How Alzheimer’s can be prevented with the right diet

How Alzheimer's can be prevented with the right diet

What happens to the body with Alzheimer’s disease?

Dr. med. Michael Nehls: Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and begins in the hippocampus, from where the disease process then destroys the entire brain. The hippocampus is about the size of a thumb in the temples of our brain and remembers what we have experienced or thought where and when. In order to separate the important from the unimportant, however, he only keeps in his memory what touches us emotionally and thus receives meaning. That makes it one of our most important brain structures.

In order to be able to fulfill its vital tasks into old age, the hippocampus is uniquely able to form new nerve cells for a lifetime. If the adult hippocampal neurogenesis, i.e. the lifelong development of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, is hindered, the adaptation to stress is also disturbed and the psychological resistance (resilience) decreases. The result is that stress hormones are often released too high and usually for too long. These in turn hinder, like a vicious circle, further hippocampal growth with the risk of depression and, in the long term, Alzheimer’s disease. A high level of stress hormones is toxic to nerve cells in the long term, especially those of the hippocampus.

In order for adult hippocampal neurogenesis to function lifelong and not to lead to hippocampal neurodegeneration, a species-appropriate way of life is necessary. But in our modern, highly alien world, not just one, but usually many, fundamental factors that promote hippocampal growth are missing. Instead, factors predominate that slow down its growth and accelerate its shrinkage. The consequences are fatal. Instead of growing, the hippocampus in the adult population shrinks an average of about one percent by volume per year. As a result, the memory performance decreases and more and more memories are lost. But it gets worse. Because the smaller the hippocampus, the more likely you are to get Alzheimer’s.

At what age do the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s usually become noticeable?

Nehls: For a long time, the rule of thumb was that Alzheimer’s disease, for which no genetic disease accelerators can be identified, begins around the age of 65. At this age, around one to two percent of the population is affected. After that, the probability of the disease doubles every five years of life. However, due to the fact that our current way of life promotes its growth less and less and more and more its shrinkage, more and more younger people are suffering from this hippocampal dementia.

What are these symptoms like?

Nehls: The symptoms are explained by the failure of the hippocampal functions. Memory disorders occur. The point is not that those affected do not think of names, but rather that they can no longer remember events or conversations, even though they actually mean something to them. As the hippocampal destruction increases, it becomes more and more difficult to hold conversations. The memory of time and place also suffers early on, so that sick people often no longer know how to find their usual route from work or shopping home. Food can burn more often, too, not because you might have been distracted, but because you simply forgot that you turned on the stove. The fear of new things is also typical, since psychological resilience is reduced with the hippocampal shrinkage.

In your book “Kopfküche” you describe that the disease can be prevented with a certain diet. How is that possible?

Nehls: If the brain does not get the nutrients it needs, damage and loss of function are logical consequences. If one analyzes what the living conditions were to which humans have adapted over many millennia, nutrition is the one where the most wrong things are done due to its complexity. This in turn is due to our cultural development and economic interests.

What is important in nutrition?

Nehls: The brain needs building materials, protective substances and energy in order to develop and maintain its performance. The aquatic omega-3 fatty acid DHA is an essential building material. However, we can hardly make them ourselves from basic substances such as alpha-linolenic acid, as found in high concentrations in linseed oil or walnuts. Linseed oil is therefore of no use against Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception.

We are evolutionarily programmed for a diet rich in fish. Fish is now contaminated with too many toxins to be recommended for covering omega-3 needs. That is why there is no alternative to algae oil from cultivated plankton if we want to develop healthy brains and avoid Alzheimer’s. The protective substances include almost all plant vitamins and their vital substances, but also many minerals, such as selenium or lithium, as found in some medicinal waters.

The best nutrients for supplying energy to the brain and especially for the hippocampus are so-called ketone bodies. These are conversion products made from fatty acids that either come directly from our food or from our fat deposits. In addition, like hormones, they stimulate hippocampal growth and the regeneration of older brain cells. Ketone bodies explain why fasting acts like a fountain of youth.

Has it been proven that people are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease if they are careful with their diet?

Nehls: Yes, that is undisputed. There are now countless studies on this. However, I would like to point out that with a “species-appropriate” lifestyle, nutrition is only one area. I have defined five areas in total. In addition to nutrition, one should be socially and physically active, have a sense of life, pursue goals and have sufficient regeneration and sleep.

All are of equal importance. Because according to the law of the minimum, according to which there must not be too little of any essential factor in all growth processes in nature, not only one area of ​​the formula against Alzheimer’s disease can be considered. This means that I can still eat appropriately, if I no longer maintain social contacts, no longer feel any meaning in life or hardly move, the hippocampus cannot grow as well as it should to protect against depression and to have full protection in the long term for Alzheimer’s.

How does an unhealthy diet affect the brain?

Nehls: The growth of the hippocampus and therefore the psyche suffer from deficiencies in nutrition. But too much of certain nutrients can cause damage. Too much sugar can cause high blood values ​​to cause inflammation in the brain and the hormonal agents that are released block the formation of new nerve cells and even have a neurodegenerative effect. Alcohol also inhibits the growth of the hippocampus.

At what age should one deal more intensively with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?

Nehls: Lifelong growth of the hippocampus protects against Alzheimer’s. This growth process can be started at any time. Even in the early phase of Alzheimer’s (when only the hippocampus causes symptoms, but the rest of the brain is still largely intact), recovery is still possible due to its regenerative potential. Since a functioning hippocampus is crucial for planning and implementing goals, however, as degeneration progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to implement life-changing measures, which is why prevention is easier and more sensible than therapy.

But there is another reason to start early. Since the growth of the hippocampus increases our memory, as well as our psychological resilience, our self-esteem and our creativity, a species-appropriate life is more than just about preventing Alzheimer’s disease. A growing, high-capacity hippocampus improves the quality of life!

Dr. med. Michael Nehls is a doctor and qualified molecular geneticist. In 2015 he was awarded the Hanse Prize for Psychiatry by the Rostock University Clinic for his groundbreaking findings on the development, prevention and therapy of Alzheimer’s disease. Three of his books became mirror bestsellers: “The Alzheimer’s Lie”, “Alzheimer’s Is Curable” and “The Formula Against Alzheimer’s”.

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