Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter is a great read for those researching the keto diet! How does grain, specifically wheat and gluten, affect our brains? Is a Grain Brain diet a keto diet? You’ll be shocked to see how a low carb ketogenic diet can improve your brain health now and as you age.
You know I’m not a fan of wheat. This is a gluten free blog, afterall. And I’d say a majority of ketogenic dieters steer clear of grains. I’ve explained in my Glutenfreeversary post and my Wheat Belly Review how removing wheat from your diet can help improve health.
But what about the brain? It’s part of the body, too, so why don’t we talk about how it’s affected by our diet? That’s exactly what neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter has done. He says one reason we don’t talk about brain health is because our brains have no pain receptors.
Pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. If we don’t feel it, we can be oblivious to the problem.
Think about diabetics with neuropathy in their feet. They can stub a toe and break it without even knowing they’ve broken anything because the nerves have deadened so much. I’ve heard a broken toe is one of the most painful experiences, too.
Think how much worse it is when we’re walking around with something broken or malfunctioning in our brains and we have no way of knowing, other than vague, hard-to-pin-down symptoms like brain fog or inability to focus.
Dr. Perlmutter has some great quotes throughout his book. One of my favorites is from Thomas Edison: “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.”
Another reason we don’t talk about brain health is because it doesn’t seem as measurable. Sure, there are things like brain fog, memory lapses, attention deficits, but how likely are we to go tell our doctor about those.
We’d sooner think they’re just part of aging and brush it off until Alzheimer’s disease has taken such a strong hold that it’s too late.
Neural Conditions Caused by Diet
Think I’m making too big of a leap? Dr. Perlmutter explains everything in his book. He links not only Alzheimer’s, but ADHD, brain fog, dementia, and a whole slew of neurodegenerative diseases to our diets and gives some great scientific evidence to back up his claims. You’re in for a treat!
The connection between smoking and lung cancer or sugar and type 2 diabetes are obvious to us. But when it comes to ailments of the nervous system and brain, we tend to think there is some inexplicable, mysterious cause, or just say it’s an inevitable, natural part of aging. Dr. Perlmutter asserts that neurological conditions are preventable and caused by dietary choices.
All recipes on Keen for Keto are gluten free and grain free!
Wheat and Gluten
Before I start this section, it’s time for a pop quiz. Dr. Perlmutter likes to give this quiz when he speaks at conferences to medical professionals. See if you can get it right. He asks which of these four food items produces the highest surge in blood sugar:
Now that you’ve guessed, I’ll give you the correct answer, but first some info that may cause you to change your answer. (Totally allowed.)
Did you know that today’s genetically modified version of wheat (the one found in 96% of wheat products) has as many as 40 times as many gluten molecules as the naturally grown wheat our ancestors ate?
I’ve already mentioned how wheat can be addictive, but Dr. Perlmutter explains for us.
“Gluten breaks down in the stomach to become a mix of polypeptides that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once they gain entry they can then bind to the brain’s morphine receptor to produce a sensorial high. This is the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind, creating their pleasurable, albeit addicting, effect.”
Dr. Perlmutter gives one of the best simple descriptions of what happens in your body if you have a sensitivity to gluten. Gluten has a sticky attribute that interferes with the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients. Food that isn’t properly digested leads to a “pasty residue” in the gut that triggers an immune response. The lining of the small intestine is attacked, which results in all sorts of awful symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal distress.
It’s NOT all in your head
I love that Dr. Perlmutter points out that when a body reacts negatively to a food, it’s not just the stomach or intestines that are affected. Inflammatory responses are triggered like crazy. Heart disease, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, you name it, it probably has an inflammation component. If you want to read more about the inflammatory response gluten was creating in my body (including cholesterol and iritis, a painful eye inflammation), go to this post.
Oh, and it could be hitting the nervous system. You may not know this (I degreed in psychology, so I’m not really sure what’s considered common knowledge anymore–it all blends together for me now), but the brain is part of the nervous system. Aha! So gluten can be causing our brains distress, even if we have zero gastrointestinal symptoms?? Absolutely. Unfortunately.
I guess we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. (You know I’ve been waiting for at least 30 blog posts to use that one, right?) I guess it’s time to post a gluten free keto cake. I will gladly begin experimenting to put a few of those out there for you. I know, my job’s rough.
Resultsof the Glycemic Index Quiz
Now that you’re thoroughly disgusted by all things wheat, here are the results of the quiz:
If you didn’t get it correct, don’t worry. Dr. Perlmutter says 9 out of 10 people who take this quiz don’t get it correct either. And they’re medical professionals, people. Can you see why there’s still so much controversy with the ketogenic diet. Or–my personal favorite–why people are still criticized for choosing to stay away from gluten?
If you’re not diabetic, you might not know what the glycemic index (GI) is. It’s a ranking of foods based on how they affect blood glucose levels. There’s a complicated, deeper explanation of how it’s measured that I’m not trained to teach. But I bet Google knows.
The Keto Diet and Grain Brain
Dr. Perlmutter refers specifically to a ketogenic diet in his book. Did you know that the brain can produce ketones, too? It was previously thought that only the liver could produce ketone bodies. We now know that astrocytes, a cell in the brain, can become ketogenic (meaning, creating ketone bodies). The ketone bodies created by the astrocytes are neuroprotective.
A ketogenic diet has also been shown to decrease amyloid in the brain (amyloid is a protein that forms brain plaques associated with brain disease), while increasing glutathione in the hippocampus (memory center). Glutathione is the brain’s natural protective antioxidant.
Not Just Grain
I’m not really sure why Grain Brain was titled this way. Dr. Perlmutter actually talks about several factors in brain health, not just the role of grains. There’s a chapter about cholesterol (read my review on Wheat Belly if you want to hear more about wheat and cholesterol). Dr. Perlmutter talks about fasting, genes, hunger and appetite hormones, fats, exercise, probiotics, inflammation, sugar, neurogenesis, and SO much more. I can’t possibly do this book justice with one post.
Get your copy today and read for yourself! If you’re looking for an even more in-depth read on how diet affects brain health, read Brain Maker, also by Dr. Perlmutter. He really delves into probiotics there, which I found fascinating and a real treat to read about. See my affiliate links below to get your copies.
Some of my favorite studies cited by Dr. Perlmutter:
The American Medical Association showed a 48% increased risk of diabetes among women taking statin drugs.
The Framingham Heart Study. This study was started in 1948 and continues to give us helpful information on risk factors for disease. In 2005, a report on the study was published revealing that the subjects who had the highest cholesterol levels actually scored higher on cognitive tests than those with lower cholesterol. Put down those statins!
A report published in the journal Neurology describes cholesterol as a protective factpr in the disease amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
On of my special favorites was a report published in 2010 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was a retrospective evaluation of 21 medical reports that included over 340,000 subjects followed longitudinally for 5-23 years. The results were shocking (or maybe not if you’ve been sincerely studying the ketogenic diet). It was found that the actual risk for coronary heart disease was 19% lower in the group that consumed the highest amount of saturated fat! What gave me the giggles was their convicting, sciency-sounding concluding statement: “Our results suggest a publication bias, such that studies with significant associations tended to be received more favorably for publication.”