Dear Dr Jo- “My son is worried he might get dementia..”

This is a communication I had from Mike, who follows my favoured way of eating in the hope of avoiding dementia.

I buried my last Aunt yesterday. My dad and all of his 3 sisters had dementia (dad started showing signs as early as 67). My only remaining uncle is alive but has dementia now too. I live in fear of subjecting my family to it. My son (18) is worried sick about it, but getting him off processed carbs and sugar is a nightmare (he looks healthy). My daughter has fibromyalgia and I can’t convince her either. I wish I could teleport you down for supper! The annoying thing is, my running improved so much I effortlessly switched from half marathon to 80+ ultras almost overnight, and people now think that’s why I switched !

I offered to give Mike and his family some ideas about changing…

That sounds like a good idea. Bit more background. He is hard working, 18 yrs, A level exams start this week, 6’3 and about 11 stone, ‘healthy looking’. Gets sore throats a lot. How can he go to Uni and refrain from pizza, chips, ketchup etc? He doesn’t like cheese, yoghurt and doesn’t like avocados!! He takes the fat off the bacon and leaves the chicken skin on the plate. Pretty much your classic 18 yr old boy I suppose. BUT, he lies awake at night worrying about Dementia as a hereditary risk.

Dear Mike

Dementia is getting more common, and in 2013 dementia affected 1.3% of the entire UK population, and 7.1% of over 65s. To some these are small figures, but to others they are horrifying. This is what I would say to your son.

You have enough to think about with your A levels going on. I hope they go well and you achieve what you dream of. When you are ready, read what I have to say.

You are worried about dementia, but feel unable to change your diet yet. I see you as being in the first stages of change, so do not worry that you have not yet managed to do it. Like many people in the UK (two thirds) you are currently addicted to eating processed foods and drinks. The foods and drinks that are marketed to us, the foods and drinks that are advertised on every bus shelter, are found at each supermarket check out, and that fill the shelves of fuel stations are highly addictive and attractive. They have been formulated to give us the ‘bliss’ factor we go back to again and again and again. I know, I have been there, but even I managed to change easily after 50 years of eating the standard British diet.
I find many you and other young people start to think about looking after your bodies and minds and try to get fit by doing exercise and eating better, in your own time. Nagging does not help. It is becoming more popular for you to eat whole foods, and reject processed foods like pizza, chips and ketchup. When my children were at uni, they spoke of friends who never ate junk food, and who did a lot of sport- or went to the gym. With my patients, young men are actually the ones most likely to have heard of the low carb healthy fat diet( they may combine it with higher protein for other reasons). They want their bodies to be attractive and they want to improve their personal bests as well as feel well, concentrate well and have the energy to stay up as late as possible.
Do have a go with and choose to try new foods that you do not currently like. It takes 9 “goes” to “like” a new savoury food, unlike sweet foods where it is an instant hit. You can retrain what I call your “sweet-o-meter” by eating mostly non sweet foods, and getting yourself used to them if you want to. Think of giving up junk food like giving up smoking. Set a quit day. Do not give up on giving up. Lose your fear of fat. Fats are essential and your brain needs fat to function.
If you want to read the science behind it, read Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter first, maybe over the summer, or another book of your choice, or a website. I was skeptical at first, but started over time to believe that it was a good theory, then that it was easy to follow, and finally that I liked it enough to keep doing it. I expect you will find your own way to change in time, as I did. Good luck! I am sure you will succeed because you want to.
Best wishes
Dr Jo