Big Food Fights to Keep You Demented
Sacrificial victims in yet another animal experiment, the rats in Suzanne de la Monte’s study were demented. The researcher told New Scientist they splashed around aimlessly, unable to remember where to find the submerged safety platform.
The Brown University scientists had used a chemical to block insulin in the rats’ brains. The rodents literally could not find their way out of the maze. Postmortems revealed brains dotted with pink plaques. Neurons were crumbling. Connections had collapsed.
De la Monte had seen brain devastation before, in a 2005 study that led to the first use of the term “Type 3 diabetes.” That study showed insulin is produced in the brain as well as the pancreas. When the brain stops producing enough insulin, it slides inexorably into the fog of dementia.
Other studies had already shown links between a bad diet and Type 2 diabetes, where cells become insulin resistant and stop being able to convert sugar into energy. Discovering the brain was the source of a different kind of diabetes offered important clues into dementia.
A different study published in the September 20 Neurology tracked over 1,000 people in Japan and determined diabetes was a “significant risk factor for the development of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, in (the) general public.”
In every case, researchers draw a bead on diet as a significant factor. A diet heavy in sugar and fat contributes an avoidable risk factor. We dread Alzheimer’s, yet stay on the collision course.
Next: Big Food Wants to Keeps Us There
That is a major cause for concern, given our unwillingness to give up the tasty treats that are killing us. The Alzheimer’s Association says 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. They estimate the 2012 cost of health care at $200 billion in the U.S. Add another $210 billion in unpaid care for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food warned that current food manufacturing and agricultural practices were disastrous for health. The findings of the new study confirm that food companies have successfully tapped into the triggers that prompt our brains to crave the fat-, sugar- and salt-laden food substitutes that are making us sick. De Schutter says:
Urbanization, supermarketization and the global spread of modern lifestyles have shaken up traditional food habits….Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed.
Care2 readers were instrumental in pushing for a national plan to fight Alzheimer’s. The plan is impressively detailed, but nowhere are diet or food mentioned. True, they are only part of the puzzle of Alzheimer’s, which also includes genetics and other factors, but a growing body of research shows them to be an important piece.
Next: We Can’t Change Our Genes; We Can Lessen Our Risks
I am reminded of a diabetes conference I attended years ago. One of the sessions was on a study to determine the effectiveness of two different treatments for Type 2 diabetes. One of the control groups was given metformin. A second was placed on a lifestyle-modification (diet and exercise) program. The third was given a placebo.
The study closed early because it was clear the interventions were so effective. Those in the metformin group had a 31 percent lower incidence of diabetes. Those in the lifestyle group reduced their incidence of diabetes by 58 percent.
The session presenter at the diabetes conference was one of the study’s authors. Although the impact of lifestyle changes was nearly double that of the now-popular drug, he focused almost exclusively on the drug.
The diabetes study is relevant for Alzheimer’s, sweeping over us like a tsunami of dementia. While corporations, consumers and pundits natter on about “nanny state” and “freedom of choice,” we have the easiest and most cost-effective prevention option right before our eyes.
That remedy is not drugs. It is not treatment and expensive care options. It is prevention. It is time we took Big Food and Big Pharma to task and insisted they care as much about our health as they do about their profits. And it is time we kicked them out of our schools, hospitals, recreation centers and homes.
That is not to say research should stop, nor that the pharmaceutical industry has no role to play in dealing with Alzheimer’s. Many cases of dementia cannot be avoided through diet. It is, however, to say that the chemical fix for diet-related diseases is a patch, not a solution.
Supermarkets have only a ring of more or less healthy foods. The produce, meat and dairy they sell is mostly from factory farms and chemical-dependent fields. The bulk of their shelf space is given over to processed and packaged edible substances. Until we insist on healthy food for all, grown and delivered sustainably, we can expect the health toll of our sick food system to keep increasing.
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