You’ve heard of fatty liver, now experts are cautioning about the dangers of fatty brain.
The human brain is made up of more fat than any other substance—it’s 60 percent fat. Experts are now debating what exactly the different types of fats within your brain have to do with memory health. Some of their findings are concerning. Here’s the story…
When most of us think about fat inside the body we think of losing excess fat around our waistline or lowering our blood fats, or cholesterol levels. In fact, some people spend much of their adult life worried about their weight and cholesterol numbers.
We all know that too much weight gain coupled with high cholesterol can be a trigger for heart disease. But what does it do to the brain?
When Dr. Alois Alzheimer first identified Alzheimer’s disease in 1906, one of his initial observations after doing autopsies on Alzheimer’s victims was that their brains contained unusual fatty deposits. But only recently have researchers developed the technology to start taking a deeper dive into analyzing how these accumulations of fat may affect how well our brains work.
When Fat Triggers Alzheimer’s Disease
According to researchers at the University of Montreal, the clumps of fat in brains afflicted with Alzheimer’s observed by Dr. Alzheimer so long ago may in fact be a cause of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our experiments suggest that these abnormal fat deposits could be a trigger for the disease,” says researcher Karl Fernandes.
The Canadian scientists explain that their research originally focused on trying to learn why stem cells, which are supposed to help repair damage to the brain, don’t do their jobs when Alzheimer’s disease strikes. And when they examined the stem cells they found that fat droplets were interfering with their activities.1
“We discovered that these fatty acids are produced by the brain, that they build up slowly with normal aging, but that the process is accelerated significantly in the presence of genes that predispose to Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Fernandes. “We think that the build-up of fatty acids is not a consequence but rather a cause or accelerator of (Alzheimer’s) disease.”
Dr. Fernandes and his colleagues also argue that the presence of these fatty clumps is a sign that Alzheimer’s is a metabolic problem like diabetes and obesity.
Despite the Canadians’ hypothesis that triglycerides and the accumulation of fats in the brain lead to Alzheimer’s, no one has discovered a clear method for eliminating these fatty deposits much less showing that this elimination can even prevent or treat the disease. In fact, just the opposite…
High Triglycerides Both Help and Harm Memory
While lowering blood triglycerides might seem to be a potential strategy for better brain health, the research has not born out this theory. As a matter of fact, the research is all over the place on the subject of how the triglycerides circulating in our blood influence memory and brain function.
For example, when researchers at the University of California-San Diego tested the triglyceride levels of more than 250 people aged 62 to 94 (none of whom had dementia), they found that higher levels impaired executive function (the ability to do things like make decisions, manage your time or organize your life) but, they concluded, “there was no relationship to memory.”2
On the other hand, a study in France of more than 7,000 seniors found that in men the risk for “all-cause” dementia but not Alzheimer’s disease was connected to high triglyceride levels. In other words, having high triglycerides seemed to increase the overall risk of suffering memory-destroying dementias like vascular dementia.
In women the results were just as conflicting.
According to the French research, high levels of triglycerides reduced, not increased, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in women.3 But further study showed that for women low levels of triglycerides also reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Consequently, the French researchers theorize that people’s genetics may influence how their triglyceride levels affect brain health and this inherited predisposition is the factor that determines what occurs.
In another interesting study, this one in Asia, researchers found that in very old people – in their 80s and up – high triglycerides were beneficial in many ways. High levels were linked to better brain function as well as better mobility, less frailty and longer life expectancy.4
So where does all this research lead us?
A Healthy Lifestyle Offers the Best Memory Protection
At this point, lab tests of your blood to measure things like triglycerides don’t hold much promise, because their precise relationship to brain function is unclear. It will be more worthwhile to focus on leading a healthy lifestyle if you want to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Plus, these lifestyle measures can also lower your risk of a host of other chronic illnesses. Here’s how to begin:
- Eat a diet that lowers the inflammation in your body. According to researchers at the University of Nevada (and a lot of other researchers agree), inflammation is a “central mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease.”5 And researchers at the Neuroregeneration Institute at McLean hospital in Massachusetts, have found that inflammation involving triglycerides in neurons is connected with Parkinson’s disease.6 A diet that incorporates plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and goes easy on sugar and processed food may help you lower inflammation.7
- Exercise every day: I know I talk about the necessity of exercise a lot, but it can’t be repeated too many times – exercise produces a wealth of effects that can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and other brain issues. Recently Italian researchers noted that exercise produces “enormous benefit on both cognitive functioning and well-being.”8 And a review study out of Asia demonstrates that exercise can both lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and improve, to some degree, the capabilities of people already suffering from the disease.9
- Get enough sleep – at least seven hours a night. Sleep has been shown to allow the brain to better detox and clean itself.10 And if you want to get your triglycerides down, getting sufficient sleep has been shown to help there too.11
Most important, it’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Good lifestyle choices can so dramatically benefit memory health that some medical researchers are investigating using lifestyle as part of a conventional treatment plan for Alzheimer’s disease.
My opinion? Keep up the research but tell Alzheimer’s patients to make the lifestyle changes now—they can’t wait for conventional doctors to catch up to what alternative doctors have known for years.