After treating thousands memory disorder patients and seeing too much suffering, neurologist David Perlmutter decided to write book (Grain Brain) on the subject. As he had already written 3 books about brain health, he knew that people do not care. In order to get the message across, he had to develop controversial scandal (bread melts your brain), so that media would propagate it for free. This strategy worked pretty good, the book became a huge success and many people learned important information about how to prevent memory diseases.
The book is obviously written in the low-carb and paleo market niche. The author’s theories of a whole grains are very controversial. Modern science does not really support the idea that the carbs would be harmful (eg,. Potato, rice, fruits, and berries). On the contrary, people on the islands of Okinawa eat a lot of rice, noodles, beans, fruits, whole grains, or a high carbohydrate diet, and yet they have less memory disorders than in Western countries. Healthy carbohydrates were never the problem, the real problem can be found from a empty carbohydrates, soda pops, junk foods, processed vegetable oils and other inappropriate food for humans.
Anyway, the book is full of good information about how you can promote your brain health and prevent memory disorders. Pick up the best pieces and make your own research on the subject.
Please note: these are just my notes from a Grain Brain (The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers) book by neurologist David Perlmutter. As always there might be typing errors or misconceptions, so make sure to check the actual book make your own research on the subject. These products and information on this page are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This website is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a medical, psychological, or psychiatric problem, or a disability that requires medical attention, then you should consult your licensed medical doctor or appropriate health care provider. It’s wise to always consult your medical doctor regarding your medical care. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on a website.
Grain brain book summary
We are designed to be wise, throughout life, your brain is designed to work well until a last breath. Most of us assume that age brings cognitive decline, thinking that it is an inevitable part of aging. This is a pernicious fallacy, as the real problem is that you do not live suitable life style for your genes, and that’s why diseases occur.
Memory disorders are growing problem almost worldwide. The cost of just Alzheimer’s disease is estimate to be around $605 billion yearly, which is about 1% of the entire total global gross domestic product (GDP).
The increase can no longer be explained by the fact that people live longer now, because disease is affecting people under age 55.
I live in Finland, and know that people here eat a lot grain and processed vegetable oils (like canola oil). Grains and bread is part of a almost every meal here, its on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper. And if you look death rate statistics on dementia / Alzheimer’s disease, Finland has number 1 spot. Is this just a coincidence, or are grains really dangerous to our health? I don’t know the answer, so lets take a look what neurologist David Perlmutter says in his book Grain Brain…
Here is some points from the book:
Fat is brains best friend
The brain itself is about 70% fat, and the main brain vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Nothing in a human body functions optimally without a fat, every single cell in body needs saturated fat. processed vegetable oils are not optimal nourishment for the brain, even thought marketers might claims so.
Our ancestors ate: 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% of carbohydrates. nowadays people eat 60% carbohydrates, 20% fat, and protein. The human body is not designed to withstand this kind a carbohydrate bombing. Our ancestors hunter-gatherers, eated mainly “bad” saturated fat from animals, and sugar mainly from berries or fruits depending on to the season.
*Personal note: It’s possible that in Europe and in a other cold countries our ancestors eated low carbohydrate diet and ~75% of calories were derived from fatty food. But hunter-gatherers in a warm countries has always eaten a lot of carbs and fruits over the years. For example, the Kitavans (In Western isolated tribe that lives almost like the natives) receive approximately 70% of calories from carbohydrates. And now it is known that even hunter-gatherers used at least some kind of grain and seeds (1, 2)
Respects your genome: The author says: if you do not take anything else from this books, take this. People have eaten a high-fat diet for at least 2 million years. The development of agriculture brought plenty of cereals to our diet about 10,000 years ago. On average, it takes 40 to 70,000 years before the DNA is encoded to withstand change like this. It will take about 30,000 years before the human DNA would be able to adapt to a full-time high-carb diet.
(*Personal Note: Although the paleo believers will tell you that the human genome has not changed any in the last ten thousand years, in reality, there is at least some changes. And the evolution did not develop us to be dependent on what our ancestors eated, but to take advantage of what was available. Paleo writers obviously dont tell you this, because this information would not actually sell the books.)
In this study it was found that a relatively high caloric intake from carbohydrates and low calorie intake of fat and protein may increase the risk of developing dementia as an old man.
Author puts omega-6 fats to the “bad fats category”, that cause inflammation and their large use is connected to the brain diseases such as dementia – (see study).
Nowadays people consume up to 20 times more omega-6 fats than our ancestors. Hunter-gatherers did not use much omega-6 vegetable oil-containing foods (such a margarine, canola, corn, soybean oil). They ate mainly plant-based diet with seafood, lamb, buffalo, venison, beef, which had a lot of omega-3 fats. (Currently mass-produced and grain fed meat has about 3-5 times less omega-3 fatty acids, than a grass-fed animal, however both have almost the same amount of a omega-6 fatty acids. See this study)
What if all of our brains are allergic to gluten?
ADHD, anxiety, chronic stress, headaches and migraines, depression, diabetes, bowel, memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease and obesity seem to increase at the same rate as use of cereals (including whole grain) goes up. There is gluten everywhere, from ice-creams to skin creams. The book has a lot of info about a gluten, and every one should avoid it, as gluten might raise inflammatory cytokines. If you are allergic to gluten, avoiding it is essential, whether you have celiac disease or not.
While grains and carbohydrates were rare food in our ancestors diet, also same can be said of sugar. Hunter-gatherers only got natural sugar in the form of berries and fruits, as well as rarely found beehive. To get the same amount of sugar what is on 11oz soft drink can, our ancestors had to collect and eat about half a pound of blueberries (which were available only 2-3 months per year).
Nature made sugar hard to get, and the current food industry made it too easy. The current situation reflects that a cave man would find and eat a beehive every single day. Evolution is not yet prepared us to situation like this, and there will be problems if you can not limit your sugar intake. Almost all of us gets too much sugar, from a completely unnatural sources. No wonder why our waist circumference, blood glucose, appetite, adult-onset diabetes is on the rise… (Diabetes doubles your risk to developing Alzheimer’s disease).
Try to eat sugar only from natural sources such as fruits and berries (Eg. Blueberries, as studies suggest that it might slow cognitive decline and improve memory 1, 2, 3 ).
20 to 30 grams of sugar per a day is pretty much the maximum amount you should consume. Remember: if you drink one 11 oz soft drink bottle you get twice that amount.
Fat makes our brains smaller?
Most of us knows that excess fat is unhealthy, but did you know that it might also be very harmful to your brain. Did you think that fat is just stored calories for a rainy day and only passively resides in your body?
The author notes the following: fat is one of the most active organ in our body. Especially visceral fat is well known to be capable producing inflammation, and to interfere with a body’s normal hormonal activity. Excess fat increases inflammatory chemicals that lead directly to brain deterioration and insulin resistance.
In studies it has been found that larger waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) equals smaller hippocampus. Hippocampus has a critical role in memory functions and its function depends entirely on its size. Also they found that those who have a larger belly, has higher risk to get slight stroke which is connected to a deterioration of brain function. Every pound of excess fat reduce the size of your brain and increases risk of developing brain diseases. (See studies 1, 2, 3)
Power up your brain
Fasting for brain power
Humans has the ability to change fat storages for vital fuel for a brain (ketones and beta-hydroxybutyrate). When a person has not eaten for about three days, brain starts to use an alternative energy source, and begins to use the ketones as fuel (instead of glucose). This will enhance the activity of the brain, causing stimulation and energetic presence that motivates humans to go hunting for a food. This ability has born in the evolution, it enables humans to operate when food intake is low or it runs out completely.
Modern People can use this survival ability to their advantage, even though we are not starving (at least in western countries). Researchers have found that the beta-hydroxybutyrate not only enhance brain activity but it can also protect your brain. (study)
According to the author, fasting also speeds up the weight loss, improves cognition abilities, antioxidant function, mitochondrial energy production, raises BNDF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and growth hormone levels. It might also stimulates the growth of new cells in a brain, enhances the Nrf2 pathway which might reduces the inflammation and improve the efficiency of a brain protective antioxidants.
In short, fasting helps energy production and pave the way for better brain function. You might get same benefits also with a ketosis diet (removing carbohydrates from a diet).
Exercise and brain health
Nowadays many people are looking for nootroops (brain function-enhancing supplements or drugs), even the best brain activity enhancer is an exercise. People have always been physically active – in hunter-gatherer times just getting food intake required a lot of walking, hunting, etc. We are created to be athletic. Although we no longer have to hunt and defend ourselves from predators, our genome is waiting for regular physical activity and quite a few honor it.
Exercise might be one of the reasons why our brains grew so big (thought social learning might also played big role, described in book: Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect). We can see same thing in animals too, as the most mobile individuals have a largest brains. The same theory has also been tested in rats raised to be a “marathon runners”. BDNF levels and other growth stimulating hormones are rising as rat is running more. (didnt find the sourced study)
Anyway, if movement developed our bigger brain, is reasonable to assume that we need exercise for optimal health.
The most natural and the most primitive form of exercise for man is walking, and maybe small spurts between walking (hunting). Even a mere 40-minute walk per week has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, and thus improve memory (see study).
In summary: Exercise to turn longevity genes on, and raises “brain growth hormone” BDNF levels, aids growth of new brain cells, and might also prevents memory decline in older people people.
Supplements for brain (from Grain Brain)
Turmeric – Is a commonly used spice in India and Asian countries. Turmeric contains Curcumin, a substance that is a powerful antioxidant. Curcumin neutralizes free radicals and stimulates the body’s own antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione. Curcumin is also very effective in reducing inflammation. Curcumin is claimed to be up to effective as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, and has also been tested in human trials.
Study made in Thailand tested turmeric in pain reduction and function improvement in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Result: 2 grams of turmeric / day for 6 weeks did work as well as ibuprofen. (study)
Animal studies have suggested that curcumin can prevent the formation of beta-amyloid plaque in a brain (one symptom / cause of Alzheimer’s disease). People in the 6-month double-blind study, turmeric Group MMSE test (test of cognitive functioning) results remained same – whereas the placebo group had worsened results.(Examine.com/curcumin 5.5).
Turmeric can be one of the reasons why mortality to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is so low in countries where it is commonly used. And the best part of turmeric is cheap and safe, and it does not cause any side effects in healthy people, so basically everyone can benefit from it. Thought more studies are needed before we can draw proper conclusions.
Turmeric should always be taken with black pepper, as piperine in black pepper increase curcumin absorption (study).
Turmeric should be used as spice, 1-2 grams a day. (black pepper increases absorption.) There might be side effects with a anticoagulation drugs and cholelithiasis, curcumin may also affect chemotherapy treatments, in these cases consult your physician before using it.
Turmeric will be certainly found in natural stores and most of the markets, but most sensible solution is to get organic turmeric from online store. In fact, I use this organic turmeric, and Im more than pleased with it. I try to use it in every food that it fits, for example I always cook rice with turmeric + black pepper.
For me turmeric and curcumin supplements are pretty useless, as I use a lot turmeric spice. But if you insist it, this Gaia Herbs Turmeric is probably one of the best with black pepper extract. Also Doctor’s Best curcumin is a great choice if you need just curcumin supplement.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – The brain is most fattest organ in a body, and about 50% of the brain cell membranes consisting of docosahexaenoic acid. Since a large part of the brain is docosahexaenoic acid, should be obvious that if you want to keep your brain healthy, you should get plenty of it. While the human body can convert alpha-linolenic acid (obtained from vegetable oils) to EPA and DHA, this process is limited and degrades as we age. (Excessive omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin deficiencies, alcohol abuse may interfere with this conversion.) As we age, it is important to enjoy more omega-3 fatty-acids.
Again one theory about our brains: Mother’s milk is one of the key reason why man is the smartest and most numerous species on the Earth. There is about 30 times more docosahexaenoic acid in humans mother milk, than in any other mammals. Thus immediately after birth, babies are given the most important building blocks of their brain. (For this reason it is import to breastfeed your baby.)
If you are adult and no longer have access to breast milk, you should eat a lot of fatty fish, shellfish and other seafood. This mimics our ancestors diet and is the safest way of to meet our omega-3 needs.
“Higher fish intake is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia, and reduced docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels in serum are associated with a higher risk of dementia. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) appears to be associated with preserving brain mass over time. – Examine.com“
You can also acquired omega-3 supplements or fish oil to get your DHA and EPA needs.
Vitamin-D – The fat-soluble steroid hormone vitamin-D is one of the most important things for human health, and its deficiency has been shown to be behind many diseases. Vitamin D is also critical for your brain functioning.
A higher intake of vitamin D intake is associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (study). Low vitamin D levels are associated with cognitive abilities decline in the elderly (study). The adrenal glands need vitamin d brain hormones, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline regulation. As a result, depressed and chronically tired people are often found to have vitamin-D deficiency.
According to the Vitamin D Council: blood level of vitamin D should be more than 50 nmol/l (optimal level is closer to 80 nmol/l). The official recommendations for vitamin-D is set too low. Vitamin D Council site has a good rule of thumb for vitamin D supplementation: take 1000 IU (25 mg) per 25 pounds of weight. If you weight 100 pound its worth taking 5000 IU (125mg) per day. A safe upper limit for adults is 10,000 IU / day, and it is not worth to take more even if you weight 300 pounds. Vitamin D should should be taken with highest fat meal of day, so it is absorbed better. (Vitamin-D is fat soluble vitamin)
Resveratrol – Red wine is said to be healthy mainly because of resveratrol. The writer said it has following benefits: slow down aging, increase blood flow to the brain, improve heart health and help slow down the development of fat cells. Although resveratrol is not nearly as useful as what the marketers suggest, it might provide similar benefits as intermitting-fasting.
Many of the long-lived people use a lot of red wine, for example, Ikaríans island drink up to 2-4 glasses of red wine daily, and obtain some resveratrol. In Western countries, Alzheimer’s disease affects already working-age population, on the island of Ikaria people often remain healthy until a last breath. The daily intake of resveratrol may not be the main reason, but it may be part of the reason why natives of the island of Ikaria remain so healthy.
In this study 250 mg tai 500 mg trans-resveratrol increased cerebral blood flow relatively quickly after dosing (45min).
30-day randomized, double-blind study of 150 mg of resveratrol improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood pressure and inflammation (study).
Resveratrol effect on preventing obesity has only been tested on animals. In addition, the mouse studies suggest that resveratrol might prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (study) For more studies check out: Examine resveratrol.
A couple of glass of red wine may give about 4mg of resveratrol. The author notes that as little as 4.9 mg would provide a positive impact. In the study where resveratrol showed brain blood flow increases, the dose was 250-500 mg per day, so a dietary supplement can be a more sensible solution than red wine drinking.
Alpha lipoic acid – Is fatty acid found in all human cells. Crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts as an effective antioxidant. a laboratory and animal studies have have shown indications that alpha lipoic acid might be good for the prevention of brain and nervous system dysfunction. Human alpha lipoic acid increases effectively glutathione. Thats why many “biohackers” use it for hangover prevention.
Coconut and MCT-oil – Coconut oil contains ketonic fatty acids referred to as capric and caprylic acids, (C 10, C-8, a medium-chain Triglycerides, MCT oil). Author says that MCT oil has shown good results in Alzheimer’s disease patients (the sources was marked as: 1), what if there was cure for alzheimer PDF). MCT oil is precursor for beta-hydroxybutyrate and speed up the transition to a state where brain uses ketones as power source. Ketosis has been shown to increase brain-protecting antioxidant glutathione (1, 2).
In summary, ketosis enhances brain functions and might also protect your brain. Using coconut oil, or MCT-oil can speed up the transition to ketosis, and beta-hydroxybutyrate production.
Q10 – The author also notes the coenzyme Q10 or ubiquinone. It is a molecule found in all human cells. Ubiquinone decreases as we age, and low Q10 levels have been associated with depression, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia. Supplementation of Ubiquinone is unlikely to be necessary if you do not suffer from the above-mentioned diseases, or you are under 40 years old. Ubiquinone is popular among statins users, because long-term use of statins might reduce ubiquinone levels. Ubiquinone may have brain-protective properties, but more studies are needed before anyone can make proper conclusion.
Prior to use you should think do you really need it, a healthy 20 years old, doesnt need it. If you want to use it check out Doctors Best Q10.
(Before you start to invest in the alpha lipoic acid or ubiquinol, you need to make sure that there is no deficiency from a essential vitamins and minerals such as B-12, Vitamin-K2, selenium, or magnesium.)
Grain brain summary
You can potentially lower your risk to get memory diseases with a healthy lifestyle and diet. Eat a vegetable, meat and fish-based food, avoid excessive carbohydrates, especially if they are highly processed grain. Healthy carbohydrate sources such as rice, sweet potato, potato, fruit, reasonable amounts are ok. Paleo diet is great, but do not let it limit your healthy foods choices. Add healthy oils and spices in the diet (olive, coconut, turmeric, herbs). Make sure you dont have nutrient or vitamin deficiencies. Take “brain supplements” resveratrol, ubiquinol, alpha lipoic acid, if you think you need them. Do some kind of exercise, and do not stop it as you age. The book has also info about a cholesterol, sleep and a significant number of paleo recipes and a 4-week plan to better brain health.
We all should gradually begin to think these things, as memory disorders are big growing problem for all of us… The treatment is very expensive and it will cost an incredible amount of tax money. Many western countries have started to send e Alzheimer’s patients to Thailand because resources are low and treatment is cheaper there.
If you jump from the plane with parachute and it does not open, you’re really fucked. It’s pretty same with brain’s health, you don’t really get a second attempt. Treatments for symptom relief have been invented, but there is no drug that would heal or stop Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s invention is still very far away. As bad as it sound, prevention is currently the only practical way.
In my opinion Grain brain book is almost a must read for everyone. You can find the book from Amazon.com