In 2014, approximately 5.2 million people in the U.S. suffered from Alzheimer’s; a number that is expected to triple by 2050.
Can Alzheimer’s be prevented?
Growing evidence suggests that diet and lifestyle can affect the brain and impact cognitive aging.
Dr. Karen Unger joins Dr. Friedman to share information contained in her new book, Brain Health for Life.
Unger shares how foods affect your brain, as well as how exercise and simple lifestyle changes can protect your cognitive functioning.
RadioMD Presents: To Your Good Health Radio | Original Air Date: April 23, 2015
Host: David Friedman, DC
Guest: Karen Unger, MSW, EdD
Chews-4-Health presents To Your Good Health Radio. Here are Melanie Cole M.S. and Dr. David Friedman.
MELANIE: Alzheimer’s affects more than five million people in the United States and this is expected to triple by 2050. Growing evidence suggests that diet and lifestyle can positively impact cognitive aging. For three decades our next guest has worked in the field of psychology, social work and mental health. Welcome author Brain Health for Life Dr. Karen Unger. Here’s Dr. David Friedman.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Dr. Unger, welcome to the show.
DR. UNGER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
DR. FRIEDMAN: There are so many horrific diseases out there but for me I can’t think of anything worse than Alzheimer’s disease. Our memories of events, friends and family really create who we are. So, to lose that while we are living, I really can’t think of anything more catastrophic. What can we do to protect our brain?
DR. UNGER: First of all, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging. They seem to be disease oriented. The reason I wrote the book is because there’s so much information out there. So much of it is misleading, we don’t really know how we can separate fact from fiction. So, I started to read everything that I possibly could from the popular books to the scientific journals and I came out with some really fairly simple ideas. In order to protect our brain, we need to eat good food. That means basically food that’s non-inflammatory. We need to exercise, get good sleep, and manage our stress and so on. We know a lot of those things but I thought that I needed to write it very clear so that people can look at it and say, “This is what I need to do.”
DR. FRIEDMAN: Right. You mentioned foods. Of course, we’ve heard different types of foods that are good and some to stay clear of. Kind of give us from what you’ve found, what are the best foods that are proactive for memory?
DR. UNGER: One of the best foods for our brain is fat. That’s part of the whole fiction “good for us”. But, in fact, it strengthens the brain. Our brain is 60% fat and the myelin that coats the brain cells is 70% fat. So, whatever good fat we can eat is really helpful. I know that you are a proponent of Omega 3’s. That’s certainly one of them. One of the most maligned is animal fat, which is actually very good for us. There was just an article, actually it was the cover article on Time Magazine that said that butter is back. That’s a good fat. Coconut oil, olive oil, so the more good fat we can eat, the better it is for our brains. I like to include in that avocados as well and nuts.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Wild raised salmon, what’s your opinion on that?
DR. UNGER: Absolutely.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Or wild caught not raised. Farm raised all the time is like 90% of the fish out there. I’m a big advocate of eating walnuts for memory. In fact, I actually used to eat an entire bag of them the night before my exams and I’m telling you, I saw a big difference in my ability to recall. I think I made better grades.
DR. UNGER: Absolutely. They are a great source but there is a down side to that and the walnuts are covered with something called lectin and it prevents the seed from being eaten by insects or mildew or whatever and it’s better if you can soak that off of them and then roast them on a very slow oven. That takes care of it and they taste very differently and they are much more mellow. They still contain all the wonderful Omega 3’s.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Good tip. That’s some good advice. What is your opinion on fish oil supplements? We had Dr. Sears on here who’s a big advocate of it and he said that 90% of it is pretty rancid and you have to be careful. What’s your take on fish oil supplements?
DR. UNGER: In the research that I did, it looks like they are pretty well regulated. I heard that interview and how I counteract that is I drink the fish oil. I take it by teaspoons because I know it’s highly refined. I guess you have to look into the companies. But, it was contradictory because I looked at all the standards that has to go through and I think it’s relatively safe.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Right. So, you take that, then, personally?
DR. UNGER: Absolutely. And I take the cod liver oil.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Yes. That’s what my grandma used to tell us to take. It still holds true today. The old advice still holds up.
DR. UNGER: It still holds up but it doesn’t have that horrible taste anymore.
DR. FRIEDMAN: Yes. That’s right. So, you shared a couple of things that are proactive, that are good. What about foods that do the opposite, anything we need to stay away from?
DR. UNGER: Well, the two that I find most harmful are grains because they, again, have that coating and we don’t usually soak them and then they are highly inflammatory for a lot of people. We know about Celiac disease which affects the small intestine but what we don’t hear so much about is how the grains affect the brain – the neurons and so on. We have to be careful of that. It’s not the Celiac disease but it’s the gluten sensitivity that causes the problem. The other things are, of course, processed foods we don’t want to eat those any more than we have to. Very appealing. I think if we can stick to whole foods. Also, I wanted to mention beans as well. At lot of the foods, traditionally, had been soaked or processed in some way to get rid of those lectins or coatings that are poisonous to our digestive system. So, we don’t do that very often. But the native people and our ancestors did that. Even our grandmas and grandpas did that. They processed the grain and they processed the food that we ate – the vegetables and so on.
DR. FRIEDMAN: You talk about inflammation. When people hear that they think of a swollen knee or arthritis or what happens when you get stung by a bee. Share how inflammation within can even be a bigger detriment to our health.
DR. UNGER: They are beginning to understand that inflammation is really the cause of most diseases. What it does is it causes inflammation in the brain cells, for example, it causes inflammation in our digestive system so that we get a leaky gut so that the food that is not fully digested goes into our blood stream and causes inflammation. We have inflammation from our toxins and from all the different things in our environment like our cleaning products and so on. We need to stay away from the processed foods, particularly genetically modified corn and soybeans. Did that help?
DR. FRIEDMAN: Yes that makes sense. The subtitle of your book is Beyond Pills, Politics and Popular Diets. What do those three things have to do with brain health?
DR. UNGER: First of all, the USDA has not been a friend to our health. With the food pyramid and now, again, with the food plate they emphasize eating carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important in terms of a fuel source but they have a lot of down side. They downplay the importance of fat which I think is so vital to our diet. So, that’s one thing. The second thing is that when we have any kind of illness or malady, we want to take a pill and that has been a problem because when we go to the doctor the first thing they give us is a pill. Rather than emphasizing exercise, diet, lifestyle changes, we take a pill. The drug industry, for example, has been fined billions of dollars for misrepresenting their drugs, for promoting them for things that they aren’t necessarily good for. In some cases, fixing their scientific studies so that they are misrepresented. That’s why I wanted to look at how we get to where we are going. Part of it is government suggestions for what we eat.
DR. FRIEDMAN: It’s great that you’ve pieced those three things together because when you first see them you don’t see the relative but you’ve made it all synergistic. You’re hitting all three avenues to really address this serious issue. It’s great that you are coming forward and I hope a lot of people grab this book and read it because it is a serious, serious issue, not just for Alzheimer’s disease but people want to protect their memory. As we age we lose that cognitive thought so this would be beneficial for all those that want to increase their memory power. Thank you very much for being on the show.
MELANIE: Thank you so much. For more information about Dr. Karen Unger or to purchase a copy of her latest book go to brainhealthforlife.net. While you’re there be sure to subscribe to her blog and if you missed any of the great information here you can listen anytime on demand or on the go at toyourgoodhealthradio.com.
This is Melanie Cole with Dr. David Friedman. Stay well and stay tuned.