When we come across a new truth we can see how it connects to larger truths. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, strange, or paradigm-shifting. Sometimes it’s so logical we wonder how it’s not part of our everyday conversation.
Lately I’ve been reading new research findings. What I’m seeing amplifies what we can see on a larger scale—that we need to work with nature rather than try to control it. In terms of our health that means we must look very carefully at how tactics we’ve used to subvert nature’s designs (relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, feeding grains to ruminants, overprocessing foods, genetically modifying foods, super obsessive hygiene, and so on) come back to affect us (and our planet) in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Let’s talk a little about Alzheimer’s research. It’s good news!
I got my first real job when I was 13. It was at a nursing home, where I fed residents who were unable to feed themselves. It was a heart-wrenching experience. There were a few people who suffered from cognitive decline, mostly due to stroke or hardening of the arteries. But most people were there because they couldn’t manage living alone after developing heart disease or emphysema, breaking a hip, going blind, or other overwhelming physical problem. Their frailty frightened me but I also learned a great deal from people 70 and 80 years older than me. In that 100 bed unit, back in the 1970’s, there wasn’t a single patient with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sure, the life-disintegrating disease was first identified in 1901. And yes, detection and diagnosis may very well change the way we track those numbers. Still it’s clear there’s an massive increase in the incidence of Alzheimer’s. It’s seen most often in the developed world, while in rural areas of India and China the risk is very slight. This devastating disease robs of us of our loved ones. It deprives our culture of the elder wisdom we so desperately need. I know of several people who developed it in their late 50’s and early 60’s. I know people suffering with it now. It’s not the new normal.
Recently, some amazing studies have emerged. They aren’t particularly useful to the pharmaceutical industry, where research is geared to big profits in prescription drugs. They aren’t easily applied by the medical establishment which leans toward medications, treatment, and surgeries. Instead they have much more to do with what we eat and the way we live. The clues lead not only to breakthroughs in understanding Alzheimer’s disease but also the rise in autism. Please read the linked information, as I’m only giving a brief overview.
We’ve been advised by experts for decades that dietary cholesterol causes heart disease (it doesn’t, no matter how exhaustively you look at the research). We’ve been prescribed a lifetime of statins when our cholesterol levels are deemed “too high” even though cholesterol is essential for brain function. We’ve been told to eat low fat diets, particularly to avoid foods that we humans have been eating for eons. We’re even told our friend the sun, which fuels all life on this planet, is an enemy best defeated with sunscreen.
Yet we are substantially fatter, developing autoimmune disorders at epidemic rates, with a terrifying surge in autism and Alzheimer’s disease. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine forecasts a decline in life expectancy in the US. Clearly we’re on the wrong path.
Blood sugar surges, infection, and inflammation are a few of the many interrelated ways that our brains suffer from an unnatural diet. I urge you to read the technical but entirely worthwhile article by MIT researcher Stephanie Seneff, titled “APOE-4.” To me it reads like a detective work starting with how our brains function, then following clues the brain gives us. She explains how cholesterol contributes to healthy brain function, which is why she urges daily intake of natural fats along with high levels of protein. She also points to the importance of maintaining normal vitamin D and calcium levels while avoiding the rush of elevated blood sugar that comes from eating much of today’s processed foods. Following her recommendations helps to steer the body away from inflammation and infection which can seriously impair brain health. She also has nothing nice to say about statin drugs.
Her report is in keeping with more recent research (building on studies done over the last few years) that Alzheimer’s disease is related to damage caused by years of blood sugar spikes, which are the side effect of the average western diet. It’s being called diabetes of the brain or type 3 diabetes. This has been all over the news that last few weeks with headlines like “Junk food destroys the brain.” It’s quite a bit more complicated than that (for example, mindfulness practices like meditation reduces inflammation too) but those headlines aren’t lying.
This research also ties in to the increased incidence of autism. A low fat diet plus low vitamin D levels can cause changes to a fetus’ developing brain (please read all the way through this linked article for details). This sets off a cascade of issues, including poor calcium uptake and inflammation. Other promising research links a pregnant woman’s inflammatory response to higher rates of autism in her child. There are other underlying factors, including immune systems that are insufficiently challenged due to overly hygenic lifestyles and even the absence of parasites. And again, it’s much more complicated. It can be related to the father’s age, to gut bacteria, even to one’s ethnic group. Some say autism is the next step in human development, opening us to wider neurodiversity. Neuratypical individuals have unique skills and perspectives that offer society new avenues for progress.
There’s no fault implied in any of these studies. We do the best we can with what we know. But maybe today’s brains are struggling to tell us that well-meaning attempts to make our lives better with sterile environments, processed food, and indoor lives simply takes us too far from our roots in nature. Maybe they’re telling us pollution does more than obscure a nice view. More research needs to be done, but there’s plenty we can do right now.
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