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.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”