Sometimes clues to solving a disease come from the strangest places. Take for instance a new study that found a way to protect mice from getting Alzheimer's. The results of this study suggest an Alzheimer's cause that most have never considered.
The researchers used mice that are genetically predisposed to get Alzheimer's. If nothing stops the progression, all of them will develop the disease. Then the researchers fed the mice a high-glycemic-index diet, which would cause the disease to progress even faster. In other words, these mice were doomed to suffer from Alzheimer's.
But the researchers gave the mice the ghrelin agonist drug for four months. This is considered long-term administration for mice. They found that the drug protected the mice from experiencing memory deterioration.
The drug they used is an experimental drug. While it mimics ghrelin, it produces a much greater response than the natural hormone, which drugs tend to do. So what is it that ghrelin does? It produces the hunger response. When you don’t have food in your stomach, ghrelin kicks in and tells your brain that you need food. This is interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, we know that Alzheimer's is related to diabetes. I've written about this in the past. Many researchers now consider it type-3 diabetes. This means a high-sugar, high-carb diet could be behind the disease. It's clearly one of the biggest risk factors.
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But there's something else a diet high on the glycemic index does. It causes your body to overdose on ghrelin. Studies have shown that high levels of ghrelin contribute to carb cravings and overeating. Getting too much of this hormone makes you want to eat more carbs and pushes your body's glucose levels through the roof.
So why would this drug, which produces a stronger response than the natural hormone protect against Alzheimer's instead of increase your risk?
I suspect the answer has to do with the long-term results. You see, in the short term, this drug does cause problems. It impairs insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which would make the problem worse. In the long term, though, it has the opposite effect. Why? The researchers don't say. But it's clear that it's not the ghrelin that's causing the Alzheimer's. The researchers said, "The present results suggest that ghrelin might improve cognition in Alzheimer's disease via a central nervous system mechanism involving insulin signaling." So it's the high-glucose levels causing the problem. Here's what I think.
Americans eat constantly. We rarely go hungry. We rarely even get hungry. We eat at specific times whether we're hungry or not. And we eat a lot of carbs and sugary foods, which push us to eat more. If we were to experience hunger more often, but not eat carbs, we would see the benefits of ghrelin on our brain — and we would avoid the damage caused by a high-glycemic diet. We don't need a drug to do this for us.
The best way to experience hunger more often and avoid the high-sugar levels is to eat easily digestible proteins and veggies. For instance, fish and eggs are easily digestible forms of protein. When you eat them, you'll experience hunger faster. The same is true for vegetables. The hunger pushes you to eat, but if you avoid sugars and carbs, the hunger signal is good for you. Your body will then begin to burn fat rather than glucose. You'll lose weight and your brain will stay sharp.
Another form of easily digestible protein is whey. I encourage everyone to eat some type of protein in the morning, either eggs or a whey protein shake (I prefer Advanced Protein Powder). This starts your day with a low-glycemic meal and sets the pattern for eating good food for the rest of the day. If you want your brain to stay healthy, eat only when you're hungry and avoid sugary foods and carbs.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening, ND