Power Foods for the Brain | Neal Barnard | TEDxBismarck


Translator: Peter van de Ven
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you for joining me. On February, 8, 2012,
my father passed away. The truth is that was the day
his heart stopped beating. For all intents and purposes,
my father had died years earlier. It started with memory lapses, and as time went on,
his memory failed more and more, and it got to the point
where he didn’t know his own kids who came in to see him. His personality changed, and his ability to take care
of himself was completely gone. And… If you could make a list of all the things
that could ever happen to you, the very last thing on your list,
at the very bottom of the list, the thing you want the least
is Alzheimer’s disease, because when you lose your memory,
you lose everything. You lose everyone
who ever mattered to you. If you could look into the brain
of a person who has this disease, what you see is, between the brain cells
are these unusual looking structures. Beta-amyloid protein
comes out of the cells, and it accumulates
in these little meatball-like structures that are in front of you,
on a microscopic slide. They shouldn’t be there, and they are a hallmark
of Alzheimer’s disease. This disease affects about half
of Americans by their mid 80s. You could say to your doctor, “OK, I don’t want that.
What can I do to stop that?” Your doctor will say,
“Well, its old age and it’s genetics.” There’s a gene – it’s called
the APOE-[epsilon]4 allele. If you have this gene
from one parent, your risk is tripled; if you got it from both parents, your risk is 10 to 15 times
higher than it was before. What’s the answer? Get new parents? No, I don’t think so. That’s not it. So, I’m sorry: it’s old age,
it’s genes, period, that’s it; there’s not a darn thing you can do
just wait for it to happen. Or maybe not. In Chicago, researchers
started something called the Chicago Health and Ageing Project. What they did was they looked
at what people in Chicago were eating. They did very careful dietary records
in hundreds and hundreds of people, and then they started to see
who, as the years go by, stayed mentally clear,
and who developed dementia. The first thing they keyed in on was something that I knew about as a kid
growing up in Fargo, North Dakota – My mom had five kids, we would run
down to the kitchen to the smell of bacon. My mom would take a fork, and she’d stick it into the frying pan
and pull the hot bacon strips out and put them on
a paper towel to cool down, and when all the bacon was out of the pan,
she would carefully lift up that hot pan and pour the grease
into a jar to save it – that’s good bacon grease,
you don’t want to lose that! My mother would take that jar, and she would put it not in the refrigerator
but she’d put it on the shelf, because my mother knew
that as bacon grease cools down, what happens to it? It solidifies. And the fact that it’s solid
at room temperature is a sign that bacon grease
is loaded with saturated fat, bad fat. We’ve known for a long time
that that raises cholesterol, and there’s a lot of in bacon grease. And by the way, the next day, she’d spoon it back
into the frying pan and fry eggs in it; it’s amazing any of her children
lived to adulthood. That’s the way we lived. The number one source of saturated fat
is actually not bacon, it’s dairy products,
cheese, and milk, and so forth; and meat is number two. In Chicago, some people ate
relatively little saturated fat, around 13 grams a day, and others ate about twice that much, and the researchers just looked
at who developed Alzheimer’s disease. And can I show you the figures? Here’s the low group,
and there is the high group. In other words, if you are avoiding
the bad fat, your risk was pretty low, but if you were tucking
into the cheese and the bacon strips, your risk was two,
three, or more-fold higher, Then they looked
not just at saturated fat, they looked at the fat
that’s in doughnuts and pastries; you know what that is, that’s trans fats
you’ll see on the labels. They found the very same pattern
in there, too. So, the people who tended to avoid
the saturated fat and the trans fats, wanted to avoid them for cholesterol
and heart disease reasons, but they also seem to affect the brain. Then researchers in Finland said,
“Wait a minute, let’s go further.” There is a condition we call
mild cognitive impairment. You’re still yourself –
you’re managing your checkbook, you’re driving,
your friends know it’s you – but you’re having mental lapses,
especially for names and for words. They brought in over 1,000 adults,
they were 50 years old, and they looked at their diets. Then, as time went on, they looked to see who developed mild cognitive impairment. Some of these people
ate relatively little fat, some people ate a fair amount, and then they looked
at whose memory started to fail. They found exactly the same pattern. In other words, it’s not just,
“Will I get Alzheimer’s disease?” but, “Will I just have
old age memory problems?” Well, what about that gene,
that APOE-[epsilon]4 allele the one that condemns you
to Alzheimer’s disease? Well, they then redid the study,
and they focused only on those people, and some of these people ate
relatively little fat, some people ate more, and– …Exactly the same. In other words, if you are
avoiding the bad fats, even if you have the gene, your risk of developing
memory problems was cut by 80%. And this is my most important point: genes are not destiny. Let’s take another look in those plaques. We know there’s beta amyloid protein,
but there’s also iron and copper. Metals in my brain? That’s right, there are metals in foods,
and they get into the brain. Now think about this:
I have a cast-iron pan, and we had a backyard barbecue,
and a week later, I remember, “Oh… I left my frying pan on the picnic table,
and it rained last week.” What happened to my pan? It rusted, and that rust is oxidation. Or you take a shiny new penny,
and does it stay shiny forever? No, it oxidizes too. Well, iron and copper
oxidize in your body, and as they do that, they cause the production
of what are called free radicals. You’ve heard of free radicals: free radicals are molecules that are swimming around
in your bloodstream, and they get into the brain,
and they act like sparks that seam through the connections
between one cell and the next. So, how is this happening? Where am I getting all this iron?
Where am I getting all this copper? How can that be? How many people have a cast iron pan? Let me see hands. If that’s your once a month pan,
I’m going to say, “Who cares?” But if it’s every single day,
you’re getting the iron into your food, and it’s more iron than your body needs. Or copper pipes. Who has copper pipes? That water sits
in the copper pipes all night long, and in the morning
it goes into the coffee maker, and you’re drinking that copper, you get more than you need, and it starts producing
these free radicals that go to the brain. If you’re a meat eater,
of especially liver, there’s iron and copper
in those foods too. And we used to think, “Isn’t that great?” until we realized
iron is a double-edged sword. You need a little bit,
but if you have too much, it becomes toxic. Vitamins. Vitamin manufacturers
put in vitamin A, and the B vitamins, and vitamin C, and vitamin D. And then they throw in iron and copper,
thinking, “Well, you need these,” not recognizing you’re already
getting enough in foods, and if they add it to your supplement,
you are getting too much. OK, so what am I saying? What I’m saying is aside from the fact
that the saturated fat and the trans fats will increase our risk,
these metals will, too, and they are causing sparks
to form in the brain, free radicals to form
that seam through the connections. And if that’s the case,
then I need a fire extinguisher. And we have one,
and it’s called vitamin E. Vitamin E is in spinach,
and it’s in mangoes, and it’s especially in nuts and seeds. And in Chicago, some people eat a little bit of it,
and some people eat a lot of it, and the beauty of this
is vitamin E is an antioxidant: it knocks out free radicals. So, if what I’m saying is true, then the people in Chicago
who ate only a little bit of vitamin E would be at much higher risk
than people who ate a lot, and that’s exactly
what the research showed. People getting eight milligrams
a day of vitamin E cut their risk of Alzheimer’s
by about half compared to people getting less than that. Hmm, OK, how do I get that? It’s very, very easy: run to the store
and just buy a bottle of vitamin E pills. No, I don’t think so, and here’s why not. Nature has eight forms of vitamin E. It’s built into nuts and into seeds, but if I put it into my supplement pill, I can legally call it vitamin E
if it has only one form. And if you’re eating too much
of one form of vitamin E, it reduces your absorption
of all the others. So, you want to get it from food; that’s the form that nature
has designed for us, and that’s the form
that we’ve evolved with. We can go a step further. Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you. How much should I have? If I put some nuts or seeds
into the palm of my hand, by the time it hits your fingers,
that’s just one ounce, and that’s about five milligrams
of vitamin E, right there. The trick is: don’t eat it; because if you do,
you know what happens. If you have those diced salty almonds,
and you’ve eaten them: you fill your hand again,
and then you eat it again. There’s something about salty cashews
and almonds, is it just me? There’s something about them, they’re
a little bit addicting in some way. So, don’t do that, that’s going to be
way more than you need. The answer is pour them into your hand, and then crumble them up,
and put them on your salad, or put them on your oatmeal,
or on your pancakes, or something. Use them as a flavoring
not as a snack food, then you’re going to be OK. All right, researchers
at the University of Cincinnati went one step further. Not just saturated fat,
not just trans fats, not just vitamin E, but they said, “What about color?” Look at blueberries and grapes:
that color that they have is dramatic. And the colors of blueberries
aren’t just there to make them pretty, those are called anthocyanins. They brought in a group of individuals
into a research study: average age: 78, and everyone
was already having memory problems. And what they asked them to do
was to have grape juice, a pint a day. A cup in the morning, a cup at night. Three months later, they tested everyone, and their memory was better,
and their recall was better. Three months? That sounds too easy. How can that be? Well, think about it:
a grape has a rough life. A grape has to sit on the vine,
all day long under the sun, and exposed to the elements,
and it has no protection. Or does it? That purple color, those anthocyanins happen to be powerful antioxidants,
just like vitamin E, but they’re the grape form, and if you consume them,
they go into your bloodstream. And if that’s true,
it doesn’t have to be grapes, it could be anything that has that color. Like blueberries. So, back into the laboratory: a new group of patients, they came in,
they all had memory problems. And three months on blueberry juice, Their memory was better,
their recall was better. Now, the moral of the story
is not to have grapes and blueberries, and blueberry juice, and grape juice. No, the answer is color. If you look at the colorful foods,
there’s an important lesson there for us. You walk into the grocery store, and from a hundred feet away,
looking at the produce department, you can recognize beta-carotene, lycopene, anthocyanins. Your retina can detect them because that’s the orange color
of a carrot, or the red color of a tomato, or the purple color of a grape. And the brain also tells you
they’re pretty, they’re attractive, you can recognize antioxidants,
you’re drawn to them. So, back in 2009, my organization, the Physicians Committee
for Responsible Medicine, went to the Department of Agriculture. We said, “This is important.
Let’s throw out the pyramid.” The pyramid was a nice shape, but it had a meat group,
and it had a dairy group, despite the fact that people
who don’t eat meat or dairy products happened to be healthier
than people who eat them. And also, who eats off a pyramid anyway? We eat off a plate. So, we devised a plate that said fruits, and grains, and legumes
– that’s the bean group – and vegetables, those should be the staples. Well, we gave this to the USDA in 2009,
and we didn’t hear back from them. So, in 2011, we sued
the federal government, the Physicians Committee
filed a lawsuit against the USDA, simply to compel response. And did you see what the US government
came out with in 2011? I’m not taking any credit for this, but this is now US government policy,
it’s called MyPlate, and it does look in some way similar to what we’d sent them
a couple of years earlier. Fruits, and grains, and vegetables, and they have this thing
called ‘the protein group.’ The protein group could be meat, but it could be beans, or tofu, or nuts,
or anything that’s high in protein, it doesn’t have to be meat. In fact, there is no meat group anymore
in federal guidelines. There’s a dairy group there,
but to their credit, soy milk counts. So, things are improving. So far, what we’ve talked about is getting away from the saturated fats,
that’s in cheese, and bacon, and meats; getting away from the trans fats
and snack foods; you’re having the vitamin E
and the colorful foods; and there’s one more step. It’s not all food, there’s something
to say about exercise. At the University of Illinois, researchers brought in
a large group of adults, 120 of them, and they said, a brisk walk,
three times a week. After a year, everyone went
into the laboratory for a brain scan. They measured the hippocampus which is at the center of the brain,
and it’s the seat of memory: it decides what should be
let through into memory, and what should not be let through. It turned out that this organ, which is gradually shrinking
in older adults, suddenly, stopped shrinking. The exercisers found that their hippocampus
was a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger,
and a little bit bigger, it was as if time was going backwards:
It reversed brain shrinkage, and on memory tests,
they did substantially better. So, I’ve devised my own exercise plan. I’d like to present it to you,
I do this three times a week. Arrive at the airport as late as possible, carry massively heavy luggage,
and just run for the plane. (Laughter) At the University of Illinois
they had their own ideas, and their idea was a little simpler. Do a ten-minute walk,
and do it three times a week. And then, next week,
let’s do a 15-minute walk, and the week after that, 20. All they did was add five minutes a week
until they got to 40 minutes. And a 40-minute brisk walk – this is not a trudge,
but it’s a good brisk walk – 40 minutes, three times a week is all you need to improve memory
and reverse brain shrinkage. Very simple. What I would like to do
is to go back in time, and I want to sit down with my dad, and I want to say, “Dad, I found out
something really important. We can change our diet, we don’t really need
that cheese and that bacon. There’s plenty of healthy things
that we can eat. Let’s bring in
the colorful vegetables and fruits, let’s make them part of our everyday fair. Let’s lace up our sneakers,
let’s exercise together.” It’s too late for him. But it’s not too late for you. It’s not too late for me either, and if we take advantage
of what we have now learned about how we can protect our brain, then perhaps, families will be able
to stay together a little bit longer. Thank you very much.