Food Can Cause, Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
Healthy diet changes alone could prevent Alzheimer’s disease by 70 to 80 percent, according to Dr. Neal Barnard, who spoke Thursday to about 145 Fox Valley physicians and health care professionals at ThedaCare’s “Lifestyle Medicine Summit for Providers by Providers.”
Objectives of the two-day summit, held at the Best Western Bridgewood Resort Hotel, were to analyze how serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease can be avoided and treated with lifestyle interventions more effectively than drugs.
Barnard is a clinical researcher, New York Times bestselling author, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University.
Steps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease are similar to those already used to prevent other serious health issues such as heart disease, with one big caveat: It has to start early.
“The big problem is that when a person’s had a heart attack and has narrowed arteries, we can open them back up again with diet and lifestyle,” Barnard said. “But with Alzheimer’s, if you get people early, I think they can do better especially at that stage of mild cognitive impairment. But I think there is a time of no return when so much of the brain has been damaged and destroyed that I don’t think we’re going to go back at that point.”
The Alzheimer’s Association projects local Alzheimer’s rates will increase by about 30 percent over the next decade, affecting 130,000 Wisconsin residents by 2025. Prevention through diet and exercise is crucial to avoid the predicted Alzheimer’s pandemic by 2050.
“We now know there are certain dietary patterns, high saturated fats, trans fats, too much iron and copper, maybe aluminum, a lack of exercise — those are all things that I can control and I don’t have to wait until a person is 80,” Barnard said. “I can do it when they’re 16 and get those habits started early.”
Internist Kay Theyerl, medical director of ThedaCare Lifestyle Medicine, Lifestyle 180 and Physician ThedaCare Appvion WorkPlace Clinic, tells patients that Barnard is her hero.
“He’s one of the ‘it’ people in this field,” Theyerl said. “He’s an internist as well and has done years and years of research and teaching, and is one of the authorities in the field.”
Theyerl said when doctors are given a toolbox in medical school, lifestyle is not typically one of the tools. “If we have that in our toolbox it’s because we went and either pursued it on our own or had a special interest in it,” she said.
Lifestyle medicine is best spread to patients by their physician or in a support group setting.
“Accountability and empowerment go together,” Theyerl said. “Once they’re feeling empowered, that is when things change. What I try to do is feed into what motivates them and what their strengths are to figure out what empowers them. And once they feel empowered they can accomplish anything.”