Your Brain Health Episode 23

Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with notes Neuroscientist, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explore strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.

Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Welcome to Your Brain Health. I’m Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Today we have a very special guest who has an expertise in studying the effect of improved nutrition on cognitive functioning. With a research focus on a specific nutrient complex that has been shown to improve the clinical and physiological outcomes in a population of adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Given that Alzheimer’s affects 5 million people annually with no cure on the horizon, it’s imperative to embrace a nutritional approach to address the micronutrient deficiencies that are often present in a diet of individuals with compromised health. So I’m going to introduce our guest today. His name’s Dr. John E. Lewis. He’s a past full time and current voluntary Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. His work spans many years in the conduct of studies in nutrition, dietary supplements, exercise medical devices, and health promotion. Dr. Lewis has been the CEO of his own academic research and educational enterprise for nearly the last two decades, prior to leaving the University of Miami full time.


During his career, he has raised or indirectly supported raising millions of dollars in grants, gifts and contracts for research and educational programs. He’s been the principal investigator or co-investigator of over 40 different studies today. In addition to being an invited speaker at medical and scientific conferences all over the world, John has coauthored more than 170 peer reviewed publications and some of the leading scientific journals such as AIDS and behavior, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the American Journal of Public Health, Nutrition and Cancer and International Journal of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, Sports Medicine, Stroke, the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine and The Gerontologist. So we are very lucky to have an expert with us here today. So Dr. Lewis, it’s such a pleasure to have you join us.

Dr. Lewis: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much. Please call me John. We don’t have to be so formal. We can be friends.

Host: Oh, I love that. Well. Thank you John, and I have to share with my audience. So I watched a very impressive Ted talk that John did on his landmark research at the University of Miami on a very specific Mike micronutrient complex that’s essential in supporting healthy brain function. And they were able to demonstrate they could improve memory and cognition in up to 46% of patients with varying stages of Alzheimer’s disease. So I’m really delighted to have him here with us today to share his insights and findings on how we can use this micronutrient in support of our cellular health. So before we jump into that, and I really highly recommend you watch that Ted talk, John, let’s begin by discussing the link between nutrition and cognitive function. Consumers recognize the connection between nutrition and issues like obesity and heart disease, yet most don’t realize the importance of proper nutrition and the role it plays in proper brain function. So please share this with us.

Dr. Lewis: You know, that’s a great point. And I think a lot of that is sort of the trickle down theory from where NIH has spent so much money in research on say for example, cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV. But it’s amazing that when you compare those budgets to what’s been spent on researching the brain and the mind, it’s like it pales in comparison and you almost think, well wait a minute. I mean other than our heart, of course we need all of our major organs to live and thrive. But why have we spent so little money looking at why we have all of these neurodegenerative disorders, diseases, and you know why conventional medicine is basically coming up blank when it comes to things like dementia and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS. So it’s really fascinating when you think of it on that level because I think that really is what has driven ultimately this lack of understanding of the importance of nutrition for the brain. You know, people think, Oh well I need to eat good to protect my heart or to prevent colorectal cancer or other things. Again, these are things that have been widely studied that we now know so much about links between nutrition and physical activity and those diseases. But yet people just don’t put two and two together. They don’t think of nutrients, nutrition being important for the brain. It’s really, it’s a fascinating discovery I’ve made sort of along this journey where people just don’t think of the brain needing nutrition like they do the heart or the liver or the gut or the kidneys or our other major organs. It’s really fascinating.

Host: It really is fascinating. You’ve been in this field for, what is it, three, four decades now?

Dr. Lewis: I’m not that old.

Host: Well, we’ve got 20 years. 20 years ago. I won’t, I won’t need you too much, but, well, I was just starting in grad school back then and I remember, you know, I, in studying the brain, I really got excited. I worked in the field of Parkinson’s disease and whenever you work in a field of degenerative diseases, the first thing people ask you is, is there a cure? You know, at this point you have to say, well, instead of looking at is there a cure, you say, what are the things that you can do today to help slow down brain aging or to help support brain function, particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with one of these disorders and have you, do you feel like you’ve seen a change now? Okay. Within the last 20 years, you know, from the nineties to now, 2000 2015 I think starting to now see more of a Renaissance and an openness to using nutrients to help support brain function.

Dr. Lewis: I think you’re right. I mean I think the time has come because again, we have, as you mentioned, the statistics about Alzheimer’s earlier and then we have all these other people with all these other types of neurodegenerative disorders and diseases. So yes, I think the time has come. I mean, people are educating themselves. Finally, people are beginning to understand and it’s like I tell people about dietary supplements even though that is my real focus in both my research and business careers, it doesn’t matter if you’re taking the best supplements on the planet. If you’re not eating well at the same time, then you can’t really supplement your way to health. So, you know, eating a whole food diet. And as a disclaimer, I’ve been eating a plant based diet for 22 years now. And so.

Host: I’m so impressed you’re a male eating a plant based diet.

Dr. Lewis: Yes. So and you know, people commonly ask me things about protein and you know, I mean that’s really the big one, but sometimes people will ask me about things like B12 or iron as well, but you know, it’s definitely a growing wave of interest, whether it’s a, you know, plant based nutrition or supplementation or the combination of the two. And I think the time has come because I mean, how many more years are we going to continue spending over $2 trillion on what we call a healthcare system that’s really not, and get people to wake up to the reality is that prevention is the key here. It’s not about waiting until you get sick and then trying to figure out how to pull yourself out of that hole. It’s about staying out of that hole in the first place. Right. And the main way you do that is with nutrition.

Host: You’re right. And I, I had wanted to just ask you, it was so interesting. There was an article in the New York Times that was published on March 1st and they entitled it Supplements Won’t Prevent Dementia But These Steps Might. And so they go into, you know, increased physical activity, managing your blood pressure and cognitive training. And it was an article that really knocked, you know, any type of nutritional supplement. And I think as both you and I can appreciate because these degenerative disorders start in the brain 10 to 20 years before you have a symptom, you really need to look at more of the nutritional approaches and supplementation when necessary.

Dr. Lewis: I totally agree with you. In fact, I mean I don’t know, I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist and say that there was a financial motive to that article, but the, you know, the sad reality is again, we’ve become sort of a pill popping society and instant gratification society. So people unfortunately, typically don’t have the preventative mentality. They just do whatever they do, eat fast food, don’t exercise, don’t supplement. And then at some point in middle age or later they get diagnosed with something really tragic. And then at that point it absolutely is time for change unless they really truly don’t care or have no motivation. But I think, you know, we have an opportunity, I mean we are the most well-educated, the largest economy country in the planet. I mean there really is no excuse for us to be crippled with all of these chronic diseases the way we are. I can’t explain it. I’m not a sociologist or a psychologist. I can’t explain it. And I wonder so many times why we are faced with all of these issues, but we really have no excuse for it because we are the land of opportunity and we shouldn’t even be close to where we are today in terms of our health status.

Host: You’re absolutely right. And, and when I read articles like that that knock a nutrient support supplement, I sometimes think to myself, how do we reconcile this with research that demonstrates B vitamins, can lower homocysteine levels and those of us in the medical field understand elevated homocysteine is a risk factor for dementia. And you know, the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 actually wrote an article called homocysteine and dementia, an international consensus statement which essentially said elderly individuals with cognitive impairment, and those who have elevated plasma homocysteine, which can be regulated by the use of B vitamins. They were saying homocysteine lowering treatments with B vitamins slows the rate of regional brain atrophy and slows cognitive decline. So we know this, like those of us who are in the field understand the use, the correct use of nutrient support in helping to slow down brain aging or support brain aging. And would you agree?

Dr. Lewis: Totally agree with you. I mean I think the B vitamins B9, B12 in particular are so important for brain functioning. And then, you know, you add other things to it. Like Zinc, I mean, you know, there are lots of different vitamins and minerals that are obviously very important for brain and nerve functioning. And then taking it one step further, when you look at the work that we did with an aloe Vera polysaccharide complex, I mean that just takes it to an entirely different level in terms of giving the body nutrients that are not essential, meaning the body can derive them through its own internal metabolic processes and enzymatic processes. But if you give the body those types of nutrients that are commonly missing, if not for some people completely absent in the diet, now you’re like turning on the cells, you’re like, you know, you’re giving this the sort of like this major wake up call to the cells to really function properly the way mother nature designed them to.

Host: I love that. So let’s jump into your work because that’s why we have you here. So tell us a little bit more about the polysaccharides and the Aloe and what you’ve used and what you’ve found.

Dr. Lewis: Thank you. I mean it is very exciting to talk about because we had an opportunity, as you mentioned initially to give this product to a group of people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. So these were folks that normally the pharmaceutical industry, excuse me, is not interested in studying too much simply because they already recognize that it’s a very, very tough task to even show any improvement in folks at that stage of disease. So we, our philosophy was quite the opposite. We said, okay, we don’t care how sick you are, we believe that enhancing your nutritional status is going to do something really powerful. And that’s exactly what we intended to show. So we put these folks on a product formulation that again was heavily based in polysaccharides, and I’ll talk about that in just a moment, but at the end of the day, what we showed after 12 months on the product is that these people who otherwise were basically living lives like, I hate to say it, but you know, basically like a piece of furniture, were starting to come back. And we showed statistically and clinically significant improvements in cognitive functioning. We showed two markers of inflammation, TNF Alpha and VEGF went down. And then we showed a proliferation of just under 300% of CD 14 cells, which is a marker of adult STEM cells. So I’m telling you, I couldn’t even believe what we showed. I mean it was like

Host: It’s so impressive. I mean, I was reading the article in preparing you to come on today and I was like, Oh my God, I need to try this. It’s, I mean, it’s a nutrient, it’s something that we can take. Everybody could take this. So it’s like, why not? Why wouldn’t you do this? So before you did this study, were you using this nutrient complex or just in your own life? Or were you curious what you would see with the research findings? And I just, I ask this as a scientist.

Dr. Lewis: Of course. Absolutely. So, yes, I had already become a fan of polysaccharides because of a patient here at the University of Miami who had had metastatic disease, went through every conventional treatment. And was basically only given six months left to live and she started taking another polysaccharide. This one was actually from rice bran that was hydrolyzed with shitake mushroom enzymes. So not from an Aloe Vera source, but this lady ended up living another eight and a half years after only being given six months to live. Now you can imagine this lady. Yes, exactly. It’s a wow. This lady, I mean talk about in the bully pulpit. This lady would tell anybody and everybody how this product had saved her life. And so I had already started becoming a fan at the point of us doing the Alzheimer’s study and it led me on into doing a study with HIV patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is actually something I’m getting to go lecture about next week. But yes, I mean it’s just been one amazing discovery after another.

Host: Now I have to ask, do these polysaccharides help people who have the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease cause I work with people who have that issue. Oh my God, that’s amazing.

Dr. Lewis: Yes. We just published this first article last year. I’ll send you a copy of that paper. But it’s incredible how these polysaccharides, again, just allow the bioengineering of ourselves to function so much better and so much more favorably because they, they basically direct the cells what to do because of all the coded information within these polysaccharides. It’s just these polysaccharides are loaded with information compared to amino acids or fatty acids. They just have so much more information in them. And so every time the cell is doing something, whether it’s, you know, communicating with another cell or involved in the creation of a glyco lipid or a glycol protein, these saccharides are needed in specific ratios within that process, in the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi. And so the body can take things like sucrose, glucose, fructose, you know, the other common sugars. And it can create something like mannose if it has to. But our theory is that because these polysaccharides are now so absent, if not completely absent in the diet today, that this is one of the contributing factors to this just gigantic a occurrence of chronic disease over the last 40 or 50 years. I mean, hardly anybody’s a farmer anymore. So you know, we’re not growing our own food and we’re not getting these polysaccharides in the content amount that we need that, you know, our ancestors a hundred years ago were getting because they were actually growing these plants and you know, taking them straight from the farm to the table, which just happens for so few of us anymore today

Host: That this is really great. Would you be able to stay for a second segment, John?

Dr. Lewis: Absolutely.

Host: Wonderful. So we will be right back with Dr. John E. Lewis. I’m talking about nutrient support for the brain and how we can protect our brain and do preventative strategies for Alzheimer’s. We’ll be right back.

Conclusion: You’ve been listening to your brain health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier, for more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E,