Gluten – a Sticky Situation

Gluten is an important piece of this healthy brain puzzle. It is the glue found in wheat, barley and rye and if sensitive to it can adversely affect brain health. Signs outside of celiac disease include “the prevalence of extra intestinal symptoms, such as behavioral changes, bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, leg numbness, weight loss and chronic fatigue.” (Saponeetal.BMC Medicine 2012, 10:13) Generally gluten free diets are only recommended to those with Celiac Disease but that ignores a large population who are still sensitive to it with different sorts of symptoms suffering unnecessarily. However most patients who display neurological manifestations that may result from a gluten sensitivity (e.g. ADHD, depression, or headaches) have no signs of gastrointestinal upset.


Dr. Perlmutter proves this point through a case study involving a 66 year old man plagued with severe headaches on a daily basis for 30 years. Drugs taken were Vicoden® and Imitrex® daily. After blood work, it was discovered he was gluten as well as dairy sensitive that resulted in a diet eliminating those foods. After 3 months he was having 2 to 3 headaches per month with his worst one rated as a 5 out of 10 in the level of pain. He is no longer on his previous medications.

Gluten sensitivity can lead to a variety of conditions as stated in Dr. Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain. Some of these include depression, headaches, movement disorders, ADHD, Autism, anxiety, brain fog, and neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia etc. While Dr. Perlmutter advocates that a gluten free diet is best for most, he does caution people. While there are many products out there which are gluten free, read the label for carbohydrate content. Prepared gluten free bakery items still have the high content of carbohydrates.


So beware of what is in your prepared foods. Grains and Starches that contain gluten are barley, bulgur, couscous, farina, graham flour, kamut, matzo, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale, wheat and wheat germ. Any of these items can be found in common prepared foods such as canned baked beans, blue cheeses, cold cuts, flavored coffees and teas, fruit fillings and puddings, ketchup and mayonnaise. Those items may be renamed as yeast extract, soy protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, dextrin and a number of others listed in the Grain Brain book. “ Chance favors the Prepared Mind,” Louis Pasteur




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Carbs and Inflammation: A Deathly Duo!

Inflammation is the body’s response to some sort of stress and is not to be turned on for a prolonged period of time. It tells us the body is trying to defend itself against something that is potentially harmful. So if the body is constantly under assault, the inflammation response stays on. This can adversely affect our brain health.


According to Dr. Perlmuttter, two things increase inflammation in the body and ultimately create havoc to the brain – carbohydrates and gluten. He argues that as a species we are genetically and physiologically identical to our predecessors whose diet was composed of 75 percent (healthy) fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates. Our bodies were not designed to eat the onslaught of carbohydrates that are typical of a North American diet – (60 percent carbohydrates) and furthermore what is considered “normal” blood glucose levels are not necessarily optimum and only reflect what the average scores are.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study involving 2067 adults. Their blood glucose levels and cognitive assessments were given in the beginning and every two years following. The findings showed that those who were assessed with what was considered to be “normal” blood sugar levels (105 ish) began to develop a significant increase risk for dementia. With these findings in mind, Perlmutter says we need to redefine what is normal and chooses the term “optimal” being 95 or lower. In this study, the journal states, “ … our data provided evidence that higher glucose levels are associated with an increased risk of dementia. NEJM 369;6 Aug.8,2013) In effect, your dietary choices keep you in the driver’s seat when it comes to increasing chances of developing dementia for “which at this time there is no cure.”


Higher normal fasting glucose is associated with atrophy in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the memory centre of the brain. In a study published in Neurology 2012;79:1019-1026. They looked at 266 cognitively healthy adults and measured their fasting glucose and conducted a MRI scan to measure their hippocampus. They repeated this 4 years later. At the end, they found a direct correlation to elevated blood glucose levels to the shrinkage of the hippocampus.

The reason for this according to Dr. Perlmutter is a process called glycation. This occurs when glucose binds with protein and occurs especially when glucose levels are elevated and is directly related to the formation of inflammation and free radicals according to the Journal of Neural Transmission . Furthermore glycated proteins produce nearly 50 fold more free radicals than non-glycated ones. This is far more aggressive than carrying the Alzheimer’s gene and unlike your genes, is under your control. Obvious from this formula, reducing glucose levels by reducing carbohydrate consumption will alleviate this but the second ingredient to solving this is by adding fat to the diet.


“Some of the largest companies are now using brain scans to study how we react neurologically to certain foods, especially sugar.  They’ve discovered the brain lights up for sugar the same way it lights up for cocaine.”  Michael Moss, Author,  Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hook Us

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Your Brain Unglued

“Your brain … Weighs three pound and has one hundred thousand miles of blood vessels.It contains more connections that there are stars in the Milky Way, is the fattest organ in your body. It could be suffering this very minute without you having a clue.” David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain.


In this book, Dr. Perlmutter argues that much of brain disease can be prevented by the choices we make. He backs his opinion with scientific studies along with his own experience as a neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. While he addresses many issues in Grain Brain, he targets his concentration toward preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and warns the reader that the incidences of this being diagnosed is now at 54 million and predicts by the year 2030, this number will have doubled. Furthermore the cost for treating this debilitating disease is substantial, exceeding the costs for treating cancer and heart disease. But even if at this moment, you or a loved one is not facing this disease, the program that Perlmutter advocates can assist with ADHD, anxiety, chronic stress, chronic headaches and migraines, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, focus and concentration problems, insomnia, inflammatory conditions, intestinal problems as well as overweight and obesity


His formula is simple. He believes underpinning Alzheimer’s Disease is inflammation which in turn increases free radicals that destroy brain cells because of oxidative stress. In the case of Alzheimer’s, this results in a decreased amount of Acetyl Choline. If we control the inflammation, we can reduce our chances of getting it. He examines on two main ingredients to producing inflammation.

The next few blogs will focus on the main two things in Dr. Perlmutter’s view contribute toward inflammation as well as the key ingredient to promoting brain health. More information can be found in his book, Grain Brain and Grain Brain Cookbook, and it is worth studying. It is provocative and encouraging. If you get anything from this, you can alter your chances of getting this debilitating disease for which “there is presently no treatment.”

“Do not borrow the productions of other men’s brains and pens and recite them as a lesson; but make the most of the talents, the brain power, that God has given you. Ellen G White

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