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Carnivore for Alzheimer’s Prevention – A No Brainer

Globally, every three minutes, someone develops dementia. By 2050, an estimated 152 million people will have dementia. So chances are you know someone – a parent, grandparent, or friend – has as suffered from this horrible disease as well. But contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is not a normal part of aging. It can be prevented. The key is to take action as soon as possible since it’s thought that AD begins 20 years or more before symptoms arise. Keep reading to learn more about the causes of dementia and the choices you can make to avoid this terrible disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

AD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by the progressive decline of memory, cognitive functions, and changes in behavior and personality. Sadly, AD is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and the 5th leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. AD is the most common type of dementia, a category of mental impairment that also includes cerebrovascular disease (vascular dementia) and Lewy body dementia.

What are the Risk Factors for Dementia?

Dementia can be prevented and, in some cases, early symptoms can be reversed. Risk factors for dementia can be categorized into modifiable and non-modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors include age, genetics, gender (women are more likely to have Alzheimer’s), and a positive family history of dementia since more than one-third of AD patients have one or more affected first-degree relatives.

The good news is that there are modifiable risk factors – areas where our choices can mitigate dementia. Modifiable risk factors include avoiding smoking, head injury, environmental factors, and metabolic syndrome (MetSys), one of the fundamental causes of dementia. MetSys is a signal that the body is not properly handling carbohydrates and is, therefore, a risk factor for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Treating MetSys minimizes the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 40% of the population.

Alzheimer’s Dementia is a Metabolic Issue

While the cause of AD is multifactorial, with both genetic and environmental factors implicated in its pathogenesis, AD is arguably a metabolic issue that stems from the brain’s inability to harness energy from glucose. In addition to these lifestyle choices, we can modify (lower) our risk of AD through dietary choices.

The brain is an energy-hungry organ. Although it only typically accounts for 2% of body weight, it can require up to 20% of the body’s glucose and oxygen. That’s why adequate fuel delivery is so important. Compared to healthy people, those with AD have been found with up to a 45% reduction in the cerebral metabolic rate of glucose or CMRglu. This results in reduced fuel usage by brain regions responsible for memory processing and learning. Because areas of the brain dedicated to visual and sensorimotor processing are unaffected, it can be difficult to notice changes, even though the risk of developing AD is present. A decline in glucose metabolism can be detected decades before overt symptoms.

Type 2 v Type 3 Diabetes

You may have heard the terms “Type 3 diabetes” or “diabetes of the brain” because similar to Type 2 diabetes, the brain becomes incapable of adequately metabolizing glucose due to insulin resistance (or insulin insensitivity). Without adequate fuel, neurons in regions of the brain start to degenerate. Degraded neurons eventually become incapable of communicating, leading to symptoms associated with AD such as confusion, cognitive decline, and behavioral changes.

Type 2 and Type 3 diabetes are related in that they may have the same primary underlying cause of insulin resistance, but they are not the same. An individual does not need to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in order to develop Type 3 or AD. In fact, many people with AD have normal blood glucose levels and are not diagnosed with diabetes. The key factor is, therefore, not glucose, but insulin resistance, a reduction in the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and hyperinsulinemia (elevated levels of insulin in the bloodstream for extended periods of time.) These disturbances lead to inflammation and oxidative stress, an imbalance of free radicals which can create damage to the cells and tissue in the body. While Type 2 diabetes affects muscles, organs, and the rest of the body aside from the brain and central nervous system, damage from AD is localized to the brain.

Insulin and Beta-amyloid Plaques

Interestingly, insulin also plays a crucial role in the formation of amyloid plaques, protein fragments that accumulate in the brain. While these plaques are found in healthy brains, in AD patients, beta-amyloid plaques accumulate to an unhealthy level, interfering with cell communication. Aside from reduced glucose utilization, beta-amyloid plaques are one of the defining features of AD.

One theory as to why these plaques accumulate in the AD brain is that they are not broken down and cleared away as they should be. Beta-amyloid plaques are primarily cleared with insulin-degrading enzyme, the same enzyme the body uses to clear insulin once insulin has done its job. Because the enzyme prefers insulin to beta-amyloid plaques, it works on clearing insulin first, leaving plaques to accumulate. Chronically-elevated insulin levels lead to more plaque build-up. And the more it builds up without being cleared, the more likely it is to form plaques that interfere with neuronal communication.

The Importance of Early Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

This article cannot overstate the importance of AD prevention. AD begins with small changes in the brain that are initially unnoticeable to the person affected. Only after years of brain changes do individuals experience noticeable symptoms, at which point disease reversal may be too late. While there is no cure for AD, it can be prevented through dietary and lifestyle interventions. Consider prevention a lifelong concern. Waiting for an AD diagnosis may be too late – the brain may have already suffered too much damage.

Dietary Changes for AD Prevention

Carbohydrate restriction by way of a carnivore, keto, or ketosis-inducing diet is one of the first steps we can take to begin to ease the metabolic dysfunction that causes AD. If the brain has become incapable of properly metabolizing glucose, then a low or no-carbohydrate diet utilizing another fuel source can help correct abnormalities. This alternate fuel source – ketones – are generated when the body switches from metabolizing carbohydrates to metabolizing fat. In a low insulin environment, the body will produce ketones, a product of fat burning, to provide the brain with nourishment.

“The therapeutic and neuroprotective effects of ketones are so impressive, in fact, that one of the premier researchers studying ketones and brain health has suggested that a drawback of the modern, carbohydrate-heavy diet is that is it ‘keto-deficient.’” 

The Alzheimer’s Antidote

While the causes of AD are multifactorial, dietary changes can play a significant role in preventing or even reversing AD symptoms. The price of poor brain health is too high to delay starting to pay attention today. To learn more about Alzheimer’s prevention using a low-carb diet, please refer to Amy Berger’s book, The Alzheimer’s Antidote.

Written by Laura Guy
I dedicate this article to my father, Stuart. I love my father dearly and have watched him transition from an ambitious, independent man to an immobile and totally dependent man with very little speech capacity. Sadly, he has experienced very little quality of life over the past 11 years due to the degenerative effects of dementia, a disease for which there is no cure.

Nine Tips for the New Carnivore

Transitioning from one thing to another can be difficult. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting or where you’re going. Changes in relationships, jobs, and family situations are challenging, and diet is the same. The transition period is a stressful time on your physiology, and problems can often manifest in several ways. A new diet, regardless of its composition, affects gut function, causes a stress response, and induces some metabolic changes. But I can give you some ideas of what to expect and how to handle any issues.

Fatigue
One of the most common issues of the transition period to a carnivore diet is fatigue, lethargy, or poor energy. As you ramp up your metabolic machinery to deal with a new fuel source, you initially will be fairly inefficient. Your capacity to extract all the nutrition from meat may be compromised. Many people suffer from decreased stomach acid production or other digestive maladies, and those issues may take a while to resolve after you transition to a carnivore diet. While your body works on resolving those issues, you may find that you can’t eat as much as you need to, or perhaps you’ll eat quite a bit but won’t fully absorb it. Whether you’re undereating or not making use of all that you do eat, a lack of adequate calories and other nutrients can lead to poor energy or fatigue. Eating more is the most helpful solution for this, and it’s what I suggest as the first line of treatment. Increasing your meal frequency and adding salt to your diet often allow you to eat a bit more. For some people, digestive enzymes—like lipases, proteases, or HCl supplements—aid with the transition period. Most people can discontinue them after a few weeks.

Bowel Movements
Malabsorption, typically of fat, can often show up as steatorrhea, or fatty, loose stools. As you transition to the carnivore diet, your microbiome goes through a shift in its composition. The fiber-loving magical bacteria in your gut dies off and is replaced with meat-loving bacteria. One of the more common digestive issues as this happens is not constipation but diarrhea. Most people on a high-fiber diet are accustomed to daily (and often multiple daily) bowel movements. Going on a carnivore diet will dramatically reduce the volume of waste you produce, and it will likely lead to less frequent bowel movements. What many people mistake for constipation, particularly early on in the diet, is just a dramatic reduction in waste.
If you’re not having discomfort or pain when you have a bowel movement, you don’t have anything to be concerned about. Some people find that adding a bit more dietary fat or avoiding dairy can help things move a bit quicker. Can you suffer from true constipation while you’re on the carnivore diet? Sure, but it’s not common, and sometimes it’s a result of an electrolyte issue that has caused altered gut motility. Adding fat, fluids, and sometimes electrolytes can be helpful.

GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is a common condition for many people. In most cases, the carnivore diet seems to clear up this problem. However, some people find that the diet makes reflux worse or that nausea or other types of dyspepsia occur. For some people, fat, or perhaps meat in general, is difficult to digest. Strategies to deal with this problem include lowering the fat content a bit and temporarily adding digestive aids as you go through the transition period. Hydrochloric acid supplements (most commonly betaine HCl) or a bile supplement (like ox bile) can be effective. Some people notice that not drinking water around mealtimes can help; the theory is that water in the stomach dilutes the stomach acid and decreases the acidity of the stomach, which leads to difficult digestion. Some people have observed that adding salt to their diet helps with symptoms of reflux as well.

Joint Pain and Gout
For the vast majority of carnivore converts, joint pain or other musculoskeletal pain diminishes or goes away completely. A small subset of people reports a temporary increase in pain as they first start the diet. One possible reason for this phenomenon of more pain is higher uric acid levels. We know that elevated uric acid levels are associated with gout, and a diet that puts someone into ketosis can sometimes lead to increased uric acid levels. The uric acid level likely increases because the body is inefficient at using the ketones, so for a while, more ketones are excreted as waste in the urine. The ketones the kidney excretes can competitively inhibit the excretion of uric acid, so the level of uric acid rises and potentially results in joint pain or other pains. Over time, your body becomes more efficient at using the ketones you produce, the uric acid levels often normalize, and the joint pain disappears.

Skin Conditions
Some people report that they develop a rash as they transition to the carnivore diet, but the incidence seems fairly rare. Skin issues are likely related to the elimination of ketones (as I describe in the previous section). In this case, the body excretes the ketones through the skin, which results in an irritation response. Skin conditions usually resolve with time as the body becomes more efficient with using ketones.

Headaches
One transition-phase issue I dealt with was headaches. Headaches are most likely related to fluid and electrolyte shifts that occur as your body adjusts to the new eating regimen. In my case, the headaches were sporadic and very mild; I had them off and on for about ten days. For those who experience headaches when they first start the carnivore diet, I recommend eating more food and upping fluid and electrolyte intake. Even if you don’t alter your habits, the headaches generally pass fairly quickly.

Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps are another fairly common occurrence that seems to crop up with some regularity among carnivore dieters. Electrolyte or hydration problems may be at play here. For most people, the cramps dissipate with more time on the diet. I’ve been following the diet for years, and I get an occasional muscle cramp, but I can almost always relate it to having exercised very hard and without eating at an appropriate time in relation to my exercise. Eating relatively soon after you exercise—at least within a few hours—can sometimes help reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps.
Some people find electrolyte supplementation helpful. People have tried adding regular salt (sodium chloride), potassium, and magnesium and have found varying results. Some people soak in Epsom salts to alleviate muscle cramps. If you experience cramps, the first thing I suggest you do is to look at your overall food intake to ensure it’s adequate. Beyond that, you can add various electrolytes in the form of salt (such as Redmond Real Salt) or electrolyte supplement.

Ketosis
The point of the carnivore diet is not to achieve a state of constant ketosis, and artificially manipulating fat ratios is not part of the program. I believe it’s counterproductive to measure ketones because it usually leads to unnecessary anxiety and a waste of money that you could otherwise spend on food. If you have a medical condition that requires you maintain a minimal level of ketones, you’re in a different situation. For most folks, though, I recommend putting away both the ketone monitor and the scale. Remember, your ultimate goal is to be in a position where appetite and eating are naturally controlled, and you’re not constrained by some arbitrary number or a predetermined fasting window.

Energy Level
Many people say they notice a general increase in their energy and work or exercise capacity. People often state that they have very restorative sleep, but the overall quantity of sleep they get decreases. Perhaps people on the carnivore diet require less sleep because they have better materials with which to repair their bodies, and they might be less beat up metabolically. However, not everyone immediately has deep, restorative sleep as soon as they transition to the carnivore diet. Some people have a hard time sleeping, particularly early on. Some people feel the need to urinate, and it wakes them up at night. Eating more protein can require more water for processing the food, which can lead to increased thirst. Salt ingestion also likely plays a role here. Modulating salt intake might be another strategy for preventing fluid shifts at night.

Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
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