Dr. David Perlmutter argues that grains are [the/a?] cause of Alzheimer's disease and brain degeneration in general.

He says eating grains can lead to dementia, chronic headaches, depression, epilepsy and other health problems.

"Even healthy ones like whole grains can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more," his website says.

Dr Perlmutter, a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, says our brains thrive on fat and cholesterol but suffer when we eat grains.

He says that Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases are preventable with major lifestyle and dietary changes. Source: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/neurologist-claims-grains-are-destroying-our-brains/story-fneuzkvr-1226762490985

Is there any research that confirms these claims?

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    The claim is referenced at the bottom of mindbodygreen.com/0-10753/… - it's not just that grains are bad, it's that he wants you to eat more fat and to exercise; perhaps it's not that grains are bad, but that deficit of fat is bad (and that to eat more fat without becoming obese you need to cut carbs). Are you sure you want to concentrate on one sensational/misquoted part of his claim ("grains are bad"), or would you prefer to question the entire/original claim ("eat fewer carbs, more fats, aerobic exercise, DHA supplements")?
    – ChrisW
    Nov 20, 2013 at 11:30
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    @ChrisW I want to focus on the specific claim that grains cause alzheimer's disease, yes, because the "eat fewer carbs, more fats, aerobic exercise, DHA supplements" is nothing new. Besides, the title of his book "Grain Brain" puts strong emphasis on this aspect, and the title of the introduction is "against the grain". I don't think I overstated his emphasis on grains. Yes, he says more than "grains cause alzheimer's", but it's certainly one of the main claims of the book.
    – Ben
    Nov 20, 2013 at 11:49
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    After eating grains for tens of thousands of years we've only just noticed this now? Colour me skeptical of the claim. Nov 27, 2013 at 5:44
  • @TimScanlon We haven't been getting old enough to get Alzheimer's for a long time though.
    – Ben
    Nov 27, 2013 at 8:54
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    @Ben You're making the mistake of confounding life expectancy and reaching old age. Our ancestors often lived to old age, as long as they didn't die in the first year or so of life. I forget the figure, but once people hit puberty life expectancy was good (unless you were a woman, in which case childbirth sucked the life out of you). I'd be looking more closely at the prevalence data and the now greater population base for the disease to present (due to genetics or whatever). Nov 27, 2013 at 17:36

1 Answer 1


The cause for most Alzheimer's cases is still mostly unknown except for 1% to 5% of cases where genetic differences have been identified.

According to the Alzheimer's Association:

While scientists know Alzheimer's disease involves progressive brain cell failure, the reason cells fail isn't clear.

As for the claims by Dr. Perlmutter's book, there is an interesting article by James Hamblin where Epidemiologist Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, has criticized Grain Brain, saying "Perlmutter is way ahead of any justifiable conclusion" and that many of its claims are "wildly preposterous".

An article by Nathanael Johnson on grist.org also refers to this article:

Here’s a key exchange between Hamblin (who speaks first) and Perlmutter:

I asked for some clarity on that. “We don’t have clinical studies linking gluten to Alzheimer’s, ADHD, or —”

“With all due respect, we do. That information is well established. It was actually published by the Mayo Clinic, that gluten can in fact be related to risk for dementia. So I would beg to differ with you on that point. Gluten, certainly in patients with celiac disease, is strongly associated with risk for dementia. As was described in the proceedings of the Mayo Clinic, it was a treatable cause of dementia. So I think that’s pretty revolutionary and exciting.”

That study didn’t appear in my inbox. I asked him for it later, and he promptly sent me a 2006 case series that identified 13 patients in a review of Mayo Clinic records from January 1, 1970, to December 31, 2005. That is an interesting correlation — the study’s authors called it a “possible association” — but is far from well-established causation that gluten is a mechanism for dementia in people with celiac disease, much less all people.

Got that? Under Perlmutter’s prism, a single study, of 13 people, with a finding of “possible association,” turns into a near certainty. Hyperbole is a good way to sell diet books and start fads, but it’s not good for dieters.

So in conclusion, there is not enough research to confirm these claims, definitely not enough to warrant an extreme change to somebody's diet like avoiding grains.

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