Food: Poison or Medicine?

 different colors = different nutrients  -  photo by susan L. davenport

different colors = different nutrients  -  photo by susan L. davenport

I have a lot of food sensitivities. I’ve studied foods and how I should eat extensively. Thus, I thought I was eating a nutritious, healthy diet. I was wrong. Food, even healthy foods, can be bad for us if we don’t know what we’re doing.

How do I know? Because a few months ago, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I was shocked. I never eat processed sugar. The only sugar I eat is natural sugar, like in fruit, or at least that’s what I thought. It turns out that because I was eating things like pasta and rice without eating protein at the same time, it was elevating my blood sugar. Now I know that I need to balance my protein and carbohydrate intake to keep my blood sugar level. I thought that change would make my diet healthy, but again, I was wrong.

My husband is blind, due to a stroke that he had almost twenty years ago. The same stroke caused short-term memory loss. I suspect it was the combination of the blindness and memory loss that kept me from noticing his increasing confusion and memory problems, but when we had the house remodeled it all became apparent.

At first, I thought the remodel was the problem. There was furniture shifted around so that floors could be replaced. Bathrooms were available sometimes and sometimes not because they were being converted one at a time into handicap accessible bathrooms. There were people in and out of the house all during the day. I knew it would be difficult for him. I cleared my schedule, so I was at home all the time to help him. But after the work was done, and the contractors had gone home, it didn’t get any better.

This is a man who ran multi-million dollar global projects for a major chemical company. He designed our home, but he couldn’t remember it well enough to find his way around. At that point, I knew I couldn’t handle this on my own, so I took him to the doctor. The first thing they did was take him off Statin drugs. That eliminated the hallucinations—thank goodness—but he was still confused. Then they gave him memory tests. He failed dramatically, so they put him on vitamins and Donepezil. That helped a great deal. With the help of the medicine, he could hold conversations again and find his way around the house. But, the doctors suggested that changing his lifestyle might help even more, so I started researching.

My research found many instances of scientist declaring that lifestyle and a healthy diet had a major impact on brain health and might even be able to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Imagine that. What if I could help him make even more progress simply by changing his diet? The added benefit is that not only would a better diet help him, but it would help me as well.

But, I needed more detail. The term “healthy diet” is too nebulous. I’m proof of that—I thought I was eating healthy foods and yet I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I needed to know what the term “healthy diet” meant and specifically what it meant about the health of the brain.

“The quality of your food matters significantly more than the quantity of it for getting healthy, losing weight, or preventing illness. Compare a 500-calorie cinnamon roll to a 500-calorie plate of salmon, spinach, red bell peppers, blueberries, and walnuts. One will drain your energy and increase inflammation; the other will supercharge your mind and decrease your risk of accelerated aging.” (Daniel G. Amen & Tana Amen, 2016)

Everything I read indicated we needed to eat quality food. Some of the things to avoid were genetically modified foods, processed foods, dairy, and sugar. My husband’s preferred drink is a sugar loaded soft drink. Could his choice of drink be part of his memory problem?

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage." (Schmidt, 2012)

My research also indicated that a person’s weight is a risk factor for future dementia and possible Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, my husband is not overweight, but I am. He depends on me to be able to think and function so that I can take care of him. Plus, I am learning to write. It takes a great deal of mental acuity to write a novel with deep characters and an exciting plot. I want to be able to write until I die, and I’m planning to live a long time. This was no longer just my husband’s problem. Now it was mine too.

“Obesity is a serious national crisis with two-thirds of Americans overweight and one-third obese. Obesity increases inflammation, which is a low-level fire in the body that destroys our organs and is a risk factor for more than thirty medical illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and dementia. There are many published studies, including two by the research team at Amen Clinics, that report that as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain go down.” (Daniel G. Amen & Tana Amen, 2016)
 Golden beets and Broccoli -  photo by susan L. davenport

Golden beets and Broccoli -  photo by susan L. davenport

 “Getting healthy is not as simple as calories in versus calories out—some calories hijack your hormones, taste buds, and health. Eating sugar and processed food, even in small amounts, increases cravings, stress hormones, and promotes illness.” (Daniel G. Amen & Tana Amen, 2016)

I think I’ve tried every diet out there. Some were successful, but as soon as I got off the diet, I would gain all the weight back. For years, I wished an alien space ship would come along, shine their scary blue light down on me, and suddenly make me slim and physically fit. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? Without any effort on my part, all the abuse I’ve done to my body over the years would suddenly be reversed—no more fat; no more out of shape muscles; and a fresh start. But even if that were possible, the result would be just like those diets. Without a permanent lifestyle change, I would eventually gain the weight back.  

So, I’ve waited long enough for the aliens to solve my problem. It’s time for me to get busy and face the truth. To help my husband and myself, I must learn which foods are the medicine that will heal our brains, and which foods are poison, sabotaging our brains. It won’t be quick—we’ll have to progress one little step at a time.  It won’t be easy. My husband may have to learn to drink water, and I may have to learn to enjoy cooking. But, if it improves the quality of his life, and helps me to write better novels, it will be worth it.

How about you? Is the food you eat medicine or poison?

 

References

  • Daniel G. Amen, M., & Tana Amen, B. R. (2016). The Brain Warrior's Way. New York: NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY, Published by Berkley, An imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
  • Laino, C. (2011, July 19). Lifestyle Changes May Prevent Alzheimer's. Retrieved from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20110719/lifestlye-changes-may-prevent-alzheimers#1
  • Schmidt, E. (2012, May 15). This is your brain on sugar: UCLA study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. Retrieved from UCLA: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/this-is-your-brain-on-sugar-ucla-233992
  • Wolpert, S. (2008, July 9). Scientists learn how what you eat affects your brain — and those of your kids. Retrieved January 8, 2017, from UCLA Newsroom: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/scientists-learn-how-food-affects-52668