Grain Brain

Food affects your nervous system.  “Grain Brain” is a book by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter that discusses the neurological effects of nutrition.  It’s not as deeply researched and sourced as some other books, like “The Big Fat Surprise,” but it’s still well worth reading because it discusses some topics none of the other sources I’ve seen cover.  Much of the information in the book is also available on his website–  Perlmutter is a very strong proponent of ketogenic diets because the structure and function of your brain depends very much on getting high levels of healthy fats in your diet.  Cholesterol, in particular, is a very important structural component of brain cells.  He argues that cholesterol-lowering statins damage brain function.

Perlmutter builds a case that autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological functional disorders are caused by diets high in sugars and gluten.  Likewise for the behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  Gluten is a protein in wheat and similar grains that has been added to many processed foods.  He focusses on the neurological effects of gluten sensitivity, which he says is much more common in the population than many people realize.  What he misses is that the gluten sensitivity is linked to high sugar diets.  In his book “Fat Switch,” and in personal correspondence, nephrologist Dr. Rick Johnson has explained that food allergies, like gluten sensitivity, are due to increased gut permeability.  Gut permeability increases when a person eats a diet high in the sugar fructose, which elevates uric acid, which in turn causes the increased permeability.  Fruit juices, a supposedly healthy beverage for children, are high in fructose sugars.  Likewise table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.  Regardless of the cause, once one has gluten sensitivity, it’s probably best to avoid gluten-containing foods and beverages.  Perlmutter describes several pediatric cases in which problems such as ADHD were resolved by shifting the child to gluten-free, low carb diet.

An interesting concept I hadn’t seen explained elsewhere is the problem of protein glycation.  The sugar glucose is a very reactive molecule.  High-carb diets, which are heavy on glucose sugars, result in higher concentrations of glucose in the cells of the body and brain.  The glucose sometimes binds to proteins in the cell, caused malformation and malfunction of the protein.  That binding is called glycation.  Over time, especially if one keeps eating a high sugar diet, the load of glycated proteins builds, interfering with with cell and tissue functions.  Perlmutter says in the brain, this can result in amyloid plaques and Alzheimer’s Disease.  The good news is that low-carb, ketogenic diets which drastically lower glucose concentrations, allow your body and brain’s repair processes to reduce the glycation levels.  He talks about preventing Alzheimer’s with a low carb diet, but says nothing about the possibility of treating Alzheimer’s that way.

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