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Take mind matters into your own hands

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I ’ve learnt so much from The Brain Docs and follow their research closely, says Jan, a 60-year-old business owner from balmy, tropical Noosa. Jan refers to Drs Ayesha and Dean Sherzai who have devoted their medical careers to brain health and dementia prevention. 

Dementia is a plague that sees no end in the modern world. Currently, almost 70,000 New Zealanders and just under 500,000 Aussies are living with dementia. Most people know someone who has been diagnosed. The World Health Organization have released some shocking numbers. They expect that by 2030 seventy-eight million people worldwide will have dementia. 

Dementia is the umbrella under which sit brain diseases and disorders such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia,
  • And many others

The most prevalent form of dementia

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the most feared, most prevalent, disruptive, and expensive diseases in the world right now. 

In AD, the brain develops plaques and tangles, gaps and holes, and shrinks considerably in size when compared to a healthy brain. No matter your chronological age, a healthy brain looks full and whole compared to someone with AD. Unfortunately, advanced AD is always fatal. This is due to the significant damage that the disease inflicts on the brain, thereby shortening your lifespan.

There is no medical cure or evidence to support reversing this disease. However, scientists agree that changing your diet and lifestyle can greatly lower the risk of being diagnosed and possibly slow progression if you are diagnosed.

Risk factors for cognitive decline

Dietary and lifestyle factors are not linked to your genetics or your age. So, in theory you can improve these at any given time you choose to do so. They are often referred to as Modifiable Risk Factors. This means that by modifying or changing them you are potentially lowering your risk of developing AD. 

Of course, changing what you eat and how you live is not always straightforward or easy. But if implementing these changes means you greatly reduce your risk of AD, isn’t it worth the effort? In fact, the Sherzais tell us that 90% of Alzheimer’s cases are preventable. 

Now that is good news! The major lifestyle risk factors for AD that you can change include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) at mid-life
  • Obesity at mid-life 
  • Diabetes (Type 2)
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Level of education
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Depression Social isolation

It all links together

A diet high in saturated fat, salt and cholesterol is the leading cause of high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Neal Barnard, MD, confirms this in his book ‘Power Foods For The Brain’. Dr Barnard advises avoiding all animal products for optimal brain health. 

The saturated fat and cholesterol they contain boost your risk of stroke and AD. Add in physical inactivity, lack of sleep, smoking, and it is a cocktail of cognitive disaster. You may begin to see how your heart, gut and brain are interlinked. What you eat, how you move, and how you feel impact your overall and long-term health.

Making positive changes

Tucked away in the picturesque Adelaide Hills is the town of Lobethal, home to great wineries and a vibrant 80-year-old retiree named Maureen. “I used to be overweight and in terrible shape. I lost my father and paternal grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and my mum had diabetes. I knew I had to make some changes before I ended up going down this same path”. Fifteen years ago, Maureen changed to a whole-food, plant-based way of eating and has never looked back. “It was difficult at the start. But I had read all the research and knew I had to persevere”.  

Maureen also undertook some cooking classes with Rebecca Stoner from Just Eat Plants. Rebecca turned to a whole food plant-based lifestyle after being diagnosed with MS.  Science points to inflammation being a marker for both MS and Alzheimer’s. One of the leading causes of inflammation comes from a diet high in animal products, including dairy and processed foods. Even vegan processed foods are bad for your gut and brain.

From the vineyards of Lobethal to sunny Queensland is a gorgeous vegan B&B called The Beet Retreat. “In 2012, I went vegan for the animals. But I soon realised that even though I was vegan, I wasn’t actually nourishing my mind and body with life-enhancing foods,” says Jan (from Noosa). Jan is full of energy and always on the go running The Beet Retreat. When her sister was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 57, Jan (like Maureen) knew she had to make some drastic dietary and lifestyle changes to save her brain and enjoy a positive ageing experience.  

Maureen adds, “I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”  “It’s really sad because she won’t even try to eat better. She doesn’t see the point of changing anything because there’s no known cure”. 

While there is no cure, the major preventative tools at your disposal include:

  • Eating a diet rich in plant foods
  • Moving your body every day
  • Quitting the cigarettes
  • Embarking on a higher education course
  • Finding ways to bring peace to your mind
  • Connecting with others.

Brain-boosting nutrition

Imagine never having to worry about Alzheimer’s. This is exactly how Jan from Noosa feels since changing her diet. She says that now at 60, she is fitter and healthier than she has ever been. “I eat whole plant foods, exercise every day, manage my stress, and enjoy social connections with others.   So, no, I don’t worry about getting dementia. In fact, I don’t even think about it.” Jan’s daily go-to mind-boosting foods include:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Cruciferous veggies
  • Legumes
  • Berries
  • Walnuts (small handful) and seeds

What about Maureen? “I make sure I eat blueberries, spinach and walnuts every single day.”

Imagine you can eat as much as you like, boost your brain, fuel your body, and never go hungry. 

By following the Power Plate philosophy developed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, you can. You divide your plate into four food groups:  Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Avoid all animal products, cooking oils, saturated fats, and processed foods. 

Quite simply, your body and mind will thrive on loads of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, starches, fibre and many other life-giving macro and micronutrients that are only found in the plant kingdom.

A berry good idea

A 20-year study (published in 2020 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) with 2800 participants discovered that flavonoids potentially reduce your risk of AD. The study found that those who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods weekly had the lowest risk of developing AD during the study period. 

And those who ate the least flavonoid-rich foods? Well, they had the greatest risk of developing AD and related dementias.

Flavonoids have beneficial neuroprotective effects. They protect neurons from neuro-toxins and fight neuro-inflammation. Your neurons are super important. They send signals and messages between different parts of your brain and between your brain and nervous system. 

The richest sources of flavonoids are berries, cherries, citrus fruits and freshly squeezed citrus juices, black tea, cacao, onions, apples, pears, parsley, celery, and soy products. Flavonoids are only found in plant foods. 

Once again, science shows that plant foods are health-giving, and a Westernised fast-food way of eating is detrimental to your health.

It’s never too late

It is never too late, and you are never too old to improve your well-being.   Simply take a page out of Maureen and Jan’s books. 

“I’m a social butterfly,” states Maureen proudly. She walks every day and gets out and about meeting new people. “My health is perfect, and at 80, I don’t take any medication. I’m in vibrant good health, and no one believes how old I am!”  Maureen accredits her vibrancy and good health to the skills she learned when changing to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle in her mid-sixties. 

Jan agrees. “Since my sister’s diagnosis, I have learnt so much about the dangers of inflammation through bad dietary choices and the importance of the gut-brain connection. Every day I feel the benefits of the positive dietary choices I have now made. My mind is sharper than ever”. 

Changing to a whole food plant-based way of eating is one surefire way to boost your brain’s health and longevity.


Silva Mirovics
Silva Mirovicshttps://wordsbysilva.com
Silva Mirovics is a Melbourne based writer, yoga teacher, vegan and owner of wordsbysilva.com. She has a degree in health science and a research Masters in |Gerontoloby

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