mother with Alzheimer's and daughter

Lifestyle choices can hold Alzheimer's at bay while search for treatments continues.

Two major pharmaceutical companies last week announced they were halting two late-stage clinical trials of an experimental drug after determining it wouldn’t be effective in helping Alzheimer’s patients. ​

This was devastating news for so many families affected by the memory-erasing disease. Alzheimer’s affects approximately 5 million people in the United States.​

This was one of the most promising drugs under study. Its goal was to target the buildup of beta-amyloid, one of two proteins that can develop in the brain and contribute to Alzheimer’s. This setback follows similar moves by two other pharmaceutical companies that called off similar studies back in 2012. Now, many biotech analysts say a different approach to seeking a treatment is needed. ​

While the search for an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s will and should continue, we believe prevention through lifestyle choices is the best medicine. A complex disease needs a complex approach, and we look forward to funds being allocated to both treat the disease and to generate awareness of how to reduce one’s chances of developing it.​

In our work as neurologists, we see several evidence-based lifestyle choices that can help reduce a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s.​

Here are our top four recommendations:​

  1. Eat a plant-based diet. Numerous studies show that a vegetarian diet contributes to brain health and longevity. Research going back several decades confirms that all the nutrition you need can be found in plants. And an abundance of recent studies continue to confirm this — from the China Study to the California Teachers Study (disclosure, in which we were involved). The Chicago Health Study found that a plant-based diet reduced a person’s chances of developing dementia by 53 percent. For your body and your brain, eat vegan or vegetarian for optimum health and longevity.​
  2. Stay active. Exercising every day and throughout the day is important for brain health. Several studies have demonstrated that aerobic fitness is linked with both better academic achievement and cognitive performance. This starts early. In children, aerobic fitness has been found to be linked to more brain volume in the hippocampus, which is strongly implicated in memory. Research has also linked leg strength to healthier brains.​
  3. Get appropriate rest. Two very important things happen when you sleep. First, memory consolidation. Think of your brain as performing a desktop cleaning and putting files in the right folders. Second, cleansing. Think of your cells flowing through the blood in your brain as performing important cleaning and flushing procedures to remove toxic buildup. Sleep is the most important thing you will do all day, and it cleans your brain of harmful byproducts. So there’s no need to attend an expensive brain cleanse retreat or spa. Instead, enjoy a night of peaceful, restorative sleep. ​
  4. Unwind. The stress hormone cortisol can cause damaging effects on the brain, including brain shrinkage and inflammation. This makes stress management essential. Keep things in perspective, meditate, practice mindful breathing exercises, or spend time outdoors. You can also challenge your brain to bring on good stress, such as learning a musical instrument or a new language, or taking a class in art or dance. All of this helps create brain resilience.​

If you are interested in learning more about the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Health please visit our website or call 909-558-2880​

—Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai are co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Health.