Dr. Larry McCleary Interview Part TwoJuly 25, 2011 Written by JP [Font too small?]
What I personally look for in a physician, regardless of their specialty, is someone who is an expert in their field, but who also acknowledges and understands the importance of holism. Historical wisdom and recent scientific discoveries make it abundantly clear that it no longer makes much sense to treat symptoms in isolation. These days, physicians need to consider individual dietary, lifestyle and psychological factors in addition to biomarkers and other test results when evaluating a patient’s true health status. Dr. Larry McCleary is an example of a brain specialist who has fully embraced this concept by searching throughout the body for clues that may enhance wellness.
You can’t expect the body to remain healthy or to recover from an illness without the support of the brain. Likewise, it’s illogical to assume that how you treat your body doesn’t influence the condition and functioning of your brain. But, caring for your body and brain properly extends far beyond just what you put on your dinner plate.
JP – Apart from diet, what lifestyle considerations impact brain health and cognitive functioning most profoundly?
Dr. McCleary – I think exercise is a major beneficial factor for brain health. Some studies suggest that you can literally shave off several years of brain aging by participating in an exercise program. And it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise in a gym. Simply walking 45 minutes 3-4 times a week is all that is required. Stimulating your brain mentally is very important as is remaining socially connected. These have a major positive effect and are fun!
JP – Are there any mind/body approaches that protect the brain and possibly even reverse or slow signs of cognitive decline?
Dr. McCleary – Yes. I think that yoga and meditation are great. Mindfulness and relaxation strategies are also helpful. They make you feel better and are wonderful stress and anxiety relievers and stress is a brain and memory killer.
JP – You’re the medical director for the non-profit Shining Stars Foundation which offers support to children and families who are living with cancer and other life threatening diseases. Do any of the dietary and lifestyle principles presented in your books have any application in relation to cancer?
Dr. McCleary – Absolutely. I would suggest that your readers google Dr. Thomas Seyfried, a professor of Biology at Boston University. He has done some very similar work on diet and cancer and is even developing a therapeutic regimen for glioblastome multiforme — the most malignant brain cancer — based on closely allied nutritional recommendations.
JP – You’re a strong proponent of the use of select fats and fatty acids. What is it about alpha-linolenic acid, coconut oil and monounsaturated fats that rank them so high on your list of “healthy fats”?
Dr. McCleary – I believe that the brain depends on a daily supply of healthy fats to maintain its structure and function. Brain cells must be flexible to respond to the literally trillions of nerve impulses they receive per second, every second of every hour, 24/7. The unsaturated fats provide this flexibility. They include the group of mono-unsaturated fats (in olives, avocados, nuts and seeds, for example), omega-3 poly-unsaturated fats found in animals (cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies), and plant-based foods (including ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, wheat germ, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and many green leafy veggies).
Nerve cells also need energy — a lot of it. The brain constitutes 2% of the weight of the body but uses 20% of the energy. And it needs it even during sleep. Glucose (the primary sugar in blood) is its main fuel but ketones are a more powerful brain fuel than glucose and they are a breakdown product of burning fat. So foods that produce ketones are a great source of energy for the brain. These include coconut oil and plant-derived fats including alpha-linolenic acid as described above.
Ketones are a great energy source and aren’t associated with the crash seen with refined carbohydrates or products with a lot of caffeine like 5-Hour Energy (a popular “energy” drink). Also, because they keep the brain well-nourished, they suppress appetite for hours and thus can contribute to weight loss.
JP – How do you feel about the relative merits and safety of ketogenic diets in the management of cancer and neurological disorders?
Dr. McCleary – I think they can play a key role in both. For cancer, see Dr. Seyfreid above. For neurological disorders they enhance brain energy generation (a major factor in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and possibly ALS as well). There is even a medical food on the market based on the ability of these foods to generate ketones called Axona (based on coconut oil), which is manufactured by the company Accera. Your readers should check it out. Another use for ketogenic diets is in diabetes.
JP – What is the importance of using herbs and spices in everyday cooking?
Dr. McCleary – Herbs and spices are unsung nutritional heroes in my opinion. They are essentially calorie free and provide a rich source of free-radical fighters and anti-inflammatory compounds. They also contain an array of other phyto-nutrients that have a variety of health benefits.
JP – Do you have any favorite seasonings? If so, why?
Dr. McCleary – Cinnamon and ginger are great for improving glucose and insulin metabolism. Rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano enhance the taste of the foods they are used with and contain more anti-oxidants than a number of berries. I also like “spicy” spices that add heat to the dish they are added to.
JP – If you were asked to contribute one or more ideas to the current health reform discussion, what would you propose in order to improve overall health care and reduce medical spending?
Dr. McCleary – I think paying attention to chronic diseases would be key. That having been said, they all start years before they manifest and so preventive medicine would be critical in helping us all live longer and healthier (and more productive) lives. Lifestyle choices and dietary interventions are the keys to success in this arena. This will also minimize the use of prescription drugs (and the side effects they cause) and surgical treatments that are so costly. In addition, drugs have a poor track record when used for (preventing or treating) chronic diseases, while this is where diet and lifestyle changes shine.
JP – In particular, I’d be interested to know if you’ve considered some practical ways to revolutionize senior care.
Dr. McCleary – I think vitamin D supplementation and weight training are two winners for enhancing senior care.
Ketogenic Nutrition May Improve Age Related Cognitive Decline
Source: Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 Aug 10;6:31. (link)
JP – Vitamin D is becoming a major topic of discussion in conventional and integrative neurological circles. Is all of the interest and publicity regarding cholecalciferol justified?
Dr. McCleary – I recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Michael Holick, a researcher from Boston University in vitamin D metabolism. He stated that over 1 billion residents of planet earth are vitamin D deficient. He also felt that 150-200 million Americans are vitamin D deficient/insufficient. So this is a huge problem — probably the most widespread deficiency in human history. He made a compelling case for the role of vitamin D deficiency in not only bone disease, but also childhood diabetes, loss of muscle with aging, heart disease and cancer. I agree with his insights and feel this is an easily addressed health problem. He felt so strongly about what he calls sensible sun exposure (which is the source of most of our vitamin D) that when he was asked to resign from his position in the BU Department of Dermatology for his opinion, he did so rather than changing his public opinion on sun exposure and vitamin D generation.
JP – To date, you’ve developed several clinically tested nutritional supplements. Can you please describe the purpose of these nutritional aids? Who is the target population for each?
Dr. McCleary – I have developed three nutritional supplement products that have been patented, tested in independent human clinical trials and have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. I developed these to help people improve their health in a safe manner. They are Lucidal (for brain health, learning, memory and focus), VitaLoss (for weight loss) and Bonexid (a bone health product that contains no calcium).
None of these products are drugs so they are not designed to treat diseases. However, Lucidal is designed to enhance the health state of the brain and to improve how well it functions, specifically it has been shown to improve focus and concentration, memory, learning and alleviates mild depression and mild anxiety. VitaLoss decreases appetite and speeds up the rate at which calories are burned. Both of these should help speed weight loss. Bonexid was shown to enhance bone formation and decrease bone breakdown while at the same time it makes the calcium you consume much more effective.
JP – You’ve recently started hosting your own podcast, Brain-Body Breakthroughs. What kind of content and guests can listeners expect to hear on your new program?
Dr. McCleary – I interview guests who are experts in the fields of nutrition, exercise, health and medicine. It is done in a Q and A format and emphasizes their major field of interest as well as touching on controversial topics. I have enjoyed the discussions and try to make the show entertaining and educational for the listeners in a way that allows them to personalize what they hear to be able to improve their own lives.
I highly endorse the concept of medical and/or nutritional experts formulating and then testing products prior to placing them on the market. This is a costly process, but one that increases the odds that effective and safe supplements see the light of day. I commend Dr. McCleary for going this unconventional route. I’m also a fan of physicians who put ego aside and strive to expand their knowledge base by interviewing colleagues in different and related fields. In such instances, everyone benefits – the interviewer, interviewee and, in this case, listeners of the podcast. In closing, I’d like to thank Dr. McCleary and Christine McCleary for taking the time to share their unique perspective about health. I know that I’ve benefited from our exchange and I hope you have too.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Brain, Coconut, Vitamin D
Posted in Diabetes, Interviews, Memory