Review of "Grain Brain"

Grain Brain Book

The book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD added another piece to the puzzle of my health for me. In it, he claims that dementia can be prevented through lifestyle and diet. Since my father passed away from Alzheimer’s, I will do anything I can to keep myself from getting this awful disease. Taking care of him for four years is what caused my health problems in the first place.

Dr. Permutter says that our modern forms of wheat, whole grains or not, are causing all sorts of brain problems ranging from insomnia, headaches, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and movement disorders, to schizophrenia, ADHD and “senior moments.” We are not genetically prepared to process what our foods today have morphed into. Food actually regulates the expression of many of our genes.

He explains what happens when the brain encounters foods like fructose, wheat and some fats, and how the ideal diet should be high good fats and low carbohydrates. That’s how our ancestors ate for millennia. This latter type of diet will bring down inflammation, the major cause of most maladies today, and thus allow our bodies to heal themselves.

“Grain Brain” gives you a test to fill out to determine how optimum your diet and lifestyle is. I was a little surprised at some parts of it, so it was enlightening to me. He says around 40 % of people in the US can’t properly process gluten, and most of them don’t know this.

People of Northern European ancestry are particularly susceptible to gluten intolerance and can carry genes for mild versions of it. Also, the manifestation of the intolerance can be anywhere in the body, not just the intestinal system. That’s why it’s difficult to diagnose, but it always affects the brain, causing a neurological effect.

Just like in “Wheat Belly,” which I reviewed last month, he points out that gluten is in personal care products and a host of other places. He goes into all of the science behind these statements in great detail.

Modern food manufacturing, including GMOs, have created grains having up to forty times the gluten of what was cultivated a few decades ago. And here's the real kicker for me: components of this gluten can cross the blood-brain barrier and they then bind to the brain’s morphine receptors to produce a high. This is where opiate drugs bind, and gluten creates the same addictive effects.

These have been labeled exorphins, short for exogenous morphine-like compounds, as opposed to endorphins, which are the body’s naturally produced painkillers. The effects of the exorphins can be stopped by using opiate-blocking drugs like naloxone and naltrexone, the same drugs used to get addicts off of morphine, heroine and oxycodone.

"Grain Brain" says that gluten, and a high-carbohydrate diet, are some of the most prominent stimulators of inflammation that reach the brain. Consuming lots of grains and carbs raises blood sugar levels in ways that other foods, such as meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, do not. You do not have to be diabetic to suffer from chronic high blood sugar. Wheat increases blood sugar levels more than table sugar.

As a matter of fact, around 2005, some people started calling Alzheimer’s disease Type 3 diabetes. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, meaning that it stimulates growth, promotes fat formation and retention, and encourages inflammation. Then when insulin levels are high, other hormones can be affected adversely, either increasing or decreasing due to insulin’s domineering presence. Having diabetes also doubles your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Permutter debunks the myth of high cholesterol too. Cholesterol is needed by the brain in order to function properly. Brain inflammation is involved in Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. The brain needs cholesterol in order to function properly. One-fifth of the brain by weight is cholesterol! One study even says that high cholesterol extends longevity.

Eating excess carbohydrates, even without gluten, can be just a harmful as eating a gluten-laden diet. One report showed that consuming omega-3 oils counterbalanced the detrimental effect of eating omega-6 oils.

"Grain Brain" continues by saying that the fatter you are, the smaller your brain is. Most of the brain tissue is lost in the frontal and temporal lobe, the places from which we make decisions and store memories, among other things. Once the brain begins to degenerate and physically shrink, it begins to lose its ability to function properly.

Fat is an organ with complex, sophisticated hormonal pathways, and visceral fat is the most dangerous. Change the traditional Mediterranean diet to remove all gluten and you have the perfect grain-brain-free diet. You can re-program some of your DNA to function better and grow new neurons throughout your life. This is explained in detail in the book.

Consuming medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as in coconut oil has been shown to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. Curcumin (the main ingredient in turmeric) and DHA are also great for improving brain function, along with green tea extract, silymarin (milk thistle,) bacopa extract, sulforaphane (found in broccoli,) and ashwagandha. Using your brain more fortifies new neural networks, and glutathione is important to bolster brain function too.

The book covers autism, ADHD, anxiety disorder and depression, among others, and lists what will help these. The underlying course of action is to eliminate wheat, of course. This goes for migraines, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder too. Intermittent fasting and going on a ketogenic diet is helpful also.

Supplements he recommends are DHA, Resveratrol, Tumeric (or Curcumin,) Probiotics, Coconut oil, Alpha-lipoic acid and Vitamin D. Exercise is another great booster of brain function. It makes neurons nimble and able to multitask and is a potent anti-inflammatory. Getting adequate quality sleep is a must also, because it can balance leptin, the satiety hormone that tells your body when it’s full.

The last part of "Grain Brain" tells you how to improve your health by getting some baseline tests run such as fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1C, fructosamine, homocystein, vitamin D, c-reactive protein and a gluten sensitivity test with Cyrex array 3. Then he goes over what to eat and how to prepare food for achieving optimal health. He includes some recipes to help you get started at the end.

There is a lot more scientific information in the book, such as how sugar and fructose are used in our bodies, how advanced glycation end products (AGEs) affect us, and how proteins get deformed and become toxic. I don’t want to go in depth on these, because it is complicated and would make this review too long, but if you have an interest, I highly recommend reading all about it in “Grain Brain.” 

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