Nurture Your Noggin! 🧠 June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

“I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, ‘whoa, look what’s telling me that.’” — Emo Philips


40 years ago in 1983, President Reagan helped make Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month official in June, directing broad attention to debilitating diseases of our most vital organ.  🧠

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has only become more prevalent since then. ☹️ An estimated 6.5 million Americans aged 65+ are already living with the condition.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s closely tied to the rapid rise of chronic illness, and lifestyle diseases.

Despite what’s commonly claimed about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and brain illnesses like stroke — that its causes are unknown, or due to genetics — there’s continually building evidence that brain health risk factors are mostly lifestyle-driven. 🤯

Thus, you have the power to protect yourself!  💪 💚

How to do that?!

Our favorite summary on brain health and lifestyle is from the husband and wife team of Drs. Dean & Ayesha Sherzai, both leading brain doctors and researchers.🥼

Below is an overview of their bestselling book, The Alzheimer’s Solution, covering the main risk factors for dementia, and the well-evidenced lifestyle choices & strategies that can eliminate up to 90% of those risks to your memories and cognition. ✅

The Risk Factors

What if the trillions of cells in your body were like the inhabitants of the City of You, and you’re the mayor? 

In that scene, the risk factors to your brain and developing dementia, are like the following:

1. Inflammation: The Unwelcome Riot 🔥

Think of inflammation as a group of rowdy protesters, upset with their living conditions (i.e. food and diet) in the “City of You”. When there’s a valid reason, like an injury or infection, their presence (in moderation) helps alert the city’s repair and defense systems. However, when the rioting becomes chronic from frequent processed foods like sugar, fried foods, processed fats & meat, or alcohol, it damages and degrades the city’s infrastructure. The brain, in particular, is highly sensitive to these unruly protests.

You’d quell this upheaval by inviting peace ambassadors like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains 💚 that are rich in micronutrients, and plants-only fiber & phytonutrients — bringing lots of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. They help negotiate calm and restore order in the city, starting in your gut.  They’d also keep you feeling sated, so you’ll have no desire or room for processed junk food.

2. Oxidation: The Rust Creepers 😩

The Rust Creepers are oxidizing rascals roaming around your city, causing wear & tear, much like rust degrades metal over time. Known as free radicals, these by-products of metabolism cause oxidative stress that can damage cells, including brain cells.

To combat these creeps, you bring in the Antioxidant Allies, the city’s handy repair crew. Foods like berries, nuts, leafy greens, and generally plant foods with vibrant colors 🌱, are packed with these dedicated workers, ready to neutralize the “rust” of oxidation, keeping you in prime condition.

3. Lipid Dysregulation: The Fat Mobsters 🦹‍♀️

Lipid dysregulation is akin to the Fat Mobsters of your city, notorious for spreading unhealthy saturated fats. They smuggle this contraband into your arteries everywhere, including in your brain — causing blockages and disrupting the smooth traffic of nutrients and oxygen.

You can flush out the Fat Mobsters with a diet high in fiber ✅, and low in “sticky” animal saturated fats and trans fats.  Foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts that are rich in omega-3 fats can further help reestablish order, and keep your city’s roads and highways open and flowing smoothly.

4. Glucose Dysregulation: The Sugar Syndicate 🍩

Lastly, there’s the Sugar Syndicate. They’re sweet talkers who convince you that a little extra sugar won’t hurt. However, when glucose levels in your city spike and fall frequently, it can lead to insulin resistance and the start of diabetes — significant risks for brain health. ⚠️

To combat the Sugar Syndicate, focus on maintaining a balanced diet, filled with fiber-rich foods and complex carbohydrates that release glucose slowly, and help keep the city’s energy levels stable. 👍

Protective Factors

In their book, the dynamic duo Drs. Sherzai deliver an evidence-based, brain-saving strategy and acronym that fits perfectly between your ears: NEURO  🧠

N for Nutrition  🥗

A whole foods plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats can prevent & quench inflammation, and provide protective nutrients aplenty for your brain. A wide variety of healthy plants not only helps your microbiome diversity, ensuring plenty of good neurochemicals to be ready, but the brain also seems to rely on a wide variety of plant foods to function best.

E for Exercise  🏋️‍♀️

They say regular exercise pumps up your muscles, but the Sherzais remind us exercise is also like a brain-cleanse, boosting blood flow to our noggin and sprouting new brain cells. The Sherzais advise making exercise frequent by making it convenient, and brief (at least to start), with a ready repertoire of stretching, cardio, and strength training, e.g. stretches against nearby walls; walking and stair climbing; squats and (wall) pushups.  Increase intensity once you’ve got a regular exercise habit going.  Invest in inexpensive, convenient fitness tools for your living room and office, like dumbbells, a skipping rope, or a mini-trampoline.

U for Unwind  🧘‍♀️

Stress is like that never-ending, nerve-wracking rollercoaster ride that leaves your brain queasy. Mindfulness, deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and socializing can be your off-ramps. They’re your mind’s chill-out zone, keeping your brain health on an even keel.

R for Restorative Sleep  😴

Quality sleep is the brain’s overnight janitorial crew, cleaning up harmful waste and organizing memories. The Sherzais advocate for 7-9 hours of sleep, and consistent sleep hygiene (e.g. keep the sleeping room cool and dark; have a consistent wind-down routine) — consider it the necessary downtime for your brain’s housekeeping staff!

O for Optimize Mental Activity  🎼

This is your brain’s playtime! Puzzles, reading, learning new skills, and socializing are your mental jungle gym — building brain connections, and promoting brain cell growth. It’s like CrossFit for your cortex.

More Brainy Boosters

The NEURO plan above covers your overall strategy, to protect and boost your brain.  ✅

If you want more nerdy details to get motivated, the Sherzai’s book is well worth reading, and/or you can catch their many talks online.  

This talk by the Sherzais, in particular, is recent and combines their slides and commentary,  that really helps convey much information in an efficient way:

And of course, Dr. Greger and the NutritionFacts team have a lot of practical knowledge to share on brain health.  Here are some of our favorite videos, all 2-5 minutes:

  • Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease…
    • …with Plants, esp berries and greens:

    • …with Lifestyle Changes (recapping NEURO above):

    • …with Diet (really, with plant foods):

    • …with Turmeric (in the form of curry, and lots of veggies):

  • What’s the underlying cause of dementia? and strokes? The most likely culprit is clogging of the arteries and your arterial system, which affects not just the heart, but the entire body, and especially the brain:

  • As Dr. Greger notes, this is actually good news! Because just as a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet is the only eating pattern clinically shown to reverse heart disease (in the majority of patients tested), there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that WFPB can at least slow the onset of dementia; and the possibility of reversing dementia with diet is being studied.

Thank You!  🙌

Thank you for being on the LeafSide, and for choosing food that makes a difference — for you and yours, for the animals, and for our one planet Earth. 🌻 🌎

Please feel free to contact us at any time with your questions or feedback; it’s with your help that we’re making the plant-based revolution happen!