avoiding causes ofdementia- the aging brain

Dementia is a slow lurking disease that develops over decades. Usually when people start noticing different behavior the processes of dementia are already far ahead in the brain. Dementia transforms our personality and makes us into a different person unrecognizable for our loved ones. Worldwide, a new case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds. Although those numbers are expected to rise there is no cure in sight. But there is a way to fight against it. Start to minimize dementia risk factors – today.

Scientists don’t have any cure, but they know that dementia processes in our brain begin decades before first symptoms appear. Today prevention is the best cure for this disease. Often people believe that dementia is linked to genetics and old age, but dementia has dramatically risen since 1970 in all age groups. Such an increase can’t be attributed only to bad genes. Researchers believe that environmental factors must have a crucial influence in this phenomenon. So what should we do or avoid doing to minimize the risk of dementia in the long run?

Alzheimer’s as an accidental discovery

Dr. Suzanne de la Monte and her team of researchers at Rhode Island Hospital, while investigating a completely different disease, injected lab mice with streptozotocin, a compound that containes nitrosamines. With this compound they wanted to deliberately cause diabetes in mice for their investigation. Instead what they observed was that the mice who were injected with this compound developed Alzheimer’s. They learned that not only the pancreas but also the brain produces insulin and that the mice injected with nitrosamines stopped producing insulin in the brain altogether causing Alzheimer’s.

healthy brain and brain with ad

In further research Dr. Suzanne da la Monte found that nitrosamines cause build up of toxic lipids in our liver that are able to cross the blood brain barrier, injuring brain cells which causes the brain to develop insulin resistance. After this happens our brain cells don’t get enough glucose – food and gradually start to die, reducing the capacity of our brain causing dementia.

What are nitrosamines?

The alarming news about Dr. de la Monte’s research is that they found nitrosamines to cause insulin resistance of brain cells – what they called ‘type 3 diabetes’ of the brain. Why is this terrifying?  Nitrites and nitrates, found in many processed foods, are nitrosamine compounds. Every time we eat nitrites and nitrates through our food nitrosamines are formed in our body contributing to the degradation of our brain. Dr. de la Monte even believes that there is enough evidence to suggest that nitrosamines  are the root cause of  Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease- all insulin resistance diseases.

Nitrites and nitrates in food

Unfortunately nitrites and nitrates are in many processed foods. They are added to prolong shelf-life and to maintain a red appealing color of meat products. This may well be one of the reasons Alzheimer’s and processed food consumption have been on the rise since the 1980.

To minimize dementia risk factors stay away especially from these foods:

  • All processed meats like bacon, ham, deli meats, smoked meats, sausages, …
  • Processed cheese– you can eat real cheese but check the label and stay away from processed cheeses (also known as prepared cheese, cheese product, plastic cheese, or cheese singles, American cheese).
  • Beer – some brands of beer contain high doses of nitrates and nitrosamines to prolong shelf life. These compounds are not listed on the label! It’s important to be aware of the fact that beer can contain this compounds and restrict beer consumption
  • Cigarettes and second hand smoke- cigarettes contain nitrosamine
  • ‘White foods’– sugar, white flour, cereals, breads, pretzels, crackers, white rice, pasta… Even if they don’t contain nitrites and nitrates they get up your insulin levels and contribute to the formation of toxic fats in your liver that can go through the blood brain barrier. That’s why people with type 2 diabetes have a greater chance to get Alzheimer’s.

food sources of nitrosamine

Check food labels for any ingredient containing the words: NITRITE, NITRATE, SODIUM NITRITE, NATURAL OCCURRING NITRATE, THIAMIN-MONONITRATE and stay away from these foods.

Watch out for no nitrites or nitrates added claim

Food producers have already come to a solution to this problem so they wouldn’t lose any profit because of nitrites and nitrates bad reputation. They put in big letters that no nitrates and nitrites are added on the food packaging. Does that mean that the product doesn’t contain any nitrites or nitrates? No, it only means that they didn’t add them. What they usually do add, is celery juice or celery powder which both are highly concentrated with nitrates. So it’s best to read the label for every ingredient and stay away from NITRITE, NITRATE, SODIUM NITRITE as well as from NATURAL OCCURRING NITRATE.

Vitamins are healthy aren’t they?

When you read a food label and find that the food is enriched with vitamins – doesn’t it make you feel good about yourself? After all you are eating vitamin rich food. One of those vitamins added by government regulation is vitamin B1 or thiamin-mononitrate (notice the nitrate). This is the artificial form of vitamin B1 which is lost after processing food. Natural vitamin B1 or thiamin is a water soluble vitamin. That means that any excess vitamin our body doesn’t need gets flushed out through urine. Thiamin-mononitrate on the other hand is fat soluble and any excess your body doesn’t need right now gets stored in the liver and fat cells contributing even more to the concentration of nitrosamines in our body.

vitamin b1 label

The really worrying thing is that many cereals and baby food are fortified with vitamin B1- thiamin-mononitrate. Even baby formula contains this vitamin. In other words we are stuffing our children with nitrates and nitrites from the minute they are born putting them in risk for long-term brain damage. Especially children are sensitive to toxin exposure. When enough insulin producing cells in the brain have been killed off by these components symptoms may begin to emerge.

The best prevention for our children is to try to breastfeed them and offer them healthy organic whole foods as they start to eat solids.

It’s not only in food

farming nitrites

Unfortunately food is not where the problem stops. Nitrites are massively used by farmers in the form of fertilizers. That way they get into our vegetables, especially root vegetables like potatoes and beets, as well as in our drinking water. People living near heavily farmed areas are in higher danger form nitrite exposure through water. Nitrates are also used in the production of rubber, latex products and cosmetics.

Collectively we are exposed to always higher levels of nitrates and nitrates through the many processed products we use. The always higher exposure contributes to higher levels of nitrosamines that form in our body making us sensitive to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Dr. de la Monte believes that it is no coincidence that with the rise in nitrate and nitrite use a significant rise in Alzheimer’s and diabetes in all age groups is observed in the last thirty years.

Now that we know – what should we do?

The problem is not easily solved by simply avoiding certain foods. It is much more extensive including farming practices, water supply and production uses. The question is how can we practically lower the intake of nitrosamine compounds in our life right now and minimize dementia risk factors? While we are waiting for new farming polices and ways to purify our water and food from nitrites and nitrates what is in our power to do right now? The best thing we can do for our health is to minimize the exposure to nitrosamine compounds as far as possible:

  • Avoid the above listed processed foods
  • Eat organic produced fruit and vegetables as much as possible since they contain less nitrates
  • Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke
  • Breastfeed babies for as long as possible and offer young children fresh whole foods instead of processed foods

You will not be able to cut out all nitrates and nitrites but by taking the above measures you will significantly reduce your exposure to nitrosamine compounds preventing dementia in the process. After all we should feel relived that dementia is not only about our genes, it is a lot about what we eat and consume. Therefore we can take actively care of our brains health preventing causes of dementia as a result.

Photo credit: “Wrapped American cheese slices” by Steve Spring. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.