Is Alzheimer’s disease avoidable?

Is Alzheimer’s disease avoidable?

Alzheimer’s statistics are sobering. Nearly six million Americans have the devastating disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and drug companies have been unsuccessful in developing either a cure or effective sustained treatments. The disease often starts to show itself in a person’s 60s or 70s, but the process of deterioration can start 25 years before that.

Ayesha Sherzai, MD and Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, both neurologists and neuroscientists and directors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, are treating their Alzheimer’s patients with “lifestyle medicine” instead of just drugs, and are seeing significant improvement.

The physician/researcher husband and wife team noticed that when they arrived at Loma Linda University Medical Center in 2008, their data showed less than five percent of their older patients had dementia. Loma Linda is a primarily Seventh-Day Adventists community whose residents eat mostly vegetarian plant-based meals, exercise regularly and have strong family and community ties). However, in the communities directly surrounding Loma Linda, there was a significant increase in dementia and stroke.

The duo also knew from research that a person has 600 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s if their spouse is affected.

The two physicians are adamant that environment and lifestyle greatly influence the development of Alzheimer’s – not just genetics. They claim that 90 percent of us can avoid getting Alzheimer’s. But how?

The Sherazais developed a program called NEURO that outlines the multi-faceted approach they take with their patients to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and reverse cognitive decline: Nutrition, Exercise, Unwind, Restorative Sleep and Optimize Mental and Social Activity.

They state that an important misconception people have about brain health is that the brain is not as affected by daily lifestyle choices as other organs, like the heart and lungs. “There is no such thing as starting too early when it comes to preserving your brain health and avoiding Alzheimer’s disease,” the pair states. By challenging the brain with both exercise and continued learning, you can actually physically grow your brain over time.

“The NEURO program is very similar to what I encourage my patients to follow,” says Dr. MaryAnhthu Do, a neurologist specializing in Alzheimer’s and Dementia at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

“It is evident from available research that the best diet for brain health, and overall health, is full of whole plant-based foods like greens, legumes, berries and whole grains and is very low in animal fats, saturated fats, added sugar and salt,” states Dr. Do.

“Getting good, regular, restorative sleep is critical to brain health, as that is when our brain gets rid of toxins,” says Dr. Do. “For most people, when they have a bad night of sleep, the effects on productivity and thought process are immediately evident. It’s important for the brain not to have too many nights of poor sleep. Talk to your physician if you have issues that affect your sleep. This can range from stress to sleep apnea.”

In addition, Dr. Do says it’s important to find an exercise program and other activities you enjoy to stay fit and decrease stress. “Try to incorporate some activities that exercise the brain in addition to physical exercise, such as cross-word puzzles or learning a new skill. And the more you can do these activities with others, the better it’s been shown to be for your brain health.”

“The majority of us know people who lived very healthy lifestyles yet developed Alzheimer’s, as well as those who lived more typical sedentary lives with meat and potatoes diets and did not develop dementia; however, following the NEURO plan, or something very similar, is the best line of defense we have now,” says Dr. Do.

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Comments

9 Comments

  1. Wait, what?

    “The physician/researcher husband and wife team noticed that when they arrived at Loma Linda University Medical Center in 2008, their data showed less than five percent of their older patients had dementia. However, in communities directly surrounding Loma Linda, a primarily Seventh-Day Adventists community whose residents eat mostly vegetarian plant-based meals, exercise regularly and have strong family and community ties, there was a significant increase in dementia and stroke.”

    I’ve read that paragraph half a dozen times and either you have a major brain-o in there or it’s contradicting the whole point of your argument. Communities of people who exercise, eat plant-based foods and have strong ties have a “significant *increase*” in dementia and stroke? In that case, pass me a burger, turn on the TV and get away from me.

  2. Significant increase??? Please proofread and edit before publishing.

  3. Am I missing something? In the statement (below) that was made in the article it says there was a significant INCREASE in dementia and stroke by residents who ate plant-based meals, exercised regularly, and had strong social connections. May want to reread this article.

    However, in communities directly surrounding Loma Linda, a primarily Seventh-Day Adventists community whose residents eat mostly vegetarian plant-based meals, exercise regularly and have strong family and community ties, there was a significant increase in dementia and stroke.

  4. Shouldn’t it be significant decrease for the Loma Linda study?

  5. Actually read the whole sentence – using the commas as guides – I had to read a few times for it to make sense, but it says the community that eats plant based had relatively low rates of dementia, but the SURROUNDING communities had increased rates. It would be better if worded differently, but if you use the commas where placed, it does actually make sense!

  6. Loma Linda is a city in California. While it is not clearly stated, I read this as the people who live outside of the city are not Seventh Day Adventists and have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

  7. Thank goodness I am not a Seventh Day Adventist, pass the greasy meats and no more of those healthy vegetables. I am also getting rid of that pesky gym membership.

  8. Yes, written in a confusing manner. I read it over a few times and believe it should read it like, “in communities directly surrounding Loma Linda”….”there was a significant increase in dementia”. They are not talking about Loma Linda where the healthier folks live, but outside of it.

  9. I had to reread this also. It was a bit awkwardly worded. What it does say is that Loma Linda is the community that is primarily a Seventh Day Adventist and corresponding plant based, generally healthier lifestyle, and subsequent lower incidence of dementia. It is the surrounding communities that have a more sedentary, meat based, unhealthy lifestyle that has the higher incidence. The commas surrounding the long phrase after Loma Linda that clears the reference.

About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She came to Chicago and Advocate in 2014 after living in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. She enjoys road trips, exploring little towns, minimalism, hiking and urban hiking around Chicago.