Physicians Group and International Panel of Brain Researchers Urge Clinicians to Use Precautionary Principle in Practice: Engage Patients, Change Habits, Make Nutrition the Mainstream
WASHINGTON—New Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention developed by the nonprofit Physicians Committee and an international panel of brain researchers were released this past weekend at the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain. Nearly 550 health care professionals attending the conference on July 19 and 20, in Washington, D.C., were urged to immediately put into practice the seven dietary principles to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and promote brain health.
“A generation ago, we beat tobacco. The current generation of clinicians is in a battle over food—especially Alzheimer’s-promoting foods such as those which contain saturated and trans fats,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D. “Research is rarely clean and unambiguous. But we potentially have the capabilities to prevent a disease that is poised to affect 100 million people worldwide by 2050. Why wait?”
The Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention recommend brain-healthy habits that are very similar to the habits that prevent heart disease: avoiding the saturated and trans fats found in meats, dairy products, and snack foods; basing the diet on plant-based foods; adding healthful sources of vitamin E; and others. Combining this diet with physical exercise and avoiding excess metals—such as iron and copper in multivitamins—can maximize protection for the brain.
“The unfortunate diet habits baby boomers developed in the 70s and 80s are now bearing their fruit,” says Dr. Barnard. “Turn on a TV. Half of the commercials are for high-fat snacks and junk food. The other half are for medications to reverse the effects of those foods.”
Health care professionals who attended the conference sampled the dietary recommendations firsthand by enjoying plant-based, nutrient-rich meals such as roasted broccoli salad, spiced chickpea curry, baby bok choy, and blueberry sorbet. More than 100 attendees participated in a boot camp workout, which challenged both their bodies and minds.
“Clinicians need to set a good example,” Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., urged clinicians. “Nutrition and lifestyle changes should be at the core of ‘conventional’ medical practice. Medications should serve as ‘alternative’ medicine, when nutrition and lifestyle changes are not enough.”
Levin discussed ways for health care practitioners to set public examples: Talk to food service directors at elementary schools, work with hospital cafeterias to offer healthful options, and swap out junk food in vending machines for whole foods. Clinicians can also be nutrition role models by offering grocery store tours, coordinating cooking demos, and posting information about healthful nutrition in exam rooms.
“Prevention can never begin too early,” says Dr. Barnard. “We need to take action now with kids and schools—students today receive a diagnosis for high cholesterol before they earn their high school diploma.”
In addition to the release of the guidelines, the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain, jointly sponsored by The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Physicians Committee, featured 16 presenting researchers from five countries discussing how nutrients and lifestyle behaviors affect common brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, migraines, and other conditions. Videos of the conference’s presentations will be available on the Physicians Committee’s NutritionCME.org website starting this summer.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.