The number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease will more than double over the next three decades —striking more than 9 million U.S. residents by the year 2050, a new study projects. And the costs for caring for dementia patients could hit $1.5 trillion a year — half of what the U.S. now spends on all healthcare services.
But a leading U.S. neurologist and Alzheimer’s specialist says the aging of the baby boom generation isn’t the only thing driving those dire predictions. David Perlmutter, M.D., argues that a wealth of nutritional research shows the typical American diet — rich in carbs, grains, sugar, and processed foods — and sedentary lifestyles are what’s behind the growing numbers of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S.
The good news, he tells Newsmax TV’s “Meet The Doctors” program, is that switching to a healthier diet and getting regular exercise are a tried-and-true prescription for staying sharp well into your golden years.
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“The carbohydrates in our diet [and] the sugar in our diet is absolutely leading to almost every conceivable degenerative condition that you don’t want to get, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “So it’s very real, but at the same time it’s very empowering to know that when you eliminate those things you can pave the way for better health and build a better brain that’s resistant to those dreaded diseases.”
Dr. Perlmutter’s latest books — “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers” and the companion “Grain Brain Cookbook” — provide a wealth of information about the connections between diet and Alzheimer’s.
A key point he makes: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid has long pushed a diet rich in carbohydrates and low in healthy fats — an eating plan that more than 200 scientific, peer-reviewed studies have linked to various age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
By contrast, Dr. Perlmutter and a growing number of health experts recommend eating fewer carbs (including wheat-based breads and pastas) and avoiding low-fat foods, which are often loaded with sugar and carbs linked to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even certain cancers.
“That’s really what people were told to do and at the same time we were told we had to eliminate fat from our diet, and it turns out that’s the wrong recommendation for two reasons,” he explains. “No. 1 there’s no shred of science that supports it and No. 2 that’s a diet that’s unlike anything humans have ever eaten in our 2 million years on this planet. Now suddenly we’re scientizing our food and telling people to eat foods … like whole grains that have a dramatic effect in terms of raising blood sugar and that is toxic for the brain.”
Instead, Dr. Perlmutter notes that a great deal of nutritional science has found that following an eating plan that more closely follows the traditional Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia. Unlike the Food Pyramid, the Mediterranean diet is heavy on nutrient-rich foods (such as fruits and vegetables), lean protein, and healthy fats (such as those in olive oil, nuts, fish, and certain cuts of meat).
“By and larger, you want to favor low-carb, nutrient-dense, above-ground vegetables — kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts,” he recommends. “And then if you choose to eat meat, it should be grass-fed beef — not animals that have been given wheat that’s been treated with who knows what [or] animals that have been given antibiotics and growth hormone and feed that has been treated with herbicides.
“We eat what we eat eats, meaning when you eat an animal that’s eaten garbage you’re consuming garbage.”
He explains that a healthy diet — at any age — can have a dramatic impact on keeping the brain healthy by combating age-related changes in the brain and boosting biochemical that promote the development of new brain cells.
“We grow new brain cells every moment of our lives and we can stimulate that by eating foods that have less calories [and are nutrient rich] and by getting aerobic exercise…it’s what the science has proven,” he says.
“We want to cut the carbs, it’s the carbs that increase inflammation that damage our proteins that increase the action of chemicals called free radicals that actually damage our DNA … ‘Grain Brain’ is really kind of the take-home message as to how to implement a plan to reverse brain degeneration right now, today, and actually to pave the way for brain health moving forward.”
Dr. Perlmutter’s recommendations come as new projections show that as baby boomers reach their sunset years — with about 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day for the next two decades — the financial burden of Alzheimer's disease will skyrocket from $307 billion annually to $1.5 trillion.
The projections, by health policy researchers at the University of Southern California Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, are based on current trends in health, healthcare costs, education, and demographics.
Among the findings:
- From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70 and older with Alzheimer's will increase by 153 percent, from 3.6 to 9.1 million.
- Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.
- Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75 percent of the costs of the disease.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 43 million Americans are 65 and older, constituting 14 percent of the population. By 2050, that number will more than double to 83.7 million, constituting 21 percent of the population.
“Alzheimer’s is a disease for which we have no treatment, but yet it is a disease that is preventable,” Dr. Perlmutter notes. “And you know when you see the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent to seek out a cure for Alzheimer’s at a time when we know that it’s preventable … it’s beyond being a head scratcher … You really got to wonder what people are thinking. Well, it’s because you can monetize a cure, you can’t really monetize prevention.”
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