Eat Butter to Protect Your Brain

A New Take on Old News

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Brain Health

What is your biggest concern when it comes to your long-term health?If I asked 100 of my subscribers I bet the majority of you would respond by answering: dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As of today, there is no treatment for either of these conditions…or is there? Dr. David Perlmutter, a board certified neurologist and author of Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers, has discovered exactly what the title of his book suggests. Gluten, carbs, and sugar can affect your brain’s health.

And consuming large quantities of gluten and sugar-laden carbs, especially over a long period of time, may lead to conditions such as memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, weight gain, depression, sore muscles, insomnia, or anxiety, as well as neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or seizures. If this sounds incredible, consider this: the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 6-8 six oz. servings of carbohydrates per day. When I say carbs, I’m referring to rice, bread, pasta, cereal. (Fruits and vegetables are also carbs, but they are in a separate category.)

It’s only been a few years since the recommendation was 6-11 servings per day. Now, after many years of following these guidelines, the number of Americans with obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, and Alzheimer’s Disease has reached epic proportions. That’s because what you eat matters—particularly when it comes to brain health.

Quell the Inflammation

When you eat foods with gluten and sugar-laden carbs, it causes your blood sugar to rise. And when your blood sugar levels rise, not only can it cause systemic inflammation, it can also lead to deterioration of the blood brain barrier. This protective covering keeps toxins, bacteria, and other foreign substances from affecting your brain’s health. So, you want to do what you can to protect the blood brain barrier. Once the blood brain barrier is damaged, the brain is susceptible to unhealthy substances. And this also can lead to inflammation.

When the brain is inflamed, it shrinks—and this can cause neurological problems, like memory loss and movement disorders. When it comes to inflammation, the brain is not like other parts of the body. If you pull a muscle in your arm, you will most likely experience pain and swelling. These are signals that tell you to rest your arm until the swelling goes down and it feels better. Unlike your arm, the brain has no pain sensors, meaning there is nothing to indicate that the brain is inflamed.

Brain Foods

While there are no approved treatments for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there is something you can do! Dr. Perlmutter knows this first hand. He has put many patients on a gluten-free, low-carb and low-sugar diets with remarkable results. When you were little you were probably told that fish was brain food. This healthy fat is definitely good for your brain. And so are some saturated fats! Yes, avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed beef, wild fish, butter, and cheese are good foods for the brain, too.

Dr. Permutter reminds us that we need saturated fats and that we’ve been eating saturated fats for years. Even human breast milk is 50% saturated fat! And the brain is comprised of 60% fat. Doctors and scientists have now confirmed that you can rebuild your brain, simply by eating these healthy fats. Saturated fats found in butter, beef, and cheese have been made out to be the enemy for about 30 years. And back when people were told to consume 6-11 servings of carbs per day, they were also advised to ingest fat very sparingly.

Again, this advice has shown to be unhealthy for your brain. While you add back the butter, also keep your carb intake low—and that means all carbs, even healthy whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. The idea is to eat low-glycemic foods, and to make sure that, all combined, you aren’t eating foods that cause a lot of sugar to circulate in your bloodstream. Even though fruit and brown rice are healthy choices, even these foods will affect your blood sugar if eaten in excess.

Dr. Permutter offers this advice: Any vegetable that is grown above ground, like spinach, lettuce, or cauliflower has less sugars and starches than foods that are grown below the ground, like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, or beets. The bottom line is this is good news! You can promote brain health simply by following a diet that limits or eliminates gluten and is low-glycemic. Of course, this will benefit your entire body, too.(This makes a great tweet! Please share.)

Were you surprised to hear butter is good for your brain? What do you do to promote brain health? Please leave me a comment. I love to read your suggestions.

Last Updated: June 17, 2014

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Wayne Cooper
    2 years ago

    Hey Doctor, I study natural health and have cured my heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. I make and invest sulforaphane, from broccoli sprouts, I grow, each day. I also take black seed oil, daily. Plus many vitamins, and herbs. Also I eat close to one stick of grass feed butter, each day. I am feeling great. This holistic medicine is fantastic.

  2. Raj Dasaee
    2 years ago

    My wife of 50 years is having Alzheimer. She was lazy having meal when she was OK. She never ate fruits, nuts, milk, cheese, butter. She is vegan and eat Indian vegetable preparation in low quantity. I, her husband, is very organized about food and life. For her, I did close my 20 years business office from last two and half years to look after my wife who took care of my family for more than 47 years when she was OK that also as invisible woman. As Alzheimer patient, she is 100 % dependent on me. She does not recognize me but feel comfortable in my presence as her care taker. She had itching issue, night time waking up issue and not having good sleep, depression, falling down. Without any physician advise I did solve her most of the problems and she is feeling good and utter few sentences now. What did I do? giving her butter and cheese sandwich twice a day. Two eggs scrambled eggs. Ensure +, juices. She is sleeping well, no itching problem, feeling good. I am waiting for new medicine may get invented in one year time, so that we can go on date again at age 75. I do two hours yoga and meditation daily, regularly from last few years that give offering me intense energy and strength to take care of my wife even though I have Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis from last 7 years. I do not smoke. Due to yoga and meditation always have intense energy level that is helping me to take care of my wife.

    1. Christine Carter
      2 years ago

      That is such an inspirational story, Raj! Thank you for sharing your tips for a healthy, energetic life (and bless you for caring for your lovely wife).

  3. Holly Hooper
    3 years ago

    I make something very similar and freeze it. The trick is to reheat it in the oven and not the microwave (which makes it weird and soggy).
    Holly Hooper

  4. Kelly Hubbard
    3 years ago

    Orgeous! I can’t believe I’ve never thought of using food colouring in a crust before.
    Kelly Hubbard

  5. Joseph Donahue
    3 years ago

    Well I thought I had bought ground turkey but instead bought sausage!! How could I have done that!! And thank you for the brown rice link, and yup that was the one!! Anyway I did make this tonight but instead of turkey I used ground beef! It was all I had and I wanted to make this so bad. But guess what – it was fantastic!! I know it would have been healthier with the turkey but this was, as my husband said — give it two yums!!! Thanks again.

  6. Harold Burton
    3 years ago

    I have been making Spaghetti squash but after reading this, it seems my way is outdated. I have to try it your way and see what I’ll get.

  7. Alisha Ross
    5 years ago

    Oh my goodness, pure heaven! I adore focaccia, and, well, with the squash and the caramelized onions, you’ve made my favorite bread even better! 🙂

    5 years ago

    Yum! Now I am craving chicken! I love roasting whole chickens on Sunday evenings, and I always use the bones to make a broth. It’s a great way to have a surplus of broth in the freezer, and it’s so handy when anyone in my house gets sick! I will try this recipe the next Sunday I roast a chicken

  9. Moses Brodin
    5 years ago

    Yes I too love winter. You never have to feel guilty about taking the snow day off! Cuddle up with your honey and binge watch. Warmer weather entails so much work! Gardening and such. Plus the heat of warmer seasons, I can do without.. The kitchen is too hot to spend any time there!

    Ragerds:Moses Brodin

  10. So refreshing to read this important information. Just a teaspoon or 2 of good quality butter will provide the health benefits. Our food can be both delicious and nutritious, isn’t that a relief…

  11. Nathalie R.
    7 years ago

    Love this – at home I mix 1 cup of organic olive oil with 1 pound of butter – and whip it smooth. This way I reduce the cost of my butter and add an extra good fat. The taste is great ! –

  12. T
    7 years ago

    My weight is to low.
    I added grass butter. Then medical medium pointed out a lot of us are eating to much animal fat.
    That it makes jelly mucous, which I have.
    I feel good when I don’t eat ( grass ) animal, but I loose more weight.
    Does anyone have ideas for balancing all of this?

    1. Jill Lorraine
      7 years ago

      Try whole coconut if you can. If you juice coconut meat, then mix the pulp, juice extracted, and coconut water back together, it makes an amazing, creamy delight! You could also try ghee, which is a traditional clarified butter from India.

  13. ghulam mujtaba
    8 years ago

    Dr. Permutter reminds us that we need saturated fats and that we’ve been eating saturated fats for years. Even human breast milk is 50% saturated fat! And the brain is comprised of 60% fat. Doctors and scientists have now confirmed that you can rebuild your brain, simply by eating these healthy fats. Saturated fats found in butter, beef, and cheese have been made out to be the enemy for about 30 years. And back when people were told to consume 6-11 servings of carbs per day, they were also advised to ingest fat very sparingly. plz explains these lines ,my english is week thanks any one?

  14. Neurological Associates of Albany and Alzheimer’s Doctor Richard F. Holub offers Alzheimer’s Research, Clinical Trials and Memory Disorder Treatment in Albany.

  15. Kristi Linebaugh
    8 years ago

    Dr. Northrup we had the pleasure to see you speak at a Hay House event and love your information. Keep up the Great work. You are an inspiration to women everywhere.
    Kristi Linebaugh

  16. Greg
    8 years ago

    I’ve been told by three generations of Moms (who I love dearly) that butter is BAD. I love butter! Thanks Dr. N

  17. Salman
    8 years ago

    what about corn and corn flour?

    1. M saqib
      3 years ago

      Thanks for having an accordance with our opinion to give a subtle advice for using FATS like Butter and cheese
      Unbelievably I very been experiencing brain dysfunction for yrs Upto 16. Severe Mood disorder, tremors , muscle tightness up to hours, short breath, panic attacks , seizures, low concentration , loss of interest , down mood, and the only thing I found to get back to normal was fats enriched diet ,it s butter and cheese etc , the only thing to stabilise your mind , interest and concentration in daily work
      No medication is far more better than saturated fats for brain, as though not any of the medicine proved to be applausable in my case having a kind of research work for what could be the best option restoring to normal brain function in a much.. longer period of 16 yrs. Moreover , brain function the world most intricated and misunderstood and complex phenomena could not easily be handled by psychiatrists .Though its function is based on universal relativity which could not be defined by psychiatrists having not understood normal changes and stability driven by certain brain chemicals especially their internal relativity that causes mood changes time to time

  18. Winn
    10 years ago

    My mother has Alzheimer’s and it seems very clear that this was the result of years of unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices – along with a decade of Lipitor. Thank you for all you are doing to educate and inspire us to make choices for a full, happy, and healthy life. You’re my hero!

  19. Melissa
    10 years ago

    As someone who worked for the Pritikin Program, it is refreshing to see attitudes change. When we get stuck in a tunnel vision of thought, we rob ourselves of knowledge.

  20. Anna
    10 years ago

    Give me healthy fat or give me death! It’s amazing how the body has the wisdom to know that healthy fat is what it needs. Great confirmation is provided in this blog. By the way, you win the most unique blog title award.

  21. LG
    10 years ago

    is ghee good like butter?
    what kind of butter?
    raw or ?

  22. Christiane Northrup
    10 years ago

    Thanks for all these great comments. Since every individual is different, it is not possible to give specifics on, for example, how much fruit is too much. For some, a 1/2 cup of berries is all they can handle. For others, unlimited. Bottom line: when the food is whole and organic, you don’t need to be real specific. The body is naturally satisfied!

  23. Faye
    10 years ago

    I’m using coconut oil and olive oil only. I discovered goat cheese, it’s delicious!And I’ve been using whole eggs for several years and telling everyone I know to eat the whole thing! Also avacodos.

  24. Martine
    10 years ago

    Thanks. Doing it all the way and feeling great, Dr. Northrup. Great work. Thanks for publicizing it. Martine.

  25. Nicki
    10 years ago

    The information shared in this article contradicts 30+ years of research in Whole Food Plant Based nutrition. Eliminating ALL animal proteins and ALL oil has been proven to reverse and/or prevent chronic degenerative diseases.

    The documentary “Forks over Knives” recaps research by well known doctors and bio-chemist. Watch and make your own decision. The data is easy to understand and pretty clear what the solution should be.

  26. Robin
    10 years ago

    What is considered too much fruit in the diet? Currently, I consume about 3-4 and sometimes 5 servings a day.

  27. Deb
    10 years ago

    Good food for thought, Dr. Northrup. However, hearing phrases like “not in excess”, “limit”, etc. from the medical and scientific community is maddening. If you’re going to inform us, please be specific. Otherwise, it’s “blah, blah, blah” and not useful for application. Would love to hear SOME SPECIFICS. THANKS.

  28. Julia G
    10 years ago

    Thank you. I always use butter because I have believed for years that margarine and fake butters weren’t healthy. I appreciate your wonderful insight. Please keep sharing your wonderful insight and I will pass it along.

    Thank you!

  29. cami
    10 years ago

    Thank you so much for the insightful and well-researched things you post and share. It is so nice to read these things from a physician I trust who is also open to alternative and holistic modalities. I read parts of the Wisdom of Menopause and felt like it changed my life! I appreciated your personal story in the book as well.

  30. Vickie
    10 years ago

    Finally the word is getting out! Just make sure you eat grass-fed butter and beef. More expensive yes, but it’s healthier.

  31. Suzanne Day
    10 years ago

    I have been listening to “Grain Brain” and plan on using the information to improve the way I eat. My father has Alzheimer’s and I have seen what this disease can do. This is all good news!
    Thank you Dr. Northrop for sharing this most important information!!

  32. Lori
    10 years ago

    Carole, I am with you. NO gallbladder means we have trouble with fats. I go to weekly acupuncture to help me with this and I take Chinese herbal medication that helps for people with no gall bladder (they work on the liver and spleen) but I am interested in this too?

  33. Brenda
    10 years ago

    I am a full time caregiver of an 89 year old dementia patient. Her family was told she had Alzheimer. I put her on the Dr. Perl-mutter diet and just like he said Her Mind cleared and her ability to walk improved.
    Every 30 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with this disease and as young as 35 years
    if its NOT THE FOOD then what?? This is the answer for me. Thank you Dr. Northrup for spreading the great news!

  34. Linda Dussault
    10 years ago

    I agree and also all the research on eating Coconut Oil to stop and reverse Alzhemiers and other brain disorders. My mother died of Alzhemiers and I watched the standard medical care and the dementia living facilities where she stayed and their lack of quality fats and fresh foods.

  35. Nancy
    10 years ago

    A great breakfast option is chia pudding w coconut milk…add in some walnuts or almonds and a few blueberries…delicious!

  36. Patricia Scott
    10 years ago

    Thank you for this article. My father had Alzheimer’s disease, such a horrific life-robbing condition–and the cost of his care was astronomical. I am so grateful that this information is becoming a mainstream conversation.

  37. Elizabeth Eden
    10 years ago

    I agree 1000% that healthy fats are good for the brain. I notice a significant brain boost when I take spirulina. My thinking is clearer, and I have better focus and concentration. You just have to be diligent about taking the daily recommended dosage every day. Sublingual B12 is also very helpful. It seems like there are a lot of good brain boosting supplements out there, which is hopeful, and good for folks who find it hard to adhere to a stricter diet. Great article. Thanks for posting!

  38. June
    10 years ago

    Coconut oil is just as protective as butter, possibly more so because it is 60% ketones, and with coconut oil, one doesn’t have to get into the cruel situation of the dairy industry…what do you think happens to all of those male calfs? veal…”so what, you say”…have you ever investigated the veal industry? might be a good ideal. It’s a terribly cruel way to live and die.

    1. Rosemary Hoffman
      5 years ago

      You are absolutely Right… I or my family can not bring ourself to eat any type of meat… or their products because of that cruelty

  39. Diane
    10 years ago

    I tried the higher fat-low carb diet one week before my gall bladder and ulcer objected. I’m not sure this diet is possible to follow for those of us with these problems.

  40. Joy
    10 years ago

    i have been eating butter, coconut oil, and full fat products and not eating sugar and wheat based products for 21/2 years now. i also eat low carb food. and nothing from a package and i have lost 10kilos to date and i never put weight on. it is the best eating plan i have ever found and i will continue to eat this way forever. for anyone wanting to lose weight try giving up sugar, it works

  41. Jo
    10 years ago

    Dr Northrup, thanks for reassuring us that good fats, such as butter, are ok. It’s sad that the majority of people still believe low fat diets are better, despite the ongoing health problems they experience when eating high carb, sugary, low fat diets. There’s more and more research showing that good high fat, good protein and low carb diets actually reverse cholesterol problems and things like diabetes. Keep up the good work so that more people can be informed!

  42. Hedy Klinger
    10 years ago

    I have pre-diabetes that I control with a low carb.,sugar diet. I am 70 years old.

    If the information I found online is true about 1/2 the American population over 65 does not have to limit their carbs and sugars to keep their blood sugar in check. What about these people; can they really eat as much as they want of anything they want with out health consequences? And can a person with diabetes1 eat anything they want as long as they shoot up enough insulin to cover it?.


  43. CJ
    10 years ago

    My holistic M.D. and chiropractor told me that butter was good back in the 1980s and 1990s and even said that it has anti carcinogenic properties. When I was getting myself off of an overdose of blood thinners, Kate’s unsalted butter heated with raw milk was all that my body could tolerate. I could feel the healing power of the raw milk and the butter. I seem to need grains for healthy digestion.

  44. Kathy Marshall
    10 years ago

    I think the egg eating and cholesterol relationship was debunked a long time ago but it is still in our brains that eggs causes high cholesterol.. not true.. right Dr Northrup?

    and yes i have read the Grain Brain and have cut WAY back on all grain and sugar (already have been gluten free for 5 years) and my health is SO MUCH better!

  45. Maria
    10 years ago

    What about people with high cholesterol, who can’t eat a lot of eggs? What are we supposed to eat for breakfast, other than yogurt? And what are people on Coumadin supposed to do? They can’t eat a lot of greens. Thanks for any advice.

  46. Anita
    10 years ago

    It really helps to know the delivery system of sugar and fat combined…I have ALWAYS had butter and I’ll make sure it’s organic…butter makes me happy like a chocolate!!

  47. Carole
    10 years ago

    what about people with gall bladder problems who cannot easily digest fat?

  48. Jondi Whitis
    10 years ago

    It’s great to see this going mainstream! Thank you, Dr. Northrup! My dear Doc Pooley, retired, has long told me these things and now even my mom will believe me, Dr. N! : )

  49. Sally
    10 years ago

    FINALLY this info is getting out. STILL see egg white omelets etc being promoted. Now if they will just get non-factory produced eggs from truly free range chickens.

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