Book Review: The Alzheimer’s Antidote, by Amy Berger
The Alzheimer's Antidote, by Amy Berger
The Alzheimer’s Antidote: Using a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease, Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline
By Amy Berger
Chelsea Green Publishing Company
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

The more that the science of nutrition becomes a big business, the more we’re learning surprising things about nutrition that are causing profound shifts in how we think about the entire subject of healthcare in general; for one example, how the form of severe dementia we call Alzheimer’s is more and more looking not like the mysterious, fatal “elderly disease” we’ve generally considered it for the last century, but actually a fairly simple-to-explain condition whose effects can be countered and sometimes prevented altogether by a change in diet. That’s certainly the main thrust of Amy Berger’s new The Alzheimer’s Antidote, whose tl;dr summation is basically that we should think of Alzheimer’s as actually a different but related form of diabetes (a “type 3” if you will), caused by generally the same problems and that can be acted against by generally the same solutions. That solution is basically very similar to what is otherwise known as the “paleo diet” or the “Atkins diet,” which with each passing year is looking more and more like just a good general plan for being more healthy altogether — cut out most of the carbs currently in your eating plan, certainly eliminate 100 percent of the starchy, processed carbs that make up such a huge majority of the daily middle-class diet (potatoes, corn, chips, pizza, bleached rice, bleached flour, etc etc), re-introduce the full-fat versions of yogurt, butter and milk back into your life, and don’t be afraid to have more red meat and eggs than have been previously recommended in the last thirty years of our dangerously flawed “no fat” era.

Unfortunately, though, there’s a pretty big flaw in Berger’s book as well; for while I’m all for books on cutting-edge research that present their findings in terms of, “Here’s what some researchers say about the subject, and here’s what other researchers say, and even though that second group is currently larger and more respected doesn’t necessarily mean we should dismiss everything the first group is saying,” it becomes much more problematic when such results are presented in language like, “I’m 100 percent right about this so-far largely unproven theory, and if anyone tells you differently, even if they’re more qualified than me and their opinion is largely considered the current mainstream accepted one, they are 100 percent wrong and you should ignore every single thing they have to say.” And Berger does this a lot, especially when it comes to the most controversial part of her book, the theory that so-called “ketone nourishment” of the brain (which is what happens when your body doesn’t produce enough glucose, the brain’s main “food,” and thus feeds the brain essentially with the by-products of fat) can actually reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s among patients who already have it, and that the best thing you can do for someone with Alzheimer’s is immediately stop feeding them any carbs whatsoever, and instead cram in a deliberate overdose of coconut oil and other foods supremely high in “good fat” content, essentially starving them of sugars so that their body will be forced to produce ketone and make the brain survive off that alone.

The people who disagree with this advice not only call it unwise but actively dangerous; but the non-doctor Berger claims that if anyone tells you it’s dangerous, even your family doctor, then that person is full of crap and you should ignore what they’re telling you, even going to the trouble of changing doctors if that one continues to be insistent about the dangers of a ketone-overdose diet. And while I could certainly get behind Berger’s general advice here about how to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s if you’re middle-aged and don’t have it yet (in those chapters, she’s essentially not recommending anything I haven’t already seen confirmed in half a dozen other books), I can’t endorse the kind of reckless attitude she espouses in the ketone-overdose chapters, not in a book about something as important and life-changing as healthcare, an attitude that basically declares, “Anyone who disagrees with me is completely and totally wrong, even if the advice is coming from someone much more educated than I am, even if that advice is considered sensible by 95 percent of the population, and even if my own advice is still only in the early laboratory stage and has yet to be conclusively proven by a large group of disinterested, non-related scientists.” Although I’m giving it a decent score today, just for the very good advice on generally eating better, my review comes with the warning to take the more radical advice here with a grain of salt.

Out of 10: 7.2, or 8.2 just for the parts on general dietary advice

Read even more about The Alzheimer’s Antidote: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd