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Grain Brain: How Gluten is Terrorizing You & Your Brain

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Happy New Year! We are so excited to start this year with a bang by first of all bringing to the podcast some notable and renowned authorities in the field of brain health.

So to start the new year, we have with us today, Dr. David Perlmutter. Dr. Perlmutter is a board certified neurologist, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, a four time New York Times bestselling author. He received his MD degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine, where he was awarded the Leonard G. Roundtree Research Award.

He has published extensively in peer reviewed scientific journals, including the Archives of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and the Journal of Applied Nutrition. He’s been interviewed all over the place, Dr. Oz, Oprah, the Today Show. One of my favorite books is Brain Maker. He’s, also, the author of Grain Brain, the Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar. He has a brand new book called The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan.

Listen to this series with Dr. Perlmutter as we discuss about grain and it’s impact in our gut and brain health.

Read Full Transcript

Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond and welcome to the brain warrior's way hosted by my friends, Daniel and Tana Amen. Now, in this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is one between your ears. That's right. If you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, energy, and focus well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.
Dr Daniel Amen: We are so excited to be with one of our friends who is a world leader in brain health. Dr. David Perlmutter. He's a board certified neurologist, a fellow of the American College of nutrition, a four time New York Times bestselling author. He received his MD degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine where he was awarded the Leonard G. Roundtree Research Award. He is published extensively in peer reviewed scientific journals including the archives of neurology, neurosurgery, and the journal of applied nutrition. He's been interviewed all over the place. Dr. Oz, Oprah, The Today Show. One of my favorite books is Brain Maker. He's also the author of Grain Brain, the surprising truth about wheat, carbs and sugar. He has a brand new book called the Grain Brain Whole Life Plan. David, it is such a joy for you to be with us.
Tana Amen: Such an honor. I just want to say one thing before we get started because you don't know this Dr. Perlmutter, but you had a massive impact on my journey down this road. Before I even started writing, I actually heard you speak and was so impacted by your message and my own healing so that I started to use your teachings in what I teach now. So thank you so much.
Dr Perlmutter: Well, Tana, I am very honored to hear that and I'm delighted to be with you and Dan today. This is a great moment and I'm looking forward to some really great discussion.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let's start with Grain Brain. And it's such a controversial issue. Even today, I could not imagine my life, now I can, but a lot of people tell us they cannot imagine their life without pizza, without bread. "I love bread," is what they say. I mean there's actually an emotional-
Tana Amen: But Jesus ate bread.
Dr Daniel Amen: But Jesus ate bread.
Tana Amen: It's religious, you know.
Dr Daniel Amen: So how did you get interested in it?
Dr Perlmutter: We do love our bread. There's no question that bread is very appealing and it is appealing because in fact it contains in it chemicals that stimulate the brain much as recreational drugs do. We call these exorphins, and it lets us love it. And that allowed us to want to eat the seeds of this wheat and humans were domesticated by the wheat plant about 12,000 years ago and it was a brilliant move on the part of the wheat plant because it allowed itself to be spread to most of the continents of the world, four continents at least.
So, it's true, we love our sweets and we love our gluten and we love our exorphins, our chemicals to stimulate our brains. But just because we do that doesn't necessarily make it good for us. We all have a sweet tooth, but that doesn't mean we should be giving into that and eating sugar day in and day out.
And I think that you're correct, it was several years ago when Grain Brain was published, it was a much more challenging time for people like yourself and myself who were coming out and making statements that really were literally against the grain as it were. People that, "Guess what? This idea of eating more sugar and carbs and grains isn't good for you." And you need to get back to eating what humans have eaten, not just dating back to biblical times, but a lot further back, back a couple million years ago when we would eat fat and we would eat protein and animal protein. How incredible and validating it is that earlier this year we learned that the sugar industry had so profoundly influenced what was published in peer reviewed medical journals in the late 1960s trying to convince doctors that sugar was great, have at it, and that the real dietary culprit that was making people sick was dietary fat.
Now we know that that was ill founded and that nothing was further from the truth. And we're really seeing so much validation in the peer reviewed literature that gluten, that sticky substance contained in wheat, barley, and rye is actually toxic to human health and specifically to the brain.
Tana Amen: Fascinating.
Dr Daniel Amen: So talk to us about why.
Dr Perlmutter: Great question.
Dr Daniel Amen: So when you look at a piece of-
Dr Perlmutter: I think that your listeners should know that the mechanisms whereby gluten is causing damage to the brain have been very well delineated from very respectful laboratories around the world. For example, a [Marios Hajavasalusome 00:04:48] in England has correlated gluten consumption to some serious brain issues related to inflammation by virtue of the fact that gluten stimulates certain antibodies to form, and these antibodies then attack normal brain tissue. We now know that the damage to the brain actually has its origin in the gut.
As a neuroscientist, who would have suspected that, and we have suspected it for quite some time, but recent work from Dr. Fasano's laboratory at Harvard published last year demonstrated that gliadin, which is a protein that makes up part of gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gliadin induces leakiness of the gut or what we call increased gut permeability in all humans, not just the one percent of us that happen to have celiac disease or the 20 or 30% who believe that we may have what is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The reason leakiness of the gut, again, induced by gluten in all people, is such an issue is that it profoundly amplifies two processes. Number One, inflammation, which is the cornerstone of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, and coronary artery disease to name a few, but it also helps to induce what is called auto immunity, where our immune systems react against our own cells, which is the cornerstone of things like Alzheimer's and also Hashimoto's, thyroid disease, and things like Lupus and multiple sclerosis for that matter.
So for people like ourselves who have been focused on the brain for many years to now be humbled by the fact that we recognize that the mechanism really begins in the gut, I think takes us back a little bit in a good way, but it allows us to leverage the importance of food choices in terms of what it's doing to our gut, what it's doing to our gut bacteria, and more importantly, therefore, what it's doing to our gut lining because our food choices then relate to leakiness of the gut, the cornerstone of inflammation. That is the mechanism of all of these degenerative conditions that we fear.
Tana Amen: So interesting. I know that this has had a profound impact on my health and the people that I have coached. So the people who actually have been sick as someone who had Hashimoto's and thyroid cancer multiple times and was really sick as a child, it was hard to embrace this idea because I grew up eating horribly. But making that change really transformed my life. And then the people we work with, the ones who are willing to do it, are astounded by the change in how they feel, how they think, their focus, attention. So we know it works. How do you get people to actually follow through with this? What your advice?
Dr Perlmutter: Let me preface the response by saying to you, Tana, that what a beautiful thing that you had these experiences you learned a way out and then dedicated your life to sharing that knowledge with other people. What a beautiful thing. And I don't want that to be lost. That's a part of your narrative that I really want to just embrace for a moment.
Tana Amen: Thank you.
Dr Perlmutter: And then to answer your question. How we get people to move forward with these lifestyle changes which are so empowering and health providing is, number one. I guess they have to believe in my message and I've done my best to portray my message on the background of what current science is telling us. It's not just stuff that Dr. Perlmutter dreamed up to have a wonderful book. My books, like your books, are all written with reference to really great research from our top scientists around the world.
What really draws people into continuing on the recommendations is even their immediate short term success. I say, "Look, I'm not asking you today for a lifelong commitment. I'm asking you for maybe two to three weeks. Just give me that and let's see what happens." And it doesn't usually take very long, often two to three weeks till people suddenly have a dramatic change and then suddenly the lights come back on. And with that, that's powerfully reinforcing to stay with the program because suddenly after years of coming down dark alleys and not finding answers, suddenly there's a light that they are for the first time in years beginning to see. That's very powerfully reinforcing in terms of staying with the various recommendations.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, when you've had cancer three times and-
Tana Amen: That's a motivator.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... some of the other things. That really motivates you.
Tana Amen: Pain is a good motivator.
Dr Daniel Amen: And in treating autistic children, we do that here at Amen Clinics, getting them off wheat and dairy often gives us the biggest immediate result. Can you talk about dairy for a bit?
Dr Perlmutter: Well, I can. Let me just get back to your statement about autism, taking them off of wheat and dairy and it's really very important, but beyond dairy and wheat, it's all grains that are gluten containing. One recent study I've demonstrated that 88% of autistic children have antibodies directed at some of the proteins found in wheat containing [crosstalk 00:10:21]. As compared to one percent of children not diagnosed. For that to be brushed under the carpet when we make a recommendation for an autistic child to be on a gluten free diet and not withstanding even the results that we are seeing, I think it really plays to the notion that here's hardcore science that's justifying why we made a recommendation.
Well we make those recommendations and have done so for a couple of decades because of really what we see in terms of results. We know that autism is a gut centered problem. The brain is secondarily involved down the line once this inflammatory cascade has been amplified. It is a gut related problem. As any parent of an autistic child would tell you, they noticed the GI problems first before their child had a speech arrest or regressed in terms of speaking or demonstrated stereotypic behavior or others of the hallmarks.
So when you look at the work, for example, of Dr. Derek [McFay 00:11:24] at the University of Western Ontario, he is clearly capitalized on the idea that the gut is in disarray and autistic children and has demonstrated in experimental animal models of the reversal of autism based upon manipulating the products, the metabolic products that are made by the disarrayed gut bacteria in autism, creating more of one type of short chain fatty acid in comparison to another.
So this is where we are and with embracing that knowledge that, yes, it's a gut problem, yes, it's an allergic issue to some degree, but that-
Tana Amen: But that's helpful.
Dr Perlmutter: We could repair that by focusing on the gut, is the reason that we have looked at doing what is called fecal microbial transplant as a treatment for autism. Wow. Why would we be exploring the notion of changing or implanting into a child with autism fecal material from an otherwise healthy child? The reason we do that is because of this mounting literature that demonstrates significant disarray and loss of diversity of the gut bacteria that correlates with autism. Almost a fingerprint that will identify autism, now, by examining the DNA of the organisms living in their intestines.
We have actually posted on our website a child who couldn't speak very well and was really significantly compromised. He underwent a fecal transplant and is now in regular school, in the top third of his class doing wonderfully, had a series of fecal transplants and as validation for our work, how nice it is that the University of Arizona now is engaged in a large study doing FMT, Fecal Microbial Transplant, in children with this diagnosis.
So we are just at the very primitive stages of getting our arms around how powerful a role the gut bacteria are playing in terms of the downstream effects related to brain function, moment to moment, as well as the brain's risk long term for serious disease like Parkinson's, for example. A powerful paper was published about three weeks ago demonstrating how manipulation of the gut bacteria in laboratory animals dramatically reduce the production of a certain protein in the brain that they would otherwise have gotten called alpha synuclein that we see correlates with Parkinson's disease, and how transplanting into these laboratory mice fecal material from humans with Parkinson's essentially gave them that protein. Wow. I mean this is breathtaking.
Tana Amen: It's exciting.
Dr Perlmutter: But again, early research.
Tana Amen: That's really exciting.
Dr Daniel Amen: Before we have to stop for today, can we talk about dairy just for a bit and what your thoughts are? My understanding, they can cause exorphins in the brain as well.
Dr Perlmutter: Yes. Well, we know that dairy products can similarly effect the endorphin receptors in the brain, so it can act like exorphins as well. There are plenty of people who have significantly strong reactions to a chemical called casein, a protein called casein. And I think the reason that we're seeing more and more casein reactions in people is because more and more of their gut lining, which acts as a barrier to keep proteins out that would otherwise aggressively stimulate the immune system, that barrier is being compromised.
So, what I'm saying is that gluten exposure, for example, sets people up for then developing casein and other protein reactions, not just gluten, but also the presence of pesticides and certainly herbicides like glyphosate, which is almost ubiquitous in our food. It's a chemical used to kill weeds. We know that it changes the gut bacteria and that can have, again, a devastating effect on the gut lining. And then we develop issues with proteins like Casein and gliadin and other proteins that otherwise might not have been as dramatic as an issue.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Daniel Amen: This is so helpful.
Tana Amen: So helpful.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well stay with us. We are going to continue to talk with Dr. Perlmutter about his great work.
Dr Perlmutter: Good.
Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.
Donny Osmond: Thanks for listening to today's show, the Brain Warrior's Way. Why don't you head over to brainwarriorswaypodcast.com, that's brainwarriorswaypodcast.com, where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. And when you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen Clinics. I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.