April 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Brain Fair (Rant Warning!)

Greetings, Earthlings!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, on April 18th I had a table at the American Academy of Neurology’s Brain Health Fair, which was part of their annual convention. The event was free and open to the public, and as far as I could tell, it was mostly the public that came through the exhibit hall, since I didn’t get any doctors sidling up to my little corner of this shindig. (None that I know of, anyway.) My presence at this thing coincided with the launch of my e-book on Alzheimer’s disease. I am pleased to report that I had people coming up to me all day. People were very interested in hearing about the influence of food and nutrition on brain health. I don’t expect a lot of book sales to come from it, but I think I’ll be hearing from a few new clients. (And I made an Indian woman very happy when I told her it was okay to eat ghee again!)

There were some encouraging moments, and I think I dropped more than a few “knowledge bombs,” as Sean Croxton likes to say. But there were many discouraging moments, too. In fact, my main feeling on the event can be summed up in two words:

Holy, and crap.

I was completely overwhelmed by the nutritional ignorance and saturated fat & cholesterol brainwashing among the public. I had no idea how bad it is. Most of my time reading books, research papers, websites, and scouring social media is spent scavenging for information relevant to my interests: ancestral health, the benefits of carbohydrate reduction, human biochemistry & physiology, etc. I rarely give credence to fearmongering headlines on television news or in tabloid papers lining supermarket checkout lanes.

Because of my self-imposed media blinders, I’ve insulated myself from what the average non-nutrition professional reads and hears. So I was not at all prepared for the onslaught of misinformation that bombarded me as I manned my table from 9a.m. through 4:30p.m. And boy, was that a whopping dose of all that I had avoided during the past several years.  

I was almost speechless. In fact, by the end of the day, I was speechless, because my throat hurt so much from telling everyone who asked that it’s okay to eat egg yolks. I created a handout that listed my “top 5 foods for the brain” (plus 4 lifestyle tips for a healthy brain -- feel free to share these handouts with people!) and set up a little display showing some of them off. One of the items in said display was a soft-boiled egg, cut in half so people could see the gorgeous, bright yellow-orange yolk. (Full of brain-boosting cholesterol, choline, B12, zinc, selenium, and more.)

I cannot tell you how many people were stunned that they should not toss the yolks in the garbage. (Can you imagine all the nutrients that have literally gone in the trash during the last fifty years?!)

And then, there was the coconut oil. Coconut oil was also in the display of brain foods. People were even more shocked that I was recommending coconut oil than they were about the egg yolks. Several people asked about the cholesterol in coconut oil. Of course, I set them straight by informing them that, as a plant product, coconut oil contains zero cholesterol. Undeterred by that little tidbit, they argued that surely the saturated fat can’t be good for us. And since I couldn’t impart two years of biochemistry classes on them in the two or three minutes we had to chat, all I said was that, yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but the type of saturated fat it contains (medium-chain triglycerides, for any newbies who might be reading this) is especially beneficial for the brain.  

I can’t blame these people. Without a steeping in human physiology & biochemistry, how are they supposed to make sense of the conflicting headlines they hear regarding diet and health? (Remember the oat bran debacle craze back in the 1980s?) When one week, Dr. Oz is touting the benefits of whole grains, and the next, he’s interviewing Dr. William Davis, who has almost single-handedly made wheat public enemy number 1, how is the average, nutritionally ignorant person supposed to know what’s accurate? (Assuming any of it even is accurate. More on my professional existential crisis in an upcoming post.) When we’ve heard for fifty years that cholesterol is a heart attack on a plate, and then the government suddenly rescinds its recommendations to limit egg consumption, it’s no wonder people have food whiplash. (Foodlash?)

What is one little nutritionist supposed to say to people in the face of this onslaught? Knowing that what I was telling people was so strongly contradictory to what they’re used to hearing, the thought that continually crossed my mind (and I even said it to someone) was: This is my livelihood. I earn my living this way. Why would I jeopardize that by providing information that is harmful or incorrect? (Shoot, even on that stupid little handout, all the claims I made about egg yolks, coconut oil, shellfish, and the other brain foods were referenced at the bottom. I had to include references. In case any neurologists happened to stop by, I didn’t want to get caught in a game of “show me a study…”)

Most of my clients [so far, anyway] find me through my blog, Primal Docs, or by searching for a low-carb or keto-friendly nutritionist. So they come to me already familiar with these principles. I’ve never had to convince a client that eating red meat or butter won’t give them a heart attack. And due to my aforementioned focused media consumption, I’ve been fooled—so, so fooled—into thinking this stuff is common knowledge. I’ve unknowingly been living in a low-carb, Paleo, Primal, and WAPF bubble, and that bubble was burst in a big way at this brain fair. (Even at my day job, where most people know almost nothing about nutrition, when somebody buys a box of donuts, the donuts typically languish, untouched, throughout the day. I suspect, however, that this is less because no one wants the donuts than they don’t want to be seen eating one.)

The next most common comment was about whole grains. Hearthealthywholegrains™So yeah, as much as the people I spoke with were stunned to hear what I was saying, I was equally stunned to hear what they believed about “healthy diets.” I am starting to understand why many practitioners have moved away from one-on-one consultations in favor of spending the bulk of their time writing books, developing online courses, shooting videos, and generally just creating income streams that don’t require them to have the same frustrating conversation with everyone who sits down with them. That, dear readers, is as hard on the mind and heart as it is on the vocal cords.   

As if it wasn’t difficult enough hearing how backward “common knowledge” about nutrition is, I could've screamed during one of the talks I overheard while manning my table. An MD was covering Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and, right on cue, she said AD has no known cause, and no effective treatment. In terms of prevention, it was all about—you knew this was coming—socialization, word puzzles, and hobbies to keep the mind sharp. When she finally got around to mentioning diet, as if it were some semi-meaningless afterthought, rather than one of the most powerful potential influencers of disease pathology, I’ll give you one guess as to the first two words out of her medically educated mouth: whole grains. (You knew that was coming, too, right?) And the next two? Fruits and vegetables. (Why, oh, why does no one [except me] ever put vegetables first?!) Why no talk of cholesterol? Why no talk of the PROVEN brain-boosting property of the SATURATED FATS known as medium-chain triglycerides? (Oh, right. Its because theyre saturated fats, and even though they might help feed your starving brain cells, youll die of a heart attack instead. Silly me.)
Of course, the talk also centered on drugs. Drugs to target the amyloid plaques, drugs to target the neurofibrillary tangles, drugs to keep brain cells from dying. But of course they want to make drugs to target the symptoms. That’s the only thing they can do, since they have NO IDEA what could actually be causing the symptoms in the first place, even though the scientific literature is LOADED with the insulin/glucose/mitochondria connection.

No, we have no clue what might be causing this, even though you can’t get on PubMed without finding piles upon piles of studies pointing to an inability of neurons to use glucose. (And even if we’re not 100% sure what the cause of that is, it most definitely suggests a certain solution.)

Now you can see why I felt like I had to write The Alzheimer’s Antidote. It’s because the freaking neurologists have no clue. And since the “experts” can’t help us, we have to help ourselves. (Kind of like when my dad’s endocrinologist insisted that stress has no effect on blood sugar. I guess in all her medical training, she never came across the term cortisol.)

I wrote my book because, while the disease etiology and pathology I describe in it might not be the only way AD starts and progresses, it’s certainly the one that seems to fit all the pieces and answer all the questions so handily.

I only worry that no one will take me seriously because I’m not an MD, and the crucial, lifesaving information in my book will wither away on the ash pile of history.

P.S. Kickstarter campaign to put me through medical school?  ;-)

Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.


  1. Been thinking about that kickstarter idea...

    Gotta get you thru medical school in asap mode, so that you can shout louder and farther. But - mainly - to be able to hit back on the medical establishment, on equal terms. Same rules of the game, same gloves.

    Colin Chapman got it, it's all about misguided medicine. Let's do it.

  2. A case of Semmelweis reflex, perhaps?

    It's not the medical system you have to get into, it is the government system that sets the standards that doctors must comply with.

    Maybe a Kickstarter for a new lobby group to promote good eating?


  3. Amy, you are completely justified to rant about your visitors at the Brain Fare. It is really difficult to try to discuss nutritional truths to people who have no interest - or even the courtesy to seem interested.

    Unfortunately, you were confronted by an audience of a type often employed in studies by today's would-be epidemiologists. That type is a group of individuals who are highly selected. Your group obviously had a free day on Saturday; they obviously liked to go out and "do something" on a free day; the conference was free so could they also be free-loaders? Also, the interest was the brain, a medical science not noted for interest in or knowledge of nutrition. They were a highly selected group that, hopefully, did not represent average.

    Fortunately, you knew your visitors were not representative. You recognized they were products of the popular pseudoscience that permeates current nutrition literature - they were victims of potent believable untruths. Your visitors will never know how much they missed, and you, Amy, suffered from a sense of failure that was undeserved. But the experience will describe for your readers a really basic flaw present in so many popular health "findings" that will probably surprise them.

    That flaw is confusion between which is cause and which is effect. The most popular of health findings we are faced with today is "Exercise makes people healthy." Are people healthy because they exercise or do they exercise because they are healthy? People who are ill are not usually found in fitness gyms. People who exercise regularly are a highly selected group of motivated individuals. There are many lifestyle components other than exercise that contribute to good health.

    Whether people who exercise regularly are more healthy, less healthy, or neither cannot be answered by study methods available today. Such a study would be prohibitively expensive, unethical. immoral, and probably illegal. So Readers, keep alert and look for epidemiologic flaws in what you read. Your commonsense will guide you.

    Keep heart, Amy. The tide WILL turn. A&F

  4. I understand your frustration. Until the official position of doctors and dietitians is that naturally occurring fats can be healthful, most people will continue to make the high sugar choice. I watch my mom, who believes she is health conscious, chose whole grain breakfast cereals (heart healthy goodness), low fat sugared yogurts and fruit juice (first ingredient water, third ingredient HFCS).

    More annoying, her cardiologist told her she needed to reduce the amount of sugar she is eating. You can't tell someone that without saying increase your fat. She continues to chose high carb foods, because they are low in fat. To her, cookies and cakes are sugar, and fruit juice is well fruit.... healthy.

    I've seen commentators on TV doing the same thing. Coke is evil, look at all that sugar, we need to educate people. Yes, in my house we have healthy choices.... fruit juice and smoothies. I just listen to comments like this and shake my head. Yes, more high sugar choices, I think we've had enough of this type of education.

    1. You said it! I still work an unrelated day job part-time until nutrition pays the bills, and you can imagine how often I have to keep my mouth shut when I overhear conversations about food, health, and weight loss. It's not that people think cupcakes and soda are health foods. It's the other stuff -- the fat-free yogurt, the fruit smoothies, the egg white omelets. Gaaah! I see so many people so badly debilitated -- physically *and* psychologically, and it just doesn't need to be this way. So, so much quality of life lost to nothing but a bad diet.

      This is why I love Mark Sisson so much. Seems like he's very into tinkering and perfecting his own health and physique, but he also stresses that most people can feel GREAT and be WELL when there's still room for occasional treats, skipping some workouts. People don't realize that they don't have to be health nuts or gym freaks.

      I dunno...To me, it seems like people are at the two extremes, and there's not a whole lot of us in the middle: people either don't care *at all* about their health, and they live with the consequences (not even *realizing* that those consequences are almost totally under their own control), or people care *too much,* and drive themselves crazy to the point where it actually starts to negatively affect their health as well. (OMG! I went to a restaurant and steak wasn't grass-fed! I might have accidentally ingested a molecule of canola oil! I was up half the night with a sick child, but dammit, I'm gonna wake up at 5am for that spin class!)

  5. Great post Amy and welcome to the (un)real world of well-meaning food choices made from appallingly fraudulent guidelines. It is absolutely iniquitous what governments recommend as 'food' and from that what schools recommend should be in lunch boxes. How about a Kickstarter campaign to get your Alz book published in book form...? I am in. Where do I sign up?

    1. Thanks! I'd *love* to get a "real" book deal for the Alz book. Here's hoping someone "big" spots it and wants to take it to the stratosphere. :)