Visiting neurologists discuss Alzheimer's prevention

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While Alzheimer's Disease is genetic in a small number of cases, 90 percent of Alzheimer's cases can be prevented, according to neurologists Dr. Dean Sherzai and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai, husband and wife authors of "The Alzheimer's Solution."

The two also are co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer's Prevention Program at Loma Linda University in California.

Known as Team Sherzai, the couple recently visited our area at the invitation of Hilton Head Health to show how we could benefit from their research into brain health. While here, Team Sherzai spoke to more than 100 people one evening at the Hilton Head Seventh Day Adventist Church, and again to more than 400 people at Sun City Hilton Head's Magnolia Hall.

The message the Sherzais brought to Beaufort County is one that is important to all who are concerned about their brain health. The good news that Team Sherzai brought is that what is good for our hearts and for our overall body's health is also good for our brains.

During their visit, they laid out a simple approach that they refer to as their NEURO Plan. It involves Nutrition, Exercise, Unwinding (stress management), Restoring (quality sleep) and Optimizing (complex cognitive activity).

Nutrition and exercise are exactly what they say they are. Unwinding can take many forms, including walking, meditating, doing yoga, listening to music, simplifying the environment, cultivating healthy relationships, and living a purpose-driven life. Those are all activities that the Sherzais say help the brain and can lead to preventing dementia.

Restoring is about recharging the body through adequate sleep and optimizing is about continual learning. It's not brain games like Sudoku that help with that though, as team Sherzai says. It's more about dealing with complex situations, learning another language, learning to play a musical instrument, learning to dance and so on.

Returning to nutrition, the Sherzais strongly believe in a whole food, plant-based way of eating when it comes to brain health. In their book, they identify the top 20 brain-nourishing foods as being avocados, beans, blueberries, broccoli, coffee, dark chocolate, extra-virgin olive oil (as a replacement for saturated fats), flaxseed, herbal tea, herbs, leafy greens, mushrooms, nuts, omega-3 fatty acids derived from algae, quinoa, chia and sunflower seeds, spices, sweet potatoes, turmeric and whole grains. Looking at that list, there is something for everybody. And everything is plant-based.

Their message is important because it's not just a long life that we might desire, but it's a healthy and meaningful life that we should desire. And a healthy, meaningful life means a healthy brain because the brain controls every other function of the body.

J Lanning Smith is a local freelance writer focused on healthy lifestyles.

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