The Alzheimer's Solution: A Breakthrough Program by Dean Sherzai and Ayesha Sherzai
In THE ALZHEIMER'S SOLUTION, doctors Dean and Ayesha Sherzai give us the bad news first: “There is reason to be afraid” they announce. Deaths due to Alzheimer’s have “increased by nearly 87 percent in the last decade.” The disease is also incredibly expensive, costing $226 billion in the United States alone.
The early chapters of the book present the biology of the disease, including a discussion of how the brain is affected, and what type of external influences can prevent the damage. The good news (and surprising, to me) is that there is a LOT that we can do.
“Ninety percent of us can avoid ever getting Alzheimer’s.”
Before reading this book, I wanted to know the qualifications of the authors. (I suspected they were not true medical doctors.) I stand corrected. The two are top researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s, and directed the Alzheimer’s research program at Cedars Sinai of Los Angeles—a world class institution.
A key to this book is the question of HOW did the doctors conclude that lifestyle could so dramatically reduce the odds of getting Alzheimer’s? How did they see things that other doctors did not?
The answer is, the authors were in a special place. They were doctors at Loma Linda University, where they were able to study two radically different groups. Their patients from Loma Linda—the “healthy group,” were mainly Seventh-day Adventists, who had drastically different diets, exercised regularly, and had good social ties. They were“some of the healthiest people in the world.” In contrast, the second group included patients in San Bernardino, an “underserved area plagued by chronic disease.”
After years of working and studying both groups, the doctors found that “People living a healthy lifestyle had a much lower prevalence of dementia.“ The Adventist population, on average, lived 10 years longer than others. The same lifestyle that promoted a healthy heart and kidneys “also appeared to be beneficial for the brain."
The doctors formed these conclusions:
- Eating meat is bad for your brain.
- Physical exercise increases both the number of brain cells and the connections between them.
- Chronic stress puts the brain in a state of high inflammation, causing structural damage.
- Restorative sleep is essential for cognitive and overall health.
- Higher education and other complex cognitive activities protect your brain against decline.
- Social support has an undeniable influence on the way your brain ages.
The authors developed a plan to promote the necessary lifestyle changes. They call the plan, "NEURO." Here's the plan essentials:
- Nutrition: A whole-food, plant-based diet low in sugar, salt, and processed foods.
- Exercise: An active lifestyle that incorporates movement every hour.
- Unwind: Stress management in the form of meditation, yoga, mindful breathing exercises.
- Restore: Seven to eight hours of regular, detoxifying sleep .
- Optimize: Multimodal activitiesthat challenge many of the brain’s capacities
A big chapter is dedicated to each aspect. I was most interested in the Nutrition chapter. There, I found the “Top Twenty Brain-Nourishing Foods,” as well as the “Top Ten Foods to Avoid Processed Foods, and “10 Tips For Eating At Restaurants, And “Best Brain-Healthy Snacks.”
The “Optimize” chapter was also informative. I had always thought that doing puzzles was one of the best mind exercises; however, the doctors have some better suggestions. They suggest activities that use a broader part of your brain, to “engage multiple cognitive domains at the same time.”
The section on sleep had numerous suggestions, and this warning: “Chronic poor sleep and lack of sleep both cause significant damage to the brain.” The authors include a concise, “Techniques For A Better Night’s Sleep,” with tips like these:
- Normalize Your Sleep Schedule
- Avoid Eating Late at Night
- Avoid Certain Drinks Too Close to Bedtime
- Avoid Exercising Before Sleep, But Be Sure to Exercise Earlier in the Day
- Low Light at Night, Bright Light During the Day
- Avoid Playing Games, Watching Stimulating Movies, and Working on your iPad in Bed
So all in all, I found THE ALZHEIMER'S SOLUTION to be an encouraging, practical book. Furthermore, it is an IMPORTANT book. I was already familiar with some of the studies on diet and exercise, but I had no idea that lifestyle could so dramatically reduce the odds of getting this wretched disease.
Keep in mind that it is difficult to conclusively PROVE that one thing causes another. Just because 2 things are correlated, that does not prove that one causes the other. It’s a high bar to reach. Nevertheless, the authors make a convincing case for the suggested lifestyle changes. I am implementing many of the lifestyle changes listed in this book, and am also encouraging my spouse to do the same. To see where you might benefit, there is an easy-to-do “Alzheimer’s Solution Risk Assessment” that identifies areas for possible lifestyle change.