Q&A With Amy Berger, Author of ‘The Alzheimer’s Antidote’

More than 5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s, and experts estimate that number could go up to 16 million within the next 35 years. We caught up with Amy Berger, author of “The Alzheimer’s Antidote,” who has been studying lifestyle factors associated with the neurodegenerative disease.

Berger, a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, focuses her work on the benefits of low-carb diets. In “The Alzheimer’s Antidote,” she presents a nutritional and lifestyle approach to stave off cognitive decline, with a special focus on the ketogenic diet. Below are a few answers to questions posed by Care2:

 

For people who already have Alzheimers, how much can lifestyle changes make a difference in reversing symptoms?

This likely depends on the afflicted person’s age and how severe the condition is. The younger someone is and the more mild the cognitive impairment, the more likely they would be to experience a substantial improvement. However, I don’t think anyone should be considered a “lost cause,” no matter their age or how advanced the illness is.

Some strategies—such as a strict ketogenic diet and increased physical activity—might not be possible once someone has reached a certain level of impairment, but there are other interventions that can help even for people who are unable to make significant changes to their diet or lifestyle. (Examples include increased intake of coconut oil or medium-chain triglyceride [MCT] oil, or the use of exogenous ketones, which are becoming increasingly available to the public.)

The human body and brain are remarkably robust, and can recover from significant injury provided they receive the necessary inputs. Obviously, the earlier and the more aggressively certain strategies are implemented, the better the results would be expected to be.

 

Your book talks a lot about the importance of a high-fat, low carb diet. What advice do you have for people who try to avoid animal products in their diet for non-health reasons?

It’s possible to follow a low-carb, high-fat diet with very few animal foods. It’s much easier for those who are lacto/ovo vegetarians (who consume dairy products and eggs) than it is for strict vegans, but even for vegans it’s not impossible. I do not recommend a strict vegan diet, particularly for people who have concerns about cognitive function and brain health. Eggs and dairy products can contribute critical nutrients for healthy cognition, such as vitamin B12, choline, zinc, and iodine.

However, those who want to avoid all animal foods can still benefit from reducing or eliminating refined sugars and grains from their diet, and increasing intake of healthy fats from plant sources, such as avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds. One of the key things we can do to protect our cognitive function as we age is to keep blood glucose and insulin levels in a healthy range, and this can be done via diets with little to no animal foods, provided the foods that are consumed are nutrient-dense and do not overly increase insulin and glucose.

 

How can caregivers best support Alzheimers patients who are reluctant to change their habits?

This again comes down to the afflicted person’s age, and the severity of their condition. Those who are younger and whose impairment is more mild may be more willing—and capable—of making significant changes to their diet and lifestyle. But of course, many people are long past this stage and are not able to make these changes. Since the fundamental problem in Alzheimer’s is that affected areas in the brain have lost the ability to get energy from glucose, then the most important thing to do is find an alternative way to feed these otherwise “starving” cells. Ketones are an alternative fuel for these neurons. Even when the brain’s capacity to metabolize glucose has become impaired, it can still get energy from ketones.

As I mentioned above, coconut oil, MCT oil, and exogenous ketones can provide the brain with ketones even when people make no other changes. I think this is potentially a big help for people with impaired cognition, and can improve quality of life for them and their caregivers. This is not a substitute for a low-carbohydrate diet. A dramatic change in diet will have systemic effects and may also go some way toward undoing the underlying damage that’s driving the condition in ways that the ketones, themselves, do not. But for people who are unable to implement other changes, then the presence of ketones can certainly be helpful in the short term.

For people who are capable of making changes but might just be reluctant, I say, “What have you got to lose?“ Give yourself six months: change your diet, become more active, try and get better quality and quantity of sleep, use some targeted supplements, and see what happens. If there’s no change, you can go back to your previous diet and lifestyle. But if you do experience substantial improvement, then you can decide whether it’s worth continuing or not.

Another important issue is family and social support. It can be difficult to make changes when someone is the only person doing it. It helps to have a “buddy” in the same household or circle of friends who can follow the same diet or be a partner in some of the other strategies, such as going for a walk together. Don’t go it alone. Get the whole family involved in whatever ways are feasible.

 

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Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She is a US Air Force veteran who now specializes in using low-carbohydrate nutrition to help people reclaim their vitality through eating delicious, wholesome foods, and teaching them that achieving vibrant health doesn’t require starvation, deprivation, or living at the gym. Her motto is, “Real people need real food!” You can read her blog at www.tuitnutrition.com, where she writes about a wide range of health and nutrition-related topics, such as insulin, metabolism, weight loss, thyroid function, and more. Her new book, The Alzheimer’s Antidote: Using a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease, Memory Loss, and Cognitive Decline (Chelsea GreenPublishing, 2017), presents an integrative nutrition and lifestyle approach to combat Alzheimer’s disease at its roots, with a primary focus on the ketogenic diet.

44 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie s3 months ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s3 months ago

Thank you

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Kimberly W
Kimberly Wallace3 months ago

TY

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Chad A
Chad A3 months ago

Thank you. The more I have heard about friends and family who have loved ones affected by this disease, the more I hope for some way I can help.

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Philippa Powers
Philippa P3 months ago

Thanks.

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Kelsey S
Kelsey S3 months ago

Thanks

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Glennis W
Glennis W3 months ago

Very informative A terrible disease Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W3 months ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W3 months ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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Teresa A
Teresa Antela3 months ago

Both my grandmother and mother suffered of this disease and they always followed the Med diet. So, I don't know if any diet could help... Alzheimer is my great concern as you certainly realize...

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