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'Grain Brain' Doctor in New Public Television Special

Dr. David Perlmutter says what we eat can protect or destroy our brains

By Emily Gurnon

Physician and author Dr. David Perlmutter, whose provocative bestselling book Grain Brain posited that carbohydrates could cause dementia, headaches and depression, returns to public television this month with another special.

This time, the 90-minute show, Brain Maker With Dr. David Perlmutter, is based on his new book, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain—for Life. The show was taped as a part of a June 2015 event at the Buck Institute in Novato, Calif.

It can be seen on select public television stations during their August pledge drives.

Perlmutter has gained worldwide attention for his work, which is lauded as revolutionary by some and scientifically bogus by others.

What He Says

Permutter's recommendations include the following:

  • Everyone should eat a gluten-free diet even if they have not been diagnosed with celiac disease. “As many as 30% of the population may be sensitive to gluten, without a specific involvement of the small intestine (celiac disease),” he writes on his website. “And this sensitivity can relate to any number of problems from dementia to ADHD, skin disorders, joint pain, neuropathy, headaches and even depression.”
  • Bread and pasta items, even whole-wheat, should be strictly avoided. In fact, carbohydrates in general “are destroying your brain,” leading to Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses, he says. “It is difficult to get a clear understanding of what may actually constitute a ‘good carb,’” Perlmutter writes on his website.
  • The ideal diet features between 70 and 90 percent healthy fats (in which he includes grass-fed beef, nuts, coconut oil and avocados), protein and as few carbs as possible. “The human requirement for carbohydrates is zero,” Perlmutter says.

Those recommendations have been endorsed by fellow celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, who himself has come under scrutiny for dubious medical claims, but are largely at odds with the scientific establishment.

Conventional Science Doesn't Concur

Evidence suggests that a heart-healthy diet may help protect the brain, the Alzheimer’s Association says on its website.

The site notes: “Heart-healthy eating includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats and making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

The organization also says some conditions known to increase the risk of heart disease — such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

“Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease,” it says.

Critics Point to Profits

A critical piece in New York magazine in June 2015 delved into Perlmutter’s history of cashing in on health treatments and supplements, including his own line of supplements. (Those, including a $160 “Senior Empowerment Pack,” are no longer being sold on his website.)

The New York magazine article also quoted Jonathan Eisen, a microbiome expert at the University of California, Davis, about the book Brain Maker. “To think we can magically heal diseases by changing to a gluten-free diet and taking some probiotics is idiotic, quite frankly,” he said.


Eisen also commented on the case of an autistic boy Perlmutter features on his website and in the book. Perlmutter suggested the boy be given fecal transplantations.

“It resembles more the presentation of a snake-oil salesman than that of a person interested in actually figuring out how to help people,” Eisen is quoted as saying.

A Popular Message

But Perlmutter has clearly caught the attention of the American public. Perhaps that is because American adults — more than two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — are tired of hearing about how they should excise the fat and red meat from their diet.

And Perlmutter is correct that people are terrified of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

“Dementia is our most-feared illness, more than heart disease or cancer,” he told Next Avenue in 2013. “When you let Type 2 diabetics know they’re doubling their risk for Alzheimer’s disease, they suddenly open their eyes and take notice.”

Brain Maker was released in late April 2015. It made it to the New York Times bestseller list within two weeks.




Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. Her stories include a series of articles on guardianship abuse that was funded by the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She previously spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Reach her through her website. Read More
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