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Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #4: Beating Brain Disease the #3 Killer

Posted on January 28 2018

Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, offers compelling arguments that what we eat can significantly influence the likelihood of suffering brain damage from Alzheimer’s and stroke. Brain disease is the third most prevalent cause of death among Americans (130,000 per year from stroke, and 85,000 per year from Alzheimer’s disease), but the tragedy of Alzheimer’s is multiplied by the millions of Americans who suffer from the disease for years before dying, a tragedy that not only impacts the sufferer but their families (the Alzheimer’s Foundation estimates that 15 million friends and family members supply more than 15 billion unpaid hours of care every year for loved ones with Alzheimer’s).

So, let’s start by taking a hard look at Alzheimer’s disease. Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease is genetic in origin. Researchers have discovered that the ApoE4 gene (a variant of the ApoE gene that all people have, called apolipoprotein E4) makes you more susceptible to getting Alzheimer’s. Getting one ApoE4 gene from one of your parents increases your risk of Alzheimer’s by 300%. If you inherit ApoE4 genes from both your parents, your risk increases by 900%. But an interesting fact strongly indicates that we can control the likelihood of getting the disease even though we can’t control our genetic legacy. It turns out that the people with the highest incidence of carrying the ApoE4 gene are Nigerians. But, Nigerians also have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. How can that be? Well, the explanation may be found in the fact that Nigerians also have extremely low levels of cholesterol in their blood stream, thanks to a diet consisting primarily of grains and vegetables that is very low in animal fats.

We have already seen the impact of high levels of cholesterol from animal fats on heart disease (see Healthy “Artful Living” Blog #2, How to Beat Heart Disease). It turns out that cholesterol impacts brain disease, also. In one study of a thousand people over a period of two decades, the presence of the ApoE4 gene doubled the odds of getting Alzheimer’s, but among those same subjects, high cholesterol nearly tripled the odds.

So, it appears that eating a more plant-based, low-cholesterol diet can substantially reduce your chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s, or substantially delay the onset of the disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease that gradually progresses over long periods of time. Autopsies of people in their fifties show that half of them have signs of the disease, and even 10% of people in their twenties. So, changing your diet to a more plant-based diet over the long term can improve your outcomes because eating plant-based foods rather than animal-based foods reduces your cholesterol levels and reduces the ratio of saturated fats to unsaturated fats. The Harvard Women’s Health Study found that the women with the highest saturated fat intake (primarily from dairy, meat, and processed foods) had a 60%-70% greater chance of cognitive deterioration over time. Women with the lowest saturated fat intake had the brain function of women six years younger.

Plant-based foods like fruit and vegetable juices are especially effective in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, probably because they are rich in powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. A study that followed two thousand people for about eight years found that people who drank fruit and vegetable juices regularly appeared to have a 76% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So, your diet can substantially reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It also appears that exercise can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, too. In a 2010 study published in the Archives of Neurology researchers took a group of people who already exhibited mild cognitive impairment (like forgetting things or repeating themselves, hmmm…this sounds too familiar) and had them do aerobic exercise for 45-60 minutes per day, four days per week, for six months. Based upon memory tests taken before and after the experiment, the exercising group’s memory performance improved. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps preserve brain tissue.

What about stroke? We already studied heart attacks in Blog #2 caused by high cholesterol. A stroke is like a heart attack, but in the brain. Plaque buildup from high levels of cholesterol in the blood can block blood flow to the brain (a stroke) just like it can block blood flow to the heart (heart attack). But not all strokes are sudden and catastrophic. It is possible to suffer mini-strokes, or silent strokes, that block blood flow for just a few moments, but still result in killing off a tiny part of the brain. Since we already know that a more plant-based diet can reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood stream from animal and processed food sources, we know that eating more plant-based foods will help us avoid strokes. But there is another dietary aid we need to consider incorporating more of into our daily diet-fiber. A number of studies now show that high-fiber intake can also help ward off the possibility of a stroke.

Fiber appears to reduce the risk of a number of cancers as well as stroke. Unfortunately, only 3% of Americans eat the recommended daily amount of fiber (25 grams per day). This is because the typical American diet is high in animal-derived foods (which have no fiber) and processed foods (which typically have little). The best source of fiber in your diet is plant-based foods. Animals have bones to hold them up. Plants have fiber to do the same thing. Thus, we get fiber from eating plants.

And given the low level of fiber in our diets to begin with, it doesn’t take much to substantially increase our fiber intake. In fact, for every additional gram of fiber we regularly consume, we reduce our risk of stroke by about 1%. So, eating a bowl of oatmeal with berries on top, or a serving of baked beans would provide you with about 7 grams of fiber. If you incorporated these into your daily diet, you would decrease your risk of stroke by about 7%. Not a bad tradeoff.

And, a happy coincidence! Not only are fruit and vegetable juices helpful in reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s, but it turns out that citrus fruit and juices are associated with reduced stroke risk. Citrus fruit is high in a phytonutrient called hesperidin which increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain.

Another health tip is to be sure to get 7 to 8 hours sleep which is also helpful in reducing the risk of stroke. A recent study of 150,000 Americans showed that higher stroke rates were found among individuals sleeping less than six hours and more than nine hours per night. Those with the lowest rate of strokes averaged seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Large studies in Europe, China, and elsewhere have confirmed that seven to eight hours of sleep are associated with lower risk of stroke.

Well, you now have the formula for reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and stroke: eat a more plant-based diet high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, exercise aerobically, and get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. While Juice Plus whole food fruit and vegetable nutritional supplements can’t directly help out with the exercise and sleep portions of this formula for healthy living, they certainly can assist you in consuming more plant-based foods and nutrients. And Juice Plus Complete Shake Mix can also provide you with more fiber in your diet. In fact, one serving of Complete Shake Mix provides eight grams (one-third) of your daily recommended consumption of fiber. Juice Plus Complete protein powder is better for you than whey protein, which is made from milk (an animal product), because it is a completely plant based, minimally processed soy, chickpea, pea and rice product. Most whey protein powders also do not have any fiber, so the Juice Plus Complete is, well, more complete. It is true that whey protein powders have more protein than Juice Plus Complete (which has 13 grams of protein per serving), but unless you are a body builder, you don’t need all the extra protein from the whey protein powder because you get sufficient protein from all the other things you consume. And, Complete is delicious, too, and comes in chocolate and vanilla flavors. Complete (in both sample packets and regular size) and the other Juice Plus products are available at Objects of Desire Artful Living. Try Juice Plus, and you will see how easy it is to improve your health through whole food, plant-based nutrition.



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