11 May How to Fuel and Protect Your Brain | Dr. Dean & Dr. Ayesha Sherzai
We are led to believe that cognitive decline is inevitable. But it’s not! Your brain is the hardest working organ in your body. The habits you create either fuel or sabotage your brain health.
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai are experts in preventing cognitive decline.
For more than two decades, Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai have been leading the way on preventative brain health. They are both successful authors, speakers, neurologists, and Co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center. This dynamic duo fuses medical research with holistic wellness to redesign the way we approach preventative cognitive healthcare.
The pair’s latest book, The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, is based on decades of first-hand research and patient experiences. It is the first and only nutrition program proven to prevent and reverse signs of cognitive decline at any age.
I was so excited to have this amazing team on my show. In this episode, Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha broke down the science of cognitive decline and how to prevent it. We talk about the myths we’re told about our brains and why it’s so essential to know how it really works. And surprise, surprise, we get into why plants are the ultimate brain food. Your brains work so incredibly hard, guys. And they are what makes you, you. Let’s learn how to take care of our brains so we can live meaningful, joyful lives for as long as possible.
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- How Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha met
- What is Preventative Neurology?
- The vital role of clean water
- Brain science
- The spectrum of dementia
- What role does sleep play in brain health?
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 15 years exploring the planet looking for healthy foods, superfoods, environmental solutions, and I’ve had my mind blown along the way by the people, the far off places I have been, and the life-altering events that have changed my life forever. My goal is to help you dive deep into some of the issues of our modern-day life, society’s fatal conveniences. The things that we do that we’re indoctrinated into thinking we have to, even though those things are negatively affecting us, and in some cases, slowly destroying us and even killing us. Every week, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. My hope is through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. Together, we’ll explore how you can make small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you, the people around you and the planet, so let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Darin: Hey, everybody, welcome to the show. This is the Darin Olien Show. Guess who I am? I am Darin Olien and I am stoked To bring you more incredible people. Every conversation, every bit of passion that we get to share on the show, I’m just stoked that it gets to be magnified and shared with you. I love this kind of conversation for thought, full form, a way to connect to extraordinary people. And keep in mind that everyone, when given the opportunity, can express themselves and is extraordinary, I really believe that. We have all gone through and suffered through this thing called life, things, events, losing people, I lost my house, the freaking pandemic, all of this stuff is obstacles, is challenges, but what is that? I believe it to my core, it is opportunities to dig in, to learn about who you are, what you are, what you were capable of, and really, to figure out what you want to express in the world who do you want to be, and being literally a super life freaking warrior, the best version of yourself. And these two people are the best version of themselves nonstop, an incredible dynamic, brilliant duo, Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha Asherzai. Between the two of them, I think they have like three PhD‘s and multiple Masters degrees. They have been experts, researchers in the field and in and around preventing cognitive decline for more than two decades. They know how to decipher the information, the research and deliver it in the way that you and I can understand. They are speakers, they’re authors, they‘re neurologists, they are co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center. And the duo is led-medical research with holistic wellness to redesign the way we approach preventive cognitive health care. In 2017, they wrote an amazing book, The Alzheimer’s Solution, yes, you heard that right, A breakthrough program to reverse the symptoms of cognitive decline at every age. 90% of the Alzheimer cases can be prevented. They know this clinically, they know this from research, they know this from doing it. They wrote a new book called, The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, easy to use, powerful. Guess what? The research shows clearly that plant-based eating can absolutely reverse Alzheimer’s, no joke, no agenda other than what the research shows. They also have on their website neuroplan, revolutionary brain health program. Listen, we all want our brains, no matter what age, to be firing, to be working, and to be the best versions of ourselves. So they are just kindred spirits, positive, powerful, and really smart, and really fun to talk with. Enjoy my great conversation with Dr. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai.
Darin: I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Dean: Thank you. Same here.
Ayesha: Same here, same here. What you’re doing, I mean, your presence and your conversations and we hear your name all over the place everywhere. And so you’re a part of that bigger consciousness about addressing health and wellness and the human connection. So it’s such a pleasure to be here with you.
Darin: Thank you. The education that both of you have combined, it’s just jaw-dropping. And the integration that you have taken between what you learned and what you’re learning and being able to bridge that gap into ways that people can benefit from and obviously, I want to dig into this new book that you have just going right after Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disorders. And just together as a team, I think you represent something that is needed in the world and I’m so grateful. So that being said, Why don’t you just– because I know you’ve done this a million times, but why don’t you just give a highlight of both of your educational backgrounds because there’s a lot of people that haven’t gotten an opportunity to know what you’re up to. And I believe it’s so powerful what you’re up to from a science-based perspective and what you’re presenting in the world to reverse some of these big challenges we have in society right now.
Dean: I’m going to approach this completely differently. Every time I tried to be on the courageous, outside the box– you might be thrown off a bit.
Ayesha: That’s okay. I’m listening.
Dean: So, academic achievement, the degrees, yes, our cousin says we have more degrees than a thermostat but it’s meaningless. I mean, we have 2 really highly driven kids, you might know about them. They’re really highly achieved. They finished high school at 10 and all that. But I literally am I think one of the few parents that say, if you end up finishing college, you’ve done something wrong. So less degrees, the better. I’m not saying that college is not important. It is important, but if we go down the slippery slope of education the way it is, it will actually take away the full immense prowess of this three-pound organ with 87 billion neurons, one quadrillion connections, 1 times 10 to the 50th power. And really, all you did was go to the class, I mean, zombiesque mode for most of it, and then you come out with a job, we really didn’t use this full power. So I say don’t do what we did. Education is important, and I think the most important thing we did was, I mean, we’ve traveled the path less traveled to the point that it’s like almost if it’s traveled, we just run away from it to our own detriment to some extent. And we met 10,000 miles, 8,000 miles away in Afghanistan. When I left NIH experimental therapeutics branch, it says wonky as a guest. I went to Afghanistan to help rebuild the healthcare system. I was asked at 33 to go there and help rebuild the healthcare system by Tommy Thompson and the World Bank. And Ayesha left medical school to go with Doctors Without Borders to help out women. And we met at a party and a conversation around our real source of education. Our grandparents, who died from Alzheimer’s, but the people they were, actually, that’s where the education started. The seed for inquisitiveness and fearlessness. I call everything else management. Leadership is strategic fearlessness. And we learned it from those two people who ultimately died from Alzheimer’s. And our first conversation was about just that, how we absolutely adored these two people, actually, two grandparents, two grandmothers as well. All of them are amazing people and then we saw them just lose parts of themselves. We decided to again, shift and take the path less traveled. And instead of going to where you would traditionally go from a unit, from a number one neuroscience program, you know, boss that is somewhere else, we went to Loma Linda, because it was the only Blue Zone in US. It’s the healthiest place in the world. Well, [00:09:56] I picked up the phone then I cold call to the president of the university. I said, what do I have to lose? I got through, I talked, I said I want to start the brain institute there. And he said, okay, yeah, of course. And we came there and Ayesha did finish her residency in preventive medicine and neurology, and I started collecting data. And what we found was earth-shattering. Now everybody’s doing it because it’s popular, you know, brain health and lifestyle. But 15 years ago, we started this and collected data. We started talking about prevention–
Ayesha: I think we were the first ones who coined the term preventive neurology. We looked at brain diseases from a prevention perspective because what was available, sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.
Dean: Oh, no. That’s beautiful.
Ayesha: But I wanted to add that. What was available was so depressing and so limited. It was essentially finding out about a disease where 80%-90% of the brain is gone and then telling them, oh, sorry, there’s really nothing that we can do about it. Even earlier on, back when we were doing work, you know, social work and preventive work and the realm of public health back in Afghanistan and some other countries, we wanted to be fearless, and we wanted to do something that was substantial. And that love for public health arose from there. When Dean was actually living in Afghanistan, he went there for three months, he ended up there for three years. And he established the most successful women’s health empowerment project in any post-conflict country where he trained 20,000 girls and young women who were educated up to sixth grade and essentially making them health care workers, teaching them how to give antibiotics or talk about prevention of easily, you know, preventable diseases like diarrhea in children and to help women with their pregnancy because the only tertiary hospital in the entire county was a five-day donkey ride. So prevention was everything. And when you see the impact of prevention and those kinds of circumstances, you can’t live with yourself by just giving aspirin and statins and cholesterol medications and not being able to look at the bigger picture. And at every step, even though we had phenomenal role models and mentors, I went to Columbia University and I had the best of the best, but when we came to the point where we said, there’s got to be more. It just can’t be waiting for a pill to come to get rid of Alzheimer’s disease or for stroke, it has to be more. And when we looked at the bigger picture, it was always the complexity and the spectrum of lifestyle. And I remember when we went through this path, initially, they said, this is career suicide, what are you doing, you will never get a grant.
Dean: But now, three years ago, all of a sudden, we go to the Alzheimer’s National Conference, and we’ve been talking about this for years, and 5,000 neurologists specializing in dementia from around the world and the plenary talk, which is the talk where everybody comes in, not these breakouts, a thousand people in the same hall was prevention is the new cure. I’m like, oh my gosh, wow. So we were ahead of our time. And now, a lot of doctors are doing prevention research. These little clinical trials, 100 people there, but we actually moved on from that. We kind of know what works, these diet wars and lifestyle wars are meaningless to us. If we can move the world 10% healthier, that’s 10% less expensive, 10% less suffering for the most massive diseases on earth besides COVID, which is dementia, Alzheimer’s, dementia is that umbrella category, and stroke. Ayesha is a stroke specialist from Columbia University. And that’s amazing that we could do that if we wanted to.
Darin: Yeah, I mean, it’s incredible. And that story about empowering those women in Afghanistan is just, I mean, I’m just stunned. And I remember in the middle of Africa, sitting with his villagers, and talking about hey, can you get this fruit for me and I’ll pay you fairly and then I turned and I saw the water situation was just horrible. And I brought water filters with me and I said, can I show you how to change? And they looked at me like I was crazy, and I changed their water situation in five minutes and drank it myself. And that’s how for $10 to change a whole village. That’s how powerful these situations are.
Dean: You it’s beautiful that you said that. I mean, in 2002, when we went back to Afghanistan with the forces, with the HHS, Health and Human Services and everybody, one out of four children were dying before the age of five. Or they were not dying from anything exotic. They’re dying from diarrhea, cholera, and things like that. And the answer to that is not antibiotics or surgery or some antibodies, it’s water, salt, and sugar. So because if somebody has that kind of an inflammatory process in their GI, if you give them water, it just goes through and actually speeds up the dying process, dehydration. So you teach these young girls, they’re leaders, by the way, a bit of water, some salt, and some sugar in there. That helps the absorption of water into the system. That simple act saves more than 90% of mortalities. And why is that relevant now? Why is that relevant to Alzheimer’s? It’s crazy how some of the things you do in the past, well, if you’re observant, comes back over and over again. It’s the same concept, not water, salt, and sugar, but the same simple, empowering tools that we can give. That completely switches the conversation with Alzheimer’s, dementia, brain health, brain vitality. It’s not this unusual biohacking stuff. It’s about the simple things people can do in their home, in their kitchen, in their community, and their churches. My PhD thesis was about healthcare leadership, and I looked at low-income communities, and the biggest determinant of health was access, access, access. We say that for real estate, its location, location, location. For public health, it’s access, access, access. Access to information in the right place, it’s not in the clinic. If a group of people from San Bernardino come to the clinic, there are so many steps behind as far as nervousness, acculturation, all that for them to acquire the information. First of all, how many doctors give that kind of information anyway, we’re not trained? And then to apply it to their home. You have to go to their communities, to their churches, to their barbershops, to their local store. And the amount of absorption of data becomes exponential. Now, look at that. That’s not a billion-dollar project or a complicated app or a new supercomputer. It’s just listening to people and going where they are. And that’s the secret. And that’s the secret to actually changing this entire game of brain health and thousands of communities.
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Darin: The fact that you have studied all of this stuff and you’re going into prevention way before your time, let’s start breaking that down because we all have people that are suffering right now. What can they do? What can we do to take proactive measures based on your research, based on your academics, based on your understanding? This is not just you making up stuff? Yes, this is your you guys are scientists rooted in science, grounded in it, and now getting this information out?
Ayesha: Yeah, I think it’s important for all of us to understand that the brain is like any organ in our body. Sometimes, the brain is considered as an organ that is very different that is in a black box that cannot be affected. You know, you see pictures of brains and people fantasizing about how it works and whatnot. But with all the diagnostics and the advances in technology, we’ve been very lucky to know more about it. There was a time when we said we don’t know anything about brain, it’s a mystery. No, it’s not a mystery, not much. Yes, there are certain things that we don’t know, but we know that it’s a living organ. It’s the most active organ in our body. It’s only 3 pounds. Only 2% of our body, but at any moment, it consumes 25% of our body’s energy, highly, highly, highly active and always working, never gets any rest. So whatever we do, every single day, whether it’s the snack you pick or the conversation you have or the partner you choose or the walk that you take–
Dean: She could have been so much smarter. Only if–
Darin: Why did her brain choose to stop then?
Ayesha: That was the smartest thing I did. My brain was functioning very well that day. Everything we do affects this incredible organ. And it grows and it shrinks with everything that we do. It sounds ominous. And I don’t want people to feel guilty, there’s no blame in it. But everything you do affects this fabulous organ.
Dean: It’s empowering.
Ayesha: It really is empowering. Somebody actually did a calculation. They looked at the blood vessels in the brain. So if you put all the blood vessels end to end, it can span 400 miles. I mean, that’s just crazy, but it does. That’s the amount of blood vessels we have. So, it’s important to understand that it gets affected. And when you look at disease process, when you look at Alzheimer’s disease specifically, it just doesn’t happen. It’s not like a point where you wake up and you’re like, oh, I’m suffering from dementia. It’s a spectrum. We all go through these stages where we have some cognitive decline. And it’s affected by your lifestyle to the point where you can increase your cognition, you can increase your cognitive prowess and abilities and if you don’t do much about it, it can continuously decline. And when you look at the disease processes or the pathologies that start that damage in the brain, not to kind of minimize it too much but for the purpose of simplifying it, there are essentially four processes that happen in our brain. It’s inflammation, oxidative stress or oxidation, dysregulation of glucose metabolism or how our body processes glucose, and then there’s lipid dysregulation or the way our body processes fat. And that’s the core mechanism of any disease process. And they sound very sciency but when you look at it, these are brought on by lifestyle measures, by the foods we eat, by the habits we own or disown, whether it’s smoking, alcohol consumption. It’s brought on by stress, by head trauma, by any particular environmental factors that we’re exposed as children, whether it’s stress or an empowering environment, and so on and so forth. And so all of these factors work hand in hand in determining our baseline brain health, which is called brain capacity. And then at every stage in our lives, the ability for the brain to grow and thrive, which is cognitive reserve. So some factors give the right environment for the cognitive reserve to grow. And then there’s some factors that really push the brain physically to make more connections. The numbers are crazy about the brain connection. So each cell can make as little as two connections or as many as 30,000 connections. I don’t want to go through the math.
Dean: I mean, imagine 87 billion neurons, of course, they’re not all gonna make 30,000 connections, to have that level of increase. The Incredible Hulk would be– they usually compare the brain to the muscle. It doesn’t even come close. The brain has that level of growth at any age, by the way. So a lot of times the debate is about do we grow new cells? That’s not important. It’s not important. It’s the connections. And the connections require five elements. So we call it neuro. It’s a little self-serving, we’re neurologists, but nutrition, exercise, unwind, restorative sleep, incredibly important restorative sleep, and optimizing mental activity. Whereas nutrition, stress management, which is good stress and bad stress and sleep, create the environment for destruction. Every night that you have a bad night’s sleep, we know that amyloid builds up, that’s the bad protein. The nights that you have good sleep, it’s the opposite direction. Same thing with every meal you eat. We know that it creates a cauldron of inflammatory process in your brain. This highly active organ is now going through inflammation, but if you have a good meal that’s unprocessed, and we’ll talk about that, actually lowers that inflammatory oxidative process. Now, nutrition and stress and sleep create the environment good or bad. Now exercise and optimizing mental activity make those connections by the trillions. I mean, these amazing studies like the London taxi drivers study, the nun study and others have shown that the connectivity is literally the most powerful thing for not just preserving brain health but growing brain capacity well into your 80’s 90’s and beyond. That’s the empowering tool that we hope to expand.
Darin: I’m gonna leave nutrition for a second because I’m just fascinated with the sleep side a bit because– It’s that consumptive of energy, if it has that high ability of neuron activity, then it seems to me that it could potentially be more susceptible than almost anything else. I mean, it’s such a simplified way of looking at but would that be accurate?
Dean: That’s completely accurate. Not to give you fulsome flattery, but I will. Geniuses, when they explain things in simple terms, I just went through a half an hour explaining it and five words, so that’s good. That’s exactly right. I mean, sorry, I always feel guilty about pushing a book. So in the book that we’ve written, which is a lifestyle book, 75 recipes and all that is great, tasty, but it’s a lifestyle book. But with it, there’s a course, a one-month course where we actually want to show people that there’s a cognitive test for people that are involved there at the beginning and at the end. And we want people to see how quickly the brain actually increases focus and recall to the level that you would never have even imagined. That’s the level of control we have in one month. Now, of course, we do it at six months, a year. Now, around the year is where you see true data. The one month, we can’t report. It’s anecdotal to some extent, even if it’s 10,000, 20,000 people, but it’s remarkable that what you can do with those five elements, it’s just absolutely remarkable. Now the other side is, as you get older, just the general trauma of aging and add to that, that bacon egg and cheese, and that Oreos that was baked, and what did I have in Tennessee 15 years ago? Fried Oreos, yeah. That’s not going to be good for your arteries for the 400 miles of microvasculature on your brain.
Ayesha: Or your tastebuds.
Dean: Or your tastebuds. Well, you’re a little more selective than I am. So that’s the level of difference. If you can slowly accumulate positive, it’s like you’re adding into your bank account, which then the brain is incredibly– the word forgiving doesn’t come into play. The brain is incredibly rewarding. It’s not forgiving. Once you give it the environment, its ability to– it will do the rest of the work for you. It’s almost like it loves you. It will do all the connecting, all the focus. The number one thing we hear in the clinic is, you know, there’s this cloudiness, there’s the fog, I can’t focus, especially as we get older. When we change their lifestyle slowly, systematically in a smart way with specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound way, what happens is, initially, it’s difficult because those companies are smart. They know that our evolutionary addictive foods, which is fat and sugar, are the ones that are going to draw us. So to take people away from that, they feel bad for a month, why? It’s withdrawal. Withdrawing from sugar, withdrawing from the trans fats. It’s withdrawal. But then after that month, at the end of that month, they say, oh my goodness, I never thought I would have this level of clarity. And that’s magical. And that’s actually what speaks to avoiding Alzheimer’s. That’s what speaks to dementia and everything else. And it’s nothing tricky, but it is multifaceted. You can’t do one or the other. Our grandparents had the old part of neuro which is they were brilliant, they were well-read, they were mentally active beyond belief. But the N and the E, it appears that philosophers are not supposed to exercise, or whatever it is, and so they never moved in a diabetes, and they succumb to dementia.
Darin: Let’s boogie on nutrition a little bit because from so many angles, so many colleagues that we know have done a lot of science around the whole plant-based food. You now have been, you know, the funny thing you ended up in Loma Linda surrounded by one of the greatest groups in America showing that very thing of whole food plant-based eating, but now you came about it from a neuroscience point of view. So, let’s hit your angle as to what you see destroys or sends you sprinting towards these degenerative diseases and what’s also the preventive?
Ayesha: I think when you look at lifestyle in general, just to kind of tag on to what you mentioned, the determination to live healthier for things that when things happen to you rather than you actively participating and changing, that all comes from the brain. And if you fall into a lifestyle where you’re essentially an automaton and things keep on happening to you, then the brain essentially gets used to that low-energy state of just allowing for things to happen to you and you not really taking an active participation in choosing that choice and that creativity or that level of awareness that is needed for you to be in control of the elements around you come from a healthy brain. And what we see in different communities, unfortunately, is almost this downward spiral where something happens and then you lose your focus, and you have brain fog, and you lose your motivation. And that loss of motivation, that loss of the small steps of success towards that optimal life, makes people just lose hope, and it just kind of becomes a downward spiral. So, being behavior neurologists, we’re very, very aware of that. And that’s why we always believe in small steps of success. In any case, I digress.
Darin: It’s a really good point, especially now. So if someone’s listening to this, and they have some degree of that, maybe they have a very high degree of them feeling spiraled down, maybe not feeling like they have enough strength to even make that choice, what are some steps that you could speak to them right now with?
Dean: That’s at the core because if you don’t have a system, it’s going to be the diet du jour, it’s going to be the superfood of the day, or it’s going to be the exercise plan of the new year, or the meditation that’s going to last two weeks, and then when the app runs out– it can’t be about that. My least favorite, our hate least favorite word in language is motivation, the rah-rah motivation thing. What is the denominator for motivation? What’s this mathematical model behind motivation? There’s no such thing. So motivation to us is systematic successes towards a given direction. Now the direction doesn’t have to be specific, but a given direction. And when you keep creating those quanta of success, by the way, nobody can set those quanta but you. Because if it’s too easy, it’s not pushing you. And if it’s too hard, you create repeated failures, it actually ultimately fails. So you create systematic series of successes, and you celebrate those successes and you mark those successes, why? We are dopamine, serotonin, glutamine system, I mean, there are a couple of other neurotransmitters, acetylcholine. The dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter, it wants to reward. So if you’re going to create a clear line of successes and oh, here I go, first step, done, check, second step. That creates a cascade of behavior which we call habit pathway. That habit pathway becomes personality, that personality becomes in the family culture, and ultimately, the family and communities living state, which is what we’re going for. We have the largest brain health and research program in the world at big cities where we’re actually studying an entire community on how to implement this lifestyle change in those communities. Now, it’s not about saying just pick it up, pick yourself by the bootstraps, what bootstraps? I don’t want a bootstrap. No, it’s about, okay, John, your challenge– Okay, Ayesha, 17 years ago, we had just had another talk and I said, I made a joke. I met Ayesha with two snicker bars in each hand, but that’s not true. That was terrible but it was kind of true.
Ayesha: But I was addicted.
Dean: Yeah, she was addicted to chocolate. Now, she’s addicted to beef jerky and chicken and fried chicken, and all of that. You know I grew up in Pittsburgh so what do you expect? But so that was our addiction. So you said that’s your challenge. Here are your strengths. Here are the things you have. Let’s create a plan. Let’s first measure. Without measurement, there’s no plan. I’m having this many teaspoons or amount of added sugar in my diet per week, I’m having this much processed meat and this much fat, this much saturated, that’s the first step. Once you measure that, then you take one of those habits. I’m going to reduce that by 50%. I’m going to reduce my sugar by 50% in a month, and I’m going to celebrate and mark it every day. And what that does is our habit pathways, I’m simplifying it, are created in our basal ganglia, the center of the brain, but it’s more than that but let’s just say that. What it is, is those habit pathways are created for us by the world, by the universe during our teenage years for the most part. And I tell people, really, you want to be left with your teenage habits? So it’s time to reprogram and to reprogram those deep paths, no snow-walled pathways, you have to have a trajectory with a compass and start hitting in that direction. And before you know it, actually that snow starts falling, and now you have a new direction. And why is it important to create habits because your brain cannot think through every behavior. It would be exhausting as it is you’re spending 25% of your energy with your brain. If you have to think through everything, it would be exhausting. So you have to create habits for food, you have to create habits for exercise, for stress management, for sleep, and mental activity. And once you do that, what happens is then it becomes a foregone conclusion but it all starts with a trajectory and we love the concept of SMART goals, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant to the higher goal, and Time-bound goals. Now, that’s how you change behavior.
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Darin: So, everyone listening they have an incredible website with a lot of this information, teamsherzai, is that?
Ayesha: Yes, teamsherzai.com. That’s our website. And we’re quite active on social media too, we’re “sherzaimd.” Our goal is essentially to– Sometimes people become aware of their health when it’s not there. They become aware of the importance of being healthy when they’re in pain or when they’re suffering. And what we try to say, and I think we’re privileged in a way because we’re neurologists and I don’t know I’m biased, but neurology is just a phenomenal field to be in, but our brain is not just a brain, it’s us. And if that us-ness is taken away from us, nothing matters. So your brain is your emotion, it’s your feeling, it’s your memory. It’s how you feel joy by things around you. It’s how you can start crying like Dean does, but when he listens to a beautiful piece of classical music or even like start crying on Kung Fu Panda 2 because it just hits him real hard.
Dean: It’s a great movie.
Ayesha: I love that movie. But it’s that capacity to be able to enjoy yourself. I kind of find it funny when people want to say like, hey, listen, I just want to enjoy life and I’m gonna do whatever I’ve been doing all these years because I want to enjoy life. And I tell them, well, you could enjoy it more and longer if you did it in a different path and in a different way. And again, there is no blame but there is just this– we’re trying to show people that you have to really look at the bigger picture and the entire spectrum of life and try to make better decisions.
Dean: To feel more conscious, to feel more aware, to feel more connected is, by the way, we’re not selling anything, well, the book, but don’t worry about that, we’ll give that away, but you can have it in your homes. And one of the reasons that when Ayesha was in Columbia University, one of the hardest, in fact, the hardest program in vascular health in the country, and in the morning, she would be in the ICUs, then at nights, she would be in the kitchen learning cooking–
Ayesha: Yes, I went to culinary school. I’d be in my scrubs in the morning and then just put on an apron and cut onions and potatoes because you just have to make sure that your showing people how to bring health into their homes, into their kitchens, into their communities.
Dean: So easy, tasty, healthy. They have to know that eating healthy is not deprivation. The second thing that we always hear is expensive. It’s not expensive. Believe me. One of the most powerful foods for health in general are greens. I’m not saying go out there and see where there are greens but greens are not that expensive. And so it’s easy and then tasty. You will realize that the average American or anybody in the West, you get stuck to the same 5 foods you’ve eaten over and over again. I remember in Pittsburgh. It was the beef jerky, pizza, the burger, pasta, and then some couple of other things. Once you have forced out of that doldrum of poisonous self-destruction, the plethora of plants and herbs and spices and tastes that open up to you actually makes you cry, “Why wasn’t I eating these things before?” That’s the beauty of it.
Darin: Because I always say food is information. The amount of information that’s coming in and taste and textures and benefits are so abundant that nature is communicating directly with us through our food. Let’s jump into that and really give people some insight as to the information that food is and the detriment or the benefit that it has.
Ayesha: Yes, absolutely. That’s the core of our research and our work. And I’m happy that we’ve been involved on the research side. So, we always hear that food is complicated, nutrition is complicated and that there’s a lot of diet wars going on and people are confused and you pull up the news and some day, ketogenic diet is good and another day, you see a picture of a person sitting next to a lake eating a fish and pasta and wine and that’s good, and then there’s a carnivore diet. It’s really confusing because I think it’s just a misinterpretation of the data that we’ve had for a long, long, long time. It’s been clear. And when you look at any research in the last, I’d say, good 40 to 50 years, whether it’s epidemiological studies whether it’s clinical trials or case series, all the different types of researches that come to us. When you look at the totality of the data, it points essentially to the same thing. And that’s how science work. It’s not perfect. You can’t get a black and white answer. That’s not how it works. You always try to see trends and you see what the majority of data is actually showing us. And whatever dietary pattern it is, whether it’s the medeteranian diet or the mind diet which is the one that is being studied for brain health. It’s a combination of mediteranian diet and a diet low in sodium. And so on and so forth, you see that the foods that stand on top, you see the foods that have the most antiinflammatory properties or antioxidant properties are plants. So they are the greens, the beans, the fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, spices, teas. And then the foods that are at the bottom, they are your processed foods, the added sugars, the added salt. Sources of saturated fats which is meat cheese and dairy, as well as chicken, by the way. People think chicken’s better but this is essentially the same as red meat. And those are at the bottom. Those are the foods that actually cause damage. And so when we came up with– because everybody likes summary, just tell me what to eat. So when you actually boil it down, it’s an unprocessed plant-based diet. It has all the macro and the micronutrients that are necessary for the brain to maintain its structure, to function properly and also to provide the environment that we were talking about for those connections to be made. And there are so many examples. Like for example, in Rush University in 2015, there was a paper that was published by Dr. Martha Morris, she died a couple of years ago unfortunately because of breast cancer, but her research was pretty significant. She was the one who coined the term, “the mind diet.” And she showed that people who adhere to a mind diet can reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53%, just diet. And they adjust it for exercise, stress and hormone replacement therapy and everything else that could confound the picture. Just diet by itself reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by 53%. And mind you, that was not the optimal diet because when you look at the mind diet, I said mind many times today, when you look at the mind diet, it also includes chicken. And you don’t know why it has a chicken there. But it’s like, okay, a couple of tiems a week. And it also has maybe some cheese, maybe a little bit of fish. But again, in that kind of what we call a non-optimal diet, a diet that is predominantly plant-based, if you can reduce your risk by 53%, imagine what you can do if you hit for the optimal diet. And the same goes with Adventist health study which showed that people who are plant-based or vegetarians but mostly plant-based, they actually tend to do better.
Dean: We actually did a study ourselves that is self-study looking at very sophisticated cognitive tool, CVLT and the diet types. And the Adventist Health Study which has 96,000 people over 50 years, you can actually parse it out really well. The completely plant-based vegan and healthy vegan versus the medeteranian, and so on and so forth. And again, the more plant-based, the lower cognitive decline, repeatedly, that was the pattern.
Ayesha: And I’m currently doing research on a very large database in California, it’s called the California Teachers Study where we’ve had data since the 1990s on 133,000 women who have been followed for their lifestyle. And I was intrigued by the Medeteranian diet. I wanted to break it down and to see what it is because it’s so misunderstood. And when you look at the way the Medeteranian diet score is created because it’s the scoring system. If you score high, you adhere more. If you score low, you adhere less. And the scoring system means something. You score high when you eat greens, beans, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seed, and water. That’s your high score. You score low when you eat red meat, processed meat, chicken, cheese, and sources of saturated fat.
Dean: So the question is, what is that sound like? And if so, why are they calling it Medeteranian diet? Because it’s sexy. That’s basically it. And they don’t want to go to the other step which is, oh, this should be called a plant-based diet, but they’re feeling uncomfortable by calling it that but reality is that everybody consistently scores it as though the higher is the plant-based, the lower is the non-plant-based. That’s the beauty of this.
Darin: It’s so strange. So within the umbrella of Medeteranian, there’s this sub information in there that’s clearly again showing that if the more plants you eat, the less processed, the less meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, and oils, the better for your brain for preventive. Yet, they don’t want to go out on limb and say, well, it’s Medeteranian, it’s not plant-based.
Ayesha: They built a scoring system for Medeteranian diet, and that’s how they understand how people eat based on their score. The one thing that’s in the middle is fish because the omega-3 fatty acids, but we now know that you can get your omega-3s without the middle man which is the fish by consuming seeds like flax seeds and chia seeds, and lowering your omega 6 so there’s higher conversation of ALA to DHA in your body. And also being concern about what we’re doing to our oceans so it just doesn’t make any sense to eat fish at this day and age when we have all these fantastic sources. And we just put out 2 systematic reviews on omega-3 supplementation in various stages of life in children and young adults and in old age. And it looks like there’s no clear answer as to whether someone should take it or not. There are different stages of life that do require for us to be cognizant of the amount of omega-3 fatty acids we are consuming and I think we should take a supplement. For example, in children who have the fastest developing brain and for adults who are having some risk factors for cognitive decline, they may benefit from higher doses of direct DHA from an algae based source which has low mercury and lead and all the other toxins that we’re adding to our oceans.
Darin: That’s why I appreciate the videos that you guys have put out around, all of that stuff, helping us understand what the data is actually saying, and then putting together this book. Listen, this is an incredible title, The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, this preventive common sense measures can reverse this thing that is not just happening to us, that we can actually do a lot about that. So I’m really stoked for this book to come out and the lifetimes of work that you guys have put into this thing. There is so much here and so much empowering information that I’m excited for people to unpack.
Ayesha: It’s very kind of you. Thank you so much, Darin. And honestly, it comes from a selfish place, we really take a lot of joy in taking on the role of being a conduit between what is happening in the world of science and how to translate that into the community because we are physicians. I worked in the emergency room today, and when these amazing, lovely patients come to our clinic, you know they come in with a sudden onset of paralysis of their body. I had a 45-year-old woman who came in and she couldn’t move her right arm and her right leg. She couldn’t speak. She has 4 children. She’s divorced. She works 2 jobs. And she comes into the emergency room and she is crying and she is scared and we are rushing her for an MRI, for a CT scan. We’re telling her that we’re gonna give her a clot busting medication so that her arteries open up, and then I know what’s gonna happen. In a few days after checking her heart and doing a very, very expensive workup on her, close to $50,000, we’re gonna put her on an aspirin and maybe a cholesterol medicine and maybe some diabetes medicine, and she’s going to a nursing facility to get rehab.
Dean: For the rest of her life.
Ayesha: And then we’re probably gonna send her home on a wheelchair. That’s what’s happening. Medicine is amazing. I’m grateful to be a physician, but it can get really difficult and it can get very, very depressing if we don’t look at the bigger picture. That was the reason why Dean and I created the Healthy Minds Initiative which is a non-profit. All of the profits of the book go to the Healthy Minds Initiative. We’ve created groups of individuals in different communities. We train them, and they essentially become brain health ambassadors. And we invite people whoever’s interested to create a Healthy Minds Initiative in their community to contact us because we all need to be dispersing this message of hope, this message of empowerment that your brain health is in your hands.
Darin: Wow. I’m so touched by that. And if people can hear that right now, the reality is that you have to give up the victimization in order for you to take on the responsibility of a healthier life. And I understand that it’s seductive. Weirdly in this world, it’s seductive to be a victim because I think a lot of systems and policies have set us up in that way and society has set us up in that way, but we know that we need healthy minds more than ever. There seems to be some sort of tyrannic thing happening in this world right now and there seems to be this incredible light of people coming together to empower others, and you guys are absolutely one of those doing that. And I’m just, again, this has been so much fun and there are so many different things I want to talk to you about but let’s do round 2. And I’m just grateful for both of you and it’s been such a pleasure, so thank you very much.
Dean: It’s our honor. Thank you so much. And we tell people we have chosen family, and chosen family are those who with us hopefully are working to change the world for the better. So whether you like it or not, you just gained 2 of us as family members, annoying family.
Ayesha: You are a chosen family.
Darin: Well, I’ve laughed a lot, and so if that’s a result of having you as my family then I’m taking that one. So let’s keep enjoying, let’s keep charging, let’s create more healthy minds together and again, taking your lead, lets get it out in the world. So everyone here, The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution is coming out, probably when this airs it will be out. And you’ve got a lot of programs on your website so we’ll put all of that in the show notes and I celebrate you both.
Dean: Thank you so much.
Ayesha: Thank you so much, Darin. We love you. Thank you.
Darin: Thank you.
Darin: That was a fantastic episode. What was the one thing that you got out of today’s conversation? If today’s episode struck a chord with you, and you want to dive a little deeper on a variety of topics, check out my live deep dives on darinolien.com/deepdive. More episodes are available on darinolien.com as well. Keep diving my friends, keep diving.
Darin: This episode is produced by my team at Must Amplify, an audio marketing company that specializes in giving a voice to a brand and making sure the right people hear it. If you would like or are thinking about doing a podcast or even would like a strategy session to add your voice to your brand in a powerful way, go to www.mustamplify.com/darin. That’s www.mustamplify.com/darin.