The American College of Lifestyle Medicine held its annual conference in Indianapolis this year. My two sons and their families live in Indianapolis, so the conference was doubly appealing for me. As always, it was excellent. Most presentations highlighted some aspect of improved health achievable for millions of people through healthier ways of life. One of the best presentations revealed hope on the horizon for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of our major modern plagues. It was rare 100 years ago. Few people had ever heard of it. Yet in the last 50 years it has become one of our most feared kinds of dementia, striking loved ones in nearly every family today. It is incurable. Slowing its progress has been the best we can hope for until now.
Dean and Ayesha Sherzai are a neurologist couple who decided early in their medical careers to concentrate on Alzheimer’s disease. They learned the standard view that Alzheimer’s was a progressive neuro-degenerative illness with no effective treatment. After neurologists made the diagnosis, patients were encouraged to make major life decisions before they lost that capability. It was a dismal prognosis.
After specialized training, the Sherzais began directing the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention program at Loma Linda University. Through years of careful research with thousands of patients, they discovered that lifestyle had an influence on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This was unexpected. The conventional view is that lifestyle does not affect Alzheimer’s. Yet their statistics showed beyond doubt that Alzheimer’s developed far more commonly in patients with an unhealthy lifestyle than in those with healthy habits.
Alzheimer’s remains a progressive neuro-degenerative disease with a dismal prognosis. The new element established by the Sherzai team is that lifestyle has a major impact on its development. An unhealthy lifestyle greatly increases its risk, whereas a healthy lifestyle can prevent most cases. This changes the overall treatment picture dramatically. Their research showed that 90 percent of cases could be prevented when Alzheimer’s was treated as a lifestyle-related disease.
Their new book, The Alzheimer’s Solution, goes into much more detail about their research and their program to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. This involves teaching their lifestyle program for prevention and providing clients with a strong supportive framework. I highly recommend the Sherzai’s book for anyone wanting to learn more about Alzheimer’s.
The Sherzai team was given standing applause at the end of their presentation. Most mainstream doctors are not aware of this research. Your doctor may say that any idea of preventing Alzheimer’s by lifestyle change is absurd. Unfortunately, it can take years for doctors to accept new approaches to old diseases. I hope this won’t take that long.
Another recently published book worth reading is titled Anticancer Living. The lead author, Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, is director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas – one of the premier cancer treatment centers in the world. He has some noteworthy things to say about cancer, based on his research and that of others through the years.
Most people think that cancer is genetically determined, but Cohen states that up to 95 percent of cancers are not due to inherited genetic defects. He writes: “Most cancers are caused by something within our power to control – the way we live and the choices we make every day.” He says that at least 50 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle changes.
More specifically, Cohen notes that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising more, eating more vegetables, getting a better night’s sleep – these are simple actions that have a profound impact on your body’s ability to keep cancer and other serious diseases at bay.
Part I of the book is an overview of the cancer landscape, setting the stage for the role each of us can have in our own health. In the last chapter of Part I, Cohen introduces us to six pillars of the healthy lifestyle that go into Anticancer Living. Part II of the book devotes a full chapter to each of these lifestyle pillars to show how it helps prevent cancer.
The six pillars are Social Support, Restorative Sleep, Stress and Resilience, Physical Activity, Food as Medicine, and a Healthy Environment. Each factor is important, but it is the synergistic interaction of all six that gives anticancer living its power. The authors emphasize the mix of all six factors as being important. Their overall goal is to make science-based data about the impact of lifestyle medicine on cancer treatment and prevention so strong and widely known that it becomes the gold standard of patient care. They say that when lifestyle-inspired prevention becomes our top priority, we will finally move away from a model of disease care to one of true health care.
Both books reviewed are good additions to anyone’s health library. Alzheimer’s disease and cancer are shown to be mainly lifestyle-related diseases. Good nutrition is highly important, as it is in many non-communicable diseases. Both books have strong support systems built into their treatment programs, a matter of key importance.
Why are strong support systems important? Desirable lifestyle changes are simple to start, but making these changes last is not easy. Those truly wanting to create positive, lasting change in their life and health must have a strong mindset to achieve success. But a strong mindset can be hard to maintain in isolation.
We’re immersed in a fast food, instant gratification culture. The foods are convenient and tasty, and it’s hard to resist them, making lasting change difficult. Convenience is built into many aspects of our culture. Like quicksand, it keeps pulling us back in. If we lack enough motivation to pull out of our cultural quicksand, we’re likely to suffer one or more of its complications. A strong support system helps boost faltering motivation so we can move out of the quicksand to the solid ground of healthful living.
Both The Alzheimer’s Solution and Anticancer Living are enlightening science-based books. Both address widespread problems that eventually affect almost every family in our Western culture. Both outline effective prevention and treatment programs with good built-in support systems. I recommend both without reservation.
A Personal Note
For those concerned about my personal health and prognosis, I’ll add this brief summary. I have non-invasive bladder cancer, as noted in my last newsletter. It’s under control, but its cell type carries a high risk of recurrent cancer. There was no sign of recurrence at the first follow-up exam, but I’m still at high risk of recurrence. Because of this I will have bladder re-examinations every few months for at least five years. If I remain clear of cancer after that length of time, my prognosis will be good.
In harmony with the Christmas season, I wish you good cheer and good health!
Ed Dodge, MD, MPH
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