and veggies a day. Btw, I still eat meat, no pork though. It nourishes me best, as a type O blood type. Some others are natural vegetarians.

I hope this doesn't sound like a lecture, but the author and researchers are on to something here. I get excited telling people about my progress. And I had a pretty good diet before I started this, and was gobsmacked that I still needed to go the extra mile to be healthy, especially vis a vis my brain health.

Testify! lol!
 
 
+14 # solartopia.org 2012-09-15 23:07
a key component of this is aspartame, which is an excito=toxin and does huge nerve damage.

if you are drinking diet sodas or eating products with aspartame in any form, STOP NOW!!! MS, Parkinsons and a wide range of other neurological diseases can be caused by this horrible poison.
 
 
+6 # Glen 2012-09-16 08:29
Good point solar. I remember the initial research on this product. When aspartame was removed from the diet, the symptoms of these diseases disappeared. Addiction to the flavor of sugar/sweetness is hard to break, especially when one depends on it for a lift when stressed. It can be done, however.
 
 
+16 # Activista 2012-09-16 00:27
Well researched article - before you run to your doctor and pay $220 to get useless expensive drugs - start exercise and spend extra on healthy food.
Remember - everything is psychosomatic - healthy body is healthy mind - and vice versa - throw out TV, the junk poisoning your mind.
 
 
+16 # Scribe76 2012-09-16 04:30
Having read on nutrition since age 19 (now a senior) I certainly believe junk food and the thousands of chemicals added to food supply are major contributors to alzheimers as well as other chronic conditions. 70 years ago we averaged 25 lbs of sugar a year for each person. Today? They say 150!!!!
Not sure alzheimers is blamed totally on junk food. My father died of alzheimers and his diet was very good. What is dividing line between alzheimers and senility? The liver processes 500 functions, so, numerous conditions at play. My father was not athletic.Did not exercise. Did not overeat, loved his Oreo cookies.
Definitely poor diet, junk food with chemicals in it to make you eat more, preservatives, pollutants,dead food (not fresh)do contribute. I am a senior.In good health, no pills...(altern ative methods, supplements , homeopathic remedies, body work) has seen me through. Genes? or good eating? Quien sabe?
Like a house needs a good foundation, so do we regarding our health. Eat well, be social, walk/exercise, do good deeds and the rest is up to Destiny.
 
 
+16 # GGmaw 2012-09-16 05:49
I have been principal caregiver for my mother who died with Alzheimer's and my husband who has Alzheimer's. Neither were obese or even a little overweight. Both ate healthy food with very little junk food and soft drinks. I do believe Alzheimer's is environmentally caused - but many, many do not fit the described catagory.
 
 
+6 # Activista 2012-09-16 10:40
I do believe Alzheimer's is environmentally caused - I do also - just take a look what is in the water - herbicides, pesticides. It is systemic disease - many factors contribute.
Almost 50 years after Carlson "Silent Spring" we are still maximizing profit using pesticides and herbicides - can not comprehend this ...
 
 
+20 # RMDC 2012-09-16 06:14
If this turns out to be true, it will be a sort of poetic justice -- poisoned by capitalism and its insane drive to sell people junk for a lot of money. Poisoned by progress. My parents lived on a farm and produced most of the food they ate. They did lots of physical work. They lived to nearly 100 and never showed any signs of mental dementia, heart disease, cancer, or any of the rest of the health problems we in the city now face. There was a lot of fat in their diets since they ate a lot of meat, butter, milk, etc. But I guess the physical work took care of that.

Michael Pollin calls what we are sold to eat "industrially produced food like products." it is not food. It is an industrial product. The GMO corn grown in the US is not food. It is an industrial raw material. Like most industrial products, it is made to sell in the market and to be cheap. Nutrition and health really have noting to do with it.
 
 
+12 # Barbara K 2012-09-16 08:24
The people with Alzheimers that I have known were slim also. I don't know of any overweight people with Alzheimers, so I'm confused about that aspect. My dad was tall and slim and worked hard all his life, after retirement, he had a huge garden that he worked in daily, and he was an avid hunter and fisherman. The only junk food he ate was the donuts he loved for breakfast. This is very good info and I think there is still much to learn. I have been wondering about the ones who lived to be much older and ate all the things we now are told isn't good for us. I think the real key is the chemicals and poisons being added to our food now. Take those out and I think a lot of diseases could be stopped or cured.
 
 
+5 # Activista 2012-09-16 10:48
I think the real key is the chemicals and poisons being added to our food now. Take those out and I think a lot of diseases could be stopped or cured."
and chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, poisons) added to the environment - air, water.
Organic farmers using commercial manure that was produced by animals eating commercial hay treated by herbicides are now killing their vegetables with herbicide residue in the manure. Nothing is safe - environment is poisoned.
 
 
+7 # panhead49 2012-09-16 08:42
Thank you GGmaw for your comment. I took care of my very healthy father (except for the Alzhemiers) also until he passed at the age of 86 - missed 87 by one month.

Yeah, we do have a sugar/junk food problem - but a married couple that taught at our local high school both ended up with early age Alzheimers. Both brilliant minds, very healthy lifestyles. I believe that TBI needs to be looked at, more than ever as I've yet to meet any current I/A wars vet that hasn't had their 'bell rung'. It's not just a war thing - if you've ever been knocked unconscious you've had a TBI.
 
 
+7 # Glen 2012-09-16 08:42
Alzheimers is complicated. Only recently has research on the disease resumed. The findings years ago were overshadowed by the news and research on AIDS. At that time it was thought that aluminum of the type found in anti-perspirant s was a contributor, along with inflammation, etc. Environment and chemicals are now as prominent in the disease as with other diseases being caused by steroids in meat, anti-biotics, plastics, but also genetics.

I, too have known folks who have died with Alzheimers and realized there was a pattern with them, such as diabetes and sleep apnea.

RMDC, your parents, in addition to eating fats, no doubt ate a lot of beans and such that offsets fats. However, fats in the meat they produced I would guess, did not contain chemicals or steroids. My family were also farmers. The diseases they contracted were mostly the usual in aging, or were inherited.
 
 
+3 # panhead49 2012-09-16 13:40
My grandparents were very much like RMDC's Glen - and 3 out of 4 of them ended up with Alzheimers (one grandma with it passed at the age of 99 1/2 years).
 
 
+1 # Glen 2012-09-16 15:14
Do you think living longer puts more people at risk for Alzheimers? How old were your family members when the were diagnosed with the disease, panhead?
 
 
-6 # Phyllis M 2012-09-16 16:10
I do not thing what we eat has anything to do with I think it is I think it like diabetic some inheritic them some I think is cause by low IQ
 
 
0 # panhead49 2012-09-17 08:39
Morning Glen -sorry so long in responding. Maternal grandparents passed from this disease before the word Alzheimers had been heard, they were in their late 80's and their passing was in 1975 (within a month of each other). They may not have know who anyone else was but they seemed to know they always belonged together. The other grandma was in her early 90's. That Grandad never had any dementia, worked all his life for the Railroad, rode one of his Harleys to the wheelhouse every day come hell, high water or snow ass deep to tall turkey. He just plum wore himself out. I've learned since then that there are well over 200 types of dementia, Alzheimers is but one. So when someone sez they've seen an Alzheimers patient - that's true, they've seen one. EVERY case is different. Very grateful to the Redwood Caregivers Support crew out of Santa Rosa CA for support & info and the local caregivers that offer 'day programs' for caregivers respite 3 days a week.
 
 
0 # Glen 2012-09-17 15:59
No worries on the time responding. We are all busy and into other concerns.

It is interesting how many threads of lives are intertwined. I, too, had a grandfather who worked for the railroad.

In the past, this disorder was called hardening of the arteries, or similar. Yes, there are numerous types of dementia and it is very interesting, in spite of being tragic. I have a friend who drank a lot, has sleep apnea, and has Alzheimers, diagnosed at about age 60. He was a dignified, gentlemanly prosecuting attorney and now a judge and is performing nicely in spite of issues.

The main consideration is early diagnosis, correct medication, and treatment for such as sleep apnea (with a breather). As you say, it is tricky and much depends on care. There is a local nursing home that is not much to look at but is amazing in their care and the head nurse knows her medications, which has kept people alive and functioning well, far longer than predicted.

In spite of being long lived, nobody in my family has had Alzheimer's. Can't figure it out except genetics.
 

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