You may know Max Lugavere as host of Al Gore’s Emmy-nominated “Current TV.” Max has a brand-new documentary in the works—Bread Head which explores the effects of diet on brain health and degenerative disease.
The choices you make at the kitchen table now have a marked impact on how you think, how you age, and your risk of mental dysfunction in the future. Don’t miss this one!
Onto the show with Max Lugavere, where you’ll learn:
- Why blood sugar matters more than blood pressure
- How to optimize your brain with real food
- Why 30-somethings need to get serious about brain health now
- Does Alzheimer’s = Diabetes type 3?
- And much more…
Max Lugavere: How To Heal Your Brain With Real Food
We were talking before this interview about how marketers are crowding into the health space right now because it’s a hotspot—but what’s rare is true passion and true meaning behind why people are doing this.
Why is Bread Head more of a passion project than anything else?
No one makes a documentary for the money. In fact, it’s what you do if you want to watch your bank account shrink.
In college, I double majored in film and psychology. I switched from pre-med because of a love of storytelling. I got a dream job out of college working for Al Gore hosting “Current TV” for five years. That was incredible and I learned a lot. I worked with Peabody award-winning journalists and learned so much.
Then I left to create content unencumbered by the restrictions of TV. I did a web series called Acting Disruptive. I love creating content that resonates with people–the kind that entertains and inspires, but also informs.
I’ve always been obsessed with science and technology, especially the part about how science changes the human condition. I’m fascinated by nanotech and how it could rewrite faulty genes. I’ve always been really into health and nutrition.
In high school I was a self-taught computer programmer. Technology has given way to a whole new generation of biohackers with the mental framework of an engineer.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been overweight. I’ve never had to deal with diabetes or anything like that. It’s just been a curiosity about how diet and lifestyle choices manifest in physical being.
How Diet Contributes To Alzheimer’s
Three years ago I started noticing signs of cognitive decline in my mom. As someone who has this ability to understand the science, I was very much mobilized to dig into the research (as you did, Abel). I became obsessed with figuring out why a woman of 59 experienced cognitive decline despite having access to healthy food. She had access and adhered to the guidelines her whole life. She was “health conscious.”
I knew there had to be a dietary connection.
There was no one in my lineage with dementia or anything—and she wasn’t old. At this point I decided I needed to focus on this topic and amplify the things I was learning. This process lead to “Bread Head” and other advocacy.
“I get the sense on a very small scale that I’m changing the way people think about food.”
What happened with your mom and cognitive decline?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. What you learn when you go down the neurodegenerative rabbit hole is that Alzheimer’s shares a lot with other cognitive diseases.
There were basic things she had trouble doing—she was a powerful woman who ran a business. Her mental faculties were intact her whole life. Then I noticed that things were off.
This is one of the myths I had to address. I had to figure out how she came down with these symptoms, and then I had to figure out prevention. Changes happen in the brain decades before the first symptom. I had to really examine this idea and start walking the walk.
Have you ever seen “Unbreakable” with Bruce Willis? Elija Price’s whole motivation behind finding the superhero was the idea of the bell curve—someone could be so unfortunate as him that there had to be someone at the other end of the spectrum—no frailties and super-strong and super-impervious.
I started thinking, “If I can reverse cognitive disease, maybe I can optimize the mind—maybe there are steps to get the pendulum to swing in the other direction.”
I play music, and I do research and a lot of other things. My cognitive demands are pretty high, so I started researching ways I might optimize that aspect of myself. The research has been fascinating.
My first book was basically a college project about how music affects the brain, and how music and other arts can allow you to maintain and upgrade cognitive function. So, I know a bit about that. But in your research, what did you find?
What are the steps and science behind preventing cognitive degeneration?
There are only bandaids. We have this cognitive resilience and it goes a long way, but it takes us decades to see the effects of unhealthy eating on our cognitive health—when you realize it’s a decades-long process, you realize why finding a cure has been so elusive.
One of the things we are exploring in “Bread Head” is that Alzheimer’s shows striking similarities to what is seen in the cells of type 2 diabetics. Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when your glycated hemoglobin reaches a certain level, but we see symptoms of it before this ever happens. The insulin resistance that is the hallmark of Type 2 Diabetes is there in Alzheimer’s, too.
There are ways that we can live and eat to prevent type 2 diabetes. I eat a low carb diet that’s high in healthy fats. But I don’t go crazy with the protein. Protein actually elicits an insulin response.
Fat doesn’t affect your blood sugar at all. Fats don’t have any insulin response. When you eat healthy fats, you’re giving yourself building blocks to create brain cells, to insulate neurons, so fat is a wonderful thing.
Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?
I think where the science is still trying to figure things out is in the genes—we all have different genes. Some people might have an increased genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, or may have a heightened response to fat.
Fat is a macronutrient—there are different kinds of fats and figuring out your ratio for your particular genotype is something science has yet to hone in on… I’m interested to see where genomics will play into those kinds of recommendations.
You’re getting older and people say “these things happen.” It’s in your genes. It’s not like that though. Alzheimer’s starts to look kind of like these diseases that are from lifestyle choices. That’s why lifestyle choices are important way before the signs of a degenerative disease start to show up.
There was a study that came out this week that people do actually age at different rates than one another. If two of you are the same age, and you actually measure your biomarkers, you may be aging at a different rate than one another and that will be reflected in your health and in your appearance.
Go to your class reunion—some of you are in your twenties and look like your forties. That creeps down to obesity in your teens, etc. It’s like this energy suck—a bad lifestyle sucking your essence.
“I’m obsessed with figuring out what this ‘unhealthy lifestyle’ really is.”
All of these things can be measured to test your rate of aging:
- Lipid profile
- Markers of genetic aging
- Telomeres—biomarkers for cellular aging. They’re like the shoelace tips at the end of your chromosomes that protect their integrity. You can control your telomeres with vitamin D and meditation. Studies have shown that meditation actually lengthens your telomeres.
- Glycation— this is the blood sugar
“The blood sugar pandemic is a major source of aging. We can control it with every choice we make at the kitchen table.”
Why do you think that getting millennials in on this now is so important?
This is the time we can really make a difference in our cognitive health. Right now, an estimated 5.5 million people in the Unites States have Alzheimer’s. And that’s not the only kind of cognitive degeneration. There’s also vascular dementia—dictated by cardio vascular health–and the number of affected people is set to triple by 2050!
Currently 10 million people in this country that don’t have signs will develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other cognitive degeneration in the next 35 years. That 35 year window is an incredible opportunity to change our cognitive destiny.
How To Prevent Alzheimer’s
What have you changed?
I used to believe that the more whole grains the healthier. I’d eat them—but my body fat has hovered around 14% and I’ve never really pushed to get it lower.
I used to think it was healthy or benign to eat a huge bowl of brown rice with my Thai food—I’m a huge Thai food junkie. I’d start every morning with eggs and whole wheat bread.
I realized what I was doing was inundating my body with blood sugar, increasing the rate of glycation—a function of glucose exposure over time. Whether you’ve consumed a Coke or a huge bowl of quinoa—same process is happening.
I’m not saying Coke and quinoa are comparable…
No, but the point is that you can overeat health foods.
We are told 7–11 servings of grains a day because they fuel the body like gas for a car. That’s an absurd notion. That’s an oversimplified version of how the body works. Your body can create glucose from protein, or tap into its fat stores (ketones), which is an incredibly clean-burning source of energy.
So many people are used to that up and down of the blood sugar insulin cycle that saps your energy in the moment, but also does serious metabolic damage… and damage to the brain. Even mild elevation of blood sugar is correlated with shrinkage in memory centers of the brain.
“So, if I can accomplish one thing, it’s to get people to actually think about sugar in the way that people already think about blood pressure. Everyone knows the lower it is, the better.”
I got a glucose meter years ago to see what different foods, fasting, or exercise did to my blood sugar. When you start to track your own blood sugar, you realize that, “Oh, I’m almost diabetic!” When you see it on a graph, and see what it does to your body, you’re like wow.
It’s not a good long-term plan. I just posted a video on my YouTube channel about blood sugar hacks—there are meaningful things you can do to lower your blood sugar fast. Even that one surge can have long-lasting detrimental effect.
One study exposed mice to an acute sugar blast, which ended up actually changing the mice’s epigenetics toward an increased risk for vascular damage.
We need to shift the paranoia and fear that has permeated the nation surrounding fat for the last few decades towards sugar.
What did you find to regulate blood sugar that has just spiked?
Vinegar is one of the best things you could consume. My grandma just had a sense and said it was the best without knowing any of the science behind it. Take a shot of vinegar with a high carb meal and it drastically reduces the post-prandial hyperglycemia effect.
Cinnamon has been studied for immediate blood sugar effects. Ceylon cinnamon, not the household cinnamon, which can have some detrimental additives.
Going for a Walk after dinner actually helps regulate blood sugar.
At the end of the day, we’re human. If we find ourselves in a situation… I have a sweet tooth. I was at a birthday party and there were miles of red velvet cake. At that party I had some of the cake and felt miserable after.
“It’s not about perfection. It’s about doing the best you can.”
Carb timing—if you eat bread the typical way, it’s horrible. If you eat the bread before the meal, on an empty stomach, it skyrockets the blood sugar. If you save the starches until after the meal (with fiber and real food in your system) it starts to slow down that process.
You don’t necessarily feel your blood pressure, but you do feel your blood sugar… and we need to get more in touch with that.
What are some things that have surprised you about what you’ve learned in the research you’ve done so far?
I’ve learned just how much control you do have over your cognitive health. The neurology field has been kind of this “diagnose and adios” mentality. So, I think that really spreading the empowering message of the fact that your brain health really is in your control.
I’ve also got a taste of the politics of health and medicine… and the pharmaceutical hunt for an Alzheimer’s cure and how that agenda can stand at odds with the idea of prevention.
The Wall Street Journal article that mentioned my film said that money still needs to be funneled into research and that coconut oil is not the answer… I would disagree with the latter. Obviously coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride and there’s ample evidence that it can help people. It’s easy to write off stuff like that.
Uh oh, sugar is making me dumb…
We are inundated with data constantly—if you can eat in a way that makes you better able to handle the mental tasks that are thrown at you day in and day out, wouldn’t that be awesome?
Where To Find Max Lugavere
We are working on it now— Bread Head is the first film that looks at diet and brain health. We are using my story and looking at research going on in labs right now. This is the most important topic there is. I can’t underscore that enough.
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LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
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What’d you think of this interview with Max? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!