Did you know that every single meal you eat can build your brain or break it? According to Doctors Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, what we eat affects 87 billion neurons, cumulatively.
“Dementia or Alzheimer’s are markers of what you’ve done with food over time,” they said in the webinar “The Truth About Weight Loss.” “Highly processed, high calorie, low nutrient food damages the brain.”
The Sherzais are codirectors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center and authors of “The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age.”
The husband and wife neurologists assert that there’s no pill better than food, that a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet does more for our brain than any biohacking out there.“If you feed kids bacon and eggs or sugary cereals first thing in the morning when their brains are most vulnerable, then expect them to stay calm and quiet for eight hours in class with 30 other kids, you’ve wired them to get attention deficit disorder (ADD) diagnoses,” they said. “Not all ADD are food-related, but a good number of those presenting with the behavior will be. Yet, we expect a different outcome.”
They added, “The conversation has to be made now, not when we’re 60. Food affects our brain, the most energy-hungry organ of our body, as children, teens, in midlife and in our senior years. Habits are created when we are young, when parents focus on creating healthy eating habits.”
Food best for the brain are heart-healthy, nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
Food bad for the brain (and overall health) are meat, cheese, dairy and those high in saturated fat.
What about fish? Said Dean, “People who eat fish are exposed to mercury, lead and other heavy metals. Comparative studies showing favorable results for fish always compare to meat or processed food, but it fails to be superior against WFPB food.”
Instead, he recommended to eat small amounts of avocados, nuts, seeds, as these whole plant foods are rich in omega-3s. They shared that obesity in adolescence is associated with inflammation in the brain.
“At childhood, your brain is growing at such an immense rate. At age 5, you will have more neurons than you will ever have. At that time, when you are growing your brain until your mid-20s, you’re mylinating (protecting) all the neurons, and what protects you is food,” said Dean. “We have an epidemic of obesity, prediabetes, diabetes, ADD, anxiety, depression. Don’t you think some of that is related to the food we’re eating? It’s critical to talk about this and how it’s affecting our children.”
Dementia is cognitive decline to the extent that you can’t do your daily activities. Seventy percent of all dementia is Alzheimer’s, where short-term memory is more affected than long-term memory, until it progresses deeper.
The Sherzais claim that 90 percent of Alzheimer’s can be prevented. But once it has progressed, there is no data that it can be reversed. However, we can slow the progression of the disease with a WFPB diet.
Bigger legs, bigger brains
Vascular dementia (slowness in speech and movement) and pre-dementia (malcognitive impairment) can still be reversed.
“Nutrition provides a good environment for the brain to grow and heal itself. Exercise pushes the brain to make more connections. So a combination of proper nutrition and exercise is crucial for improving brain capacity and prevention of disease,” the Sherzais said.
The minimum requirement for strenuous exercise is 30 minutes, five days a week.
A surprising finding is the importance of leg strength: bigger legs, bigger brains. “The biggest pump in your body is not your heart, it’s your legs. When you spin standing up or do lunges, you push your brain to create brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth hormone most affected by leg strength,” they added.
Is cognitive decline necessary as we age? “No. You can age well into your 90s and stay sharp,” they said. “In the Blue Zones (places where people live the longest), creative content happen when they’re older, after the accumulation of experiences.”
Speed of information retrieval may slow down, but vocabulary, putting information together and creating a thought all get better; contextual thinking and perspectives become more powerful than any 18 year old’s. You can be a cognitively vibrant and healthy 80-year-old with 3D thinking. But it takes planning and living healthfully through nutrition, exercise, stress management, restorative sleep and significantly cognitive activity.
“What cognitive activities are best? Those that people like doing that are complex, challenging and connected to one’s purpose in life—anything related to your life story that brings you joy. You build muscles by working out the muscles. You build brain by working out the brain.”