We have been tweaking our diet over the past few years for better health and longevity. Michael Gregor’s book How Not To Die got us eating “not too much, mostly plants.” What really moved our diet in a more plant-based direction this year was reading The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age by Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, M.D. Their book got our attention by noting that their program “radically reduces the risk of the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by 90%.” We can’t think of anything more crucial to living The Good Long Life than preserving our mental faculties. Jim and I both have family members who have lived with dementia, so we couldn’t be more interested.
The Sherzais are neurologists with expertise in aging and neurodegenerative disorders as well as preventive medicine. They lead the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University. They studied there two different populations – the ‘clean living’ population of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda (renowned as one of the Blue Zones) and adjacent residents of San Bernadino, California, many of whom were dealing the with stresses of poverty. After studying these adjacent populations, they created the NEURO plan signifying Nutrition, Exercise, Unwind, Restorative Sleep and Optimize.
Their book and lifestyle recommendations come not a minute too soon. Recent statistics show 47 million people afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease worldwide with the number projected to rise to 150 million by 2050. With a drug-based cure for Alzheimer’s remaining elusive, it is reassuring to know that there are lifestyle changes one can make now to preserve brain health and cognitive function.
Under nutrition, they recommend a “whole food, plant-based diet low in sugar, salt, and processed foods.” After reading The Alzheimer’s Solution we are definitely eating more beans, and cutting back on the amount of chicken, eggs and even fish in our diet. We had curtailed our eating of red meat and processed meats, but like many Americans, still ate a fair amount of chicken, bringing a significant amount of fat and cholesterol to our diet. We had been eating wild caught salmon once a week for at least a decade, every since I read Dr. Perricone’s book on the dangers of inflammation. The Sherzais caution against eating too much fish, even wild caught fish, as seafood carries so much mercury and industrial chemicals today. They recommend that anyone who eats fish test their mercury levels regularly as it’s a neurotoxin. For Omega-3 fatty acids, they propose marine algae as the best source of highly absorbable, toxin and pollutant free: “Look for a high quality algal supplement that contains both DHA and EPA (two types of long-chain omega 3s.) We recommend taking at least 250 mg of DHA per day.”
Overall, they are not fans of supplements, advocating only for the omega 3 supplements noted above and B12. Otherwise, they say it’s much better to get your nutrients from whole foods.
The Power of Lifestyle Medicine
The combination so commonly found in the American diet and lifestyle — saturated fats, along with inflammation caused by chronic stress, is a contributing factor to plaque buildup in the brain. The main reason they advocate plant based eating is to cut down on the amount of saturated fat as a means to protect brain function. On the hotly-debated topic of coconut oil, they come down against it for its high levels of saturated fat: “Given what we know now, it’s best to avoid it.”
Dean and Ayesha Sherzai live the program they advocate, feeding their family a plant-based diet and living and working within the program. Ayesha is trained in culinary science and her recipes like, Bean and Butternut Squash Enchiladas, are healthy and delicious. From a simple Chickpea Sandwich to their Bean and Lentil Chili, there are heart-healthy meals to get you through your day. I won her favorite vegetable spiralizer in the recent Brain and Body Boost Challenge they shared on their social accounts. I have been using it to make ‘pasta’ of summer squash tossed in a delicious medley of tofu and vegetables — a dinner we’re finding satisfying and delicious.
The Benefits of Restorative Sleep
Beyond eating well, the body needs relaxation and rest to restore brain function. The Sherzais cite studies that show how sleep restores the brain at night, clearing out toxins in deep sleep. So how much is enough? The Sherzais recommend no less than six hours a night: “Ultimately the quality is what matters most. It must be restorative and you must feel refreshed. If you sleep less than seven hours a night, but lead a full energetic and active life, you are likely achieving the restful sleep you need.”
They recommend a variety of complex activities to optimize the brain — meditation, remaining socially active, volunteering and mentoring, lifelong learning, especially language and music, among them. There are plenty of options so readers can choose what fits best into their lives.
The Sherzais call the protocol they share in their book ‘personalized medicine for the brain’: “We know this disease is more than just amyloid and tau, and it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all condition. It’s a multidimensional disease that at its core has glucose and lipid dysregulation, inflammation, oxidization and degenerative components that are in turn affected by individual nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, and other immune, endocrine and metabolic factors. We also know that Alzheimer’s is deeply affected by the risks you accumulate throughout life, and that any lifestyle protocol designed to minimize these risks must take your unique situation into account.”
As Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, noted, “Thanks to Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, we finally have a road map the prevent and reverse symptoms of a disease that has been misunderstood for too long.”
We’re taking the Sherzai’s message to heart as we implement our plan to live The Good Long Life. It’s really about personal responsibility and a commitment to the lifestyle changes to keep you healthy. As they write, “In our years of research and clinical work, perhaps the most profound thing we’ve realized is this: the pursuit of cognitive health is about so much more than just avoiding Alzheimer’s…We want to use lifestyle not just as a shield against neurodegenerative disease but as a way of living better for longer.”
Follow the Sherzais @TeamSherzai on social, visit their website here, and don’t miss their FAQs on the blog:
Buy their book on Amazon here:
See below for two charts from their book on protecting your brain function: