While browsing in the library I saw The End of Alzheimer’s — The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale E. Bredesen, M.D. (Thorndike Press, 2017).
Intrigued, I got it and, despite finding much of it to be highly technical, overall it was helpful. One main idea of the book is, despite many viewing a dementia diagnosis as being hopeless, there are steps one can take to fight the condition. Second, there are lifestyle choices we can make earlier in life to improve our chances of keeping mentally sharp later down the road.
One chapter that stood out was Bredesen’s tongue-in-cheek, “How to Give Yourself Alzheimer’s: A Primer.” He unpacks a typical day with behavioral and dietary choices that he claims can put one at risk for getting Alzheimer’s later in life. Frighteningly, his fictitious account reads eerily like a normal “Day in the Life” of many Americans.
(Caveat: I am not a medical professional and The Roanoke Star does not purport to be a medical journal. Still, with the ravages of dementia affecting nearly every family in one way or another, directly or indirectly, this column is shared with the hopes of adding to the conversation about healthy lifestyles. As with anything you read, use your best judgement and for your specific medical condition, consult with your doctor.)
Below is an excerpt from Bredensen’s book, verbatim.
“Chapter 4. How to Give Yourself Alzheimer’s: A Primer”
“Why would you want to give yourself Alzheimer’s disease?! In truth, of course, you probably wouldn’t, but looking at the multitude of factors that can contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s helps you to understand how to prevent the process in the first place, or reverse it once symptoms appear. It also gives you a checklist to see just how many of these factors you already have in your life.
“Okay, how shall we start? Well, if you’re like me, you often work late and find yourself craving a late-night snack, preferably something sugary, making your insulin level skyrocket right before bed, keeping it high while you’re sleeping. Maybe you get to bed well after midnight and sleep poorly because of sleep apnea (often the result of weight gain). Nonetheless, you rise bright and early, getting just a few hours of sleep. Your feet have barely hit the bedroom floor when you start feeling stress as you contemplate the day ahead. You grab a typical American breakfast – a sweet roll or doughnut, a large glass of orange juice, a big slug of low-fat milk in your coffee – and thereby get a hefty dose of inflammation-triggering dairy, take another step toward insulin resistance with the sugar, and poke holes in your gastrointestinal lining with the gluten. You pop your proton pump inhibitor to prevent gastric reflux, even though by reducing stomach acid you impair your ability to absorb key nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B12; then you’ll take your statin, a great way to lower your cholesterol below 150 and thereby increase your risk for brain atrophy. Oh, and we’ll do all this less than twelve hours after our late-night snack, which means the body never gets to induce autophagy* and remove the accumulating amyloid** and various damaged protein debris.
“Rushing out the door keeps our stress level high, producing the cortisol that damages our hippocampal neurons. Next we’ll jump in the car making sure not to get any exercise before work and minimizing sun exposure, an excellent way to keep Vitamin D level suboptimal. Since we’re stressed out and irritable from lack of sleep, we’ll keep our interpersonal interactions high-pressured and unpleasant, avoiding positive social interactions and killing joy.
When our blood sugar crashes around midmorning, we’ll hit the office pantry, where a thoughtful colleague has left a box of chocolate chip muffins for everyone to partake of. Then lunch? There’s no time for anything but a sandwich from the cafeteria or deli – white bread, spongy saline-injected turkey with hormones and full of antibiotics and stress factors – yum! Alternatively, how about some mercury-laden tuna? The salad doesn’t look that good, anyway. Wash it down with a diet soda, to damage our microbiome. Now let’s go for the brownies, so we can get our trans fats and minimize our helpful omega-3 fats.
“At this point, we’ve done a yeoman’s job for setting our physiological course for Alzheimer’s disease. But if you want to get there even faster, we top it off with a cigarette, decreasing the delivery of oxygen to our tissues–that would include brain tissue– and sending hundreds of toxic chemicals into our bloodstream. No need to brush our teeth or floss – who cares if poor oral hygiene promotes systemic inflammation and destroys the barriers that otherwise keep bacteria such as P. gingivalis out of the brain?
“Our postprandial [after a meal] torpor sends us to the candy machine – hey, we worked so hard today, we deserve a treat! – to that luscious Frappuccino we’ve been keeping in the fridge. Sugar-and-fat runs have been our only “exercise” today (and every day), but who has time to get up and move around frequently? Finally, it’s time to hit the freeway, heading home while screaming at the idiot riding his brakes in front of us, thus keeping our blood pressure up and making our blood-brain barrier as porous as the colander we plan to use for tonight’s gluten-filled pasta dinner.
On second thought, let’s get something at the drive-thru. Start with large fries, a perfect source of Alzheimer’s-inducing Advanced Glycation End products, or AGE– trans fats, starchy insulin, oxidized reheated oils with little Vitamin E, and neurotoxic acrylamide. You can almost picture each fry with tiny little boxing gloves, snarling “let me at that hippocampus!” Add the burger – from corn- and not from grass-fed beef, high in inflammatory Omega-6 fats and low in the anti-inflammatory Omega 3, slathered in high-fructose corn syrupy ketchup, on a bun so packed with gluten, it’s a perfect way to punch holes in your intestinal lining and your blood-brain barrier.
“Home again! Ignore that moldy smell. Collapse in front of your favorite screen for some Netflix bingeing or other favorite fare, as long as it doesn’t offer mental or physical stimulation. (Leave the Wii tennis or soccer to the kids.) Then we can top off the perfect Alzheimer’s-inducing day with a relaxing margarita or three to accompany that amaretto cheesecake, then dutifully pretend to get caught up on work before drifting off to sleep with the lights on and electronics still blaring. Rinse and repeat.”
Excerpt from: The End of Alzheimer’s– The first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline, Dale E. Bredesen, M.D. (Thorndike Press, 2017)
The intent of sharing this column is not to be a Negative Nelly or, if you see yourself in the above passage, to induce guilt. The hope is, we can all make positive changes today to help our medical and physical states later in life.
As you’ve probably guessed, a brain-healthy lifestyle is the opposite of the above diary. Go to bed early. Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies and nuts. Go easy on the meats and processed foods. (And “processed foods” are items with an ingredients label, or foods that grandma wouldn’t have recognized.) Drink lots of water. Limit screen time. Exercise, get outside, connect with upbeat people, and keep stress down. Basically, it’s what mom and grandma always told you.
In sum, do as pastor and leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof puts it: “Live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.”
*autophagy: Autophagy allows your body to break down and reuse old cell parts so your cells can operate more efficiently. Learn more here.
**amyloid: protein beta-amyloid plaques are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more here.