Small changes make big differences.

Tuesdays with MOJO / In Pursuit of a Happy Healthy Brain

Marjorie Spitz Rento2 Comments

I recently read the book the Grain Brain by neurologist Dr. Frank Perlmutter.    His basic theory is that carbs are destroying our brains.  “And not just unhealthy carbs, but even healthy ones like whole grains can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more.”

I happen to love my gluten-filled foods.  Doctor Kracker crackers.  Fresh bread from Maison Kayser.  Thin Crust Shroomtown pizza from Spunto.   Yum!  But truth be told, I do suffer from the occasional senior moment and I’m terrified of Alzheimer Disease.

In the book, Dr. Perlmutter “explains what happens when the brain encounters common ingredients in your daily bread, why your brain thrives on fat and cholesterol, and how you can spur the growth of new brain cells at any age.”  For those reasons and more the book really grabbed my attention.  

I am not a nutritionist, but it doesn't take one to notice the recent increases in diabetes, heart and Alzheimer's disease in this country.  We tend to rely heavily on pharmaceuticals – the quick fix, the magic pill that our doctors quickly prescribe us.  We figure if our doctor recommends it, it must be good for us right?  Not necessarily!

Let’s talk cholesterol and statins for a minute. The majority of my family has high cholesterol and is taking statins.  Perhaps many of you are too!

Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in America, taken by an estimated 32 million people, according to 2011 estimates from Harvard Medical School. 

According to the CDC, the percentage of adults aged 40 and older taking drugs to combat high cholesterol rose from 20 to 28% between 2003 and 2012. 

A recent study by the American Heart Association and The American College of Cardiology issued new heart disease prevention guidelines will make even more Americans eligible to consider a statin.

However, the Mayo Clinic notes statins are well tolerated by most people, but can lead to nasty side effects including muscle and joint aches (most common), nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Other more serious potential side effects include liver damage, muscle pains and other problems, neurological side effects like memory loss or increased blood sugar that may lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Importantly, there are key reasons why the increased proliferation of statins could be problematic:

  • we don’t know if statins have negative long-term side effects.
  • if you lower your cholesterol too much, it could cause neurological or immune dysfunction.
  • many of the studies done to promote the benefits of statins have been conducted by, you guessed it, the pharmaceutical companies getting rich off of them.

So what do you do?  Well firstly educate yourself, especially if this is all news to you.

Pharma companies want to make money and doctors are busy.  That leaves it up to YOU to take loving care of your health and understand what you're putting in your body.   I’m not here to tell you what foods to eat or what medications to take.  That’s up to you and your health team!

What I do want to emphasize is that it super important to understand the whole picture.  For example, did you know that cholesterol could be too low?

According to Dr. Perlmutter the brain only holds 2% of the body's mass but contains 25% of the total cholesterol, which supports brain function and development.  One fifth of the brain by weight is cholesterol.  It is not necessarily the villain -- we need it to thrive!   Our ability to grow new synapses in the brain depends on the availability of cholesterol.  It also acts as a powerful antioxidant and protects the brain from free radicals

The elephant in the room:  the role of diet is critical.  Yes incorporating a diet of whole nutritious foods is harder work than just taking a pill, but you’re worth it!   Think about how much harder it will be to deal with long-term disease and treatment.

So I implore you to open your eyes and begin making some healthful adjustments today.  Especially if you’re taking medication as a preventative measure (as opposed to as a result ofactually having heart disease), and can reverse that course nutritionally.  Just start by making small changes and substitutions – baby steps right?

Now back to gluten – is there something to the gluten free craze? Well it really depends upon you and your body’s ability to digest it.  It’s not the same gluten your grandmother ate, hence why so many people have issues tolerating it now.   “The hybridization of wheat has favored both genetic changes in the composition of gluten as well as the greatly increased amount of gluten found in wheat derived products.”  Thus, our bodies are not necessarily programmed to respond in a normal fashion when exposed to these products.  In addition, overuse of antibiotics and other medications could disturb the balance of good bacteria in the gut, resulting in gluten sensitivity.

Whether you experiment with going gluten free or not, I’m not suggesting you do an entire nutritional overhaul overnight.  Simply explore healthful alternatives, and have fun with it.  Don’t worry about being perfect, just focus on listening to your body and implementing changes when it’s showing obvious signs of what’s working and what’s not.  Perhaps you want to spend a week hydrating and noting how you feel.  Or implement a “no processed food” week, or new exercise routine.  

Think about it this way:  When you buy a car, you check out the engine and performance, right?  When you purchase an outfit, you look at the material and see how it looks and feels, yes?  I just suggest you take the same care when choosing the best food for you!  

As for me, I’m planning to start a gluten free month and will report back how it goes. 

Perhaps I’ll grow so many new brain cells, I’ll do a study of my own. Cheers to brain health, and prioritizing yours!


Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™

Note:  Please do not make any changes to your medication protocol without the speaking with your doctor.

In addition to the links throughout this article, some further resources are listed below:

To find out if your physician receives funds from any companies, you can look them up.

Thought provoking film:  Statin Nation 

Interesting controversy around the Jupiter Study (a landmark cholesterol-lowering trial of people typically considered at low risk for heart attacks) centers around not only its results (indicating that their false), but also pinpointing who sponsored the study.     

Fact sheet from Statin Nation