Dean and Ayesha Sherzai on Lifestyle and Alzheimers Disease.
Two of my grandparents died of Alzheimers disease which makes this episode very close to my heart. Anyone who has seen a loved one go through this knows the pain of watching them gradually lose themselves. It’s one thing to lose control of limbs or lose the function of other organs but our brain contains our entire being. It is who we are more than any other part of the body.
A big part of my journey to health was the dramatic improvement in my mental health. Until then I’d always thought of mental health as being separate to physical health but I learned in no uncertain terms how the two are so intimately related. I’d also thought of the brain as really being separated to the rest of the body, an entity all to itself. Today I learned just how far from the truth that is and just how much our lifestyle can impact our brain health and therefore our overall health.
Dean and Ayesha Sherzai are passionate and articulate, they’ll change the way you think about health in general. I hope you get as much out of this conversation as I did.
- 00:03:39 ….. DEAN AND AYESHA SHERZAI; NEUROLOGISTS
- 00:10:27 …..SHAIZER’S INTEREST IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
- 00:14:38 ….. LIFESTYLE VS GENETICS
- 00:21:02 ….. NEGATIVE SIDE OF KETOGENIC DIET
- 00:31:02 ….. HOW TO STICK TO YOUR NEW FOOD DIET?
- 00:33:02 ….. EXERCISE AND MENTAL HEALTH
- 00:40:42 ….. MOTIVATING TO EXERCISE
- 00:46:25 ….. THE IMPORTANCE OF UNWINDING
- 00:52:30 ….. THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEPING OR RESTORATION
- 00:58:55 ….. OPTIMIZING THE BRAIN
Dean and Ayesha Sherzai on Lifestyle and Alzheimers Disease.
This podcast has been automatically transcribed by a software and went for a minor editing. If you notice any mistakes or wrong word entry please help us fix them by leaving a comment. We made sure to be the most accurate as we can. Enjoy!
Andrew: All right, uh, welcome to the Spud Fit podcast. Dean and Ayesha- actually I forgot to ask if I said that right, Ayesha?
Ayesha: Aye-sha, its two syllables.
Andrew: Sorry, welcome to this podcast Dean and Ayesha Sherzai. It’s an honor to have you here. I always start with the biggest and most important question first and the probably the hardest one to answer as well.
Can you tell me who you are?
DEAN AND AYESHA SHERZAI; NEUROLOGISTS
Ayesha: Sure! Absolutely. Well, it’s a pleasure being here. Thank you for having us. My name is Aisha were husband and wife, I have to say that. We’re both neurologist.
Dean: You don’t have to say it-
Ayesha: I’m just saying sometimes people people get it wrong, but we’re husband and wife, neurologists. were both- we work at Loma Linda University, which is in Southern California. We are the co-directors of the brain health and Alzheimer prevention program. And we trained at NIH Dean went to NIH and Georgetown University and I trained at Loma Linda University Columbia University and both focusing on prevention of neurological diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and diseases Of you know, memory and degenerative disease of the brain. And so for the last 14 15 years our work and our research has been focused on um, particularly lifestyle important of lifestyle and prevention of brain diseases
Dean: And yeah, and we actually chose to come here from from those institutions because on Melinda as you may know is one of the blue zones.
The only one in the United States and the only one that’s been validated, you know statistically in every way. So who’s on areas where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else in the world.
Andrew: Yeah. I was gonna ask about if if the Linda being a Blue Zone had an impact on on your decision of why you head there.
Dean: So yeah, it’s interesting that it did.
Andrew: Yes. We wanted. I mean as a physician who want to study and a scientist you want to study disease. Why wouldn’t you go somewhere where there’s less disease and figure out what’s the underpinning of what’s what’s the cause of that survival benefit?
And when asked our focus was the brain. And we have found uh profound effect of Lifestyle on brain and there’s good reason for that. Yeah. It’s so interesting to me that- and it makes sense makes total sense that people who are healthy tend to be healthy and all areas in all aspects of health physical and mental health and just lifestyle Health in general. It seems to cover, you know, one solution solves everything or not. There’s not more than one solution I guess there’s more many aspects to a solution but you know if people get it right then it’s good for their overall health. So you look at the Loma Linda people and they live a long time because they’re physically healthy and it seems to be that they’re also mentally healthy and as far as brain health goes I guess mental health and brain health separate things to an extent. But you know what I’m trying to say.
Ayesha: Yeah in many ways they are the same thing because it’s the same chemical processes and it’s the same, um, effects environmental, uh factors that affect both.
Um, and so. And we’ve had the privilege of working with numbers and data and we’ve seen it in our clinic and in our research and at the same time both of us work in the community as well and we see the devastation that, you know, the lack of good environment or good lifestyle has on brain diseases in general.
Dean: And this for decades people have differentiated the brain or separated the brain from the rest of the body.
As if it works in a different mechanism as if it’s a completely different structure and process than the rest of the body. It’s not it’s vascular. It’s got nerves. It’s got the you know, uh, but lymphatic system you now that was found out and all the structures then but much more so so take whatever happens in heart as far as vascularity immune response and everything else that happened too much more in the brain this little 3-pound origin which is basically two percent of the body’s weight consumes 25% of body’s energy continuously, so whatever processes that are going on everywhere else is going on much more. So in the brain, so whatever we have learned so far that works in the heart diabetes and everything both affects the brain much more so and affects it positively much more so and that’s why we say when I if you’ve taken care of brain health you think care of all health because that needs so much more.
Andrew: Yeah, I was gonna ask about that later anyway, but yeah, we can down to it now that we sort of think of uh, the brain as being separate because it sort of is you know, it is separate from the rest of the body. It’s up here and everything else is down here. But I think we’ve probably take that a little bit too far, you know of it because in the end, it’s just another organ and it is and the way the way we feed that organ fuel is the same as every other organs. You know, I wanted to ask about the relationship between uh, heart disease and stroke and Alzheimer’s and you know, those have brought on by similar processes or yeah.
Ayesha: Yeah. I know. It’s the same process is essentially as a matter of fact. The brain is more susceptible to anything we do um, you know, whatever we choose to do or lack thereof, whether we decide to exercise or not or whether we eat well or not or whether we sleep while or not that affects our brain first because of that susceptibility that it has so, you know, we we always say whatever you do affect your brain first and then the rest of the body and if you really take good care of this brain, you have taken care of the rest of the body.
It has the same arteries. It has the same. Chemical processes the same kind of inflammation that affects the rest of the body affects the brain first and foremost and to a greater extent and so, you know the same kind of elements of uh, preventive measures that are applied for the heart or the kidney or liver and Etc apply to the brain as well.
And so, you know, we’ve tried to create this model of a brain Centric approach which essentially means focus on the brain because that’s where your personality resides that’s where your emotions reside. That’s where motivations come from and if you’ve taken care of the structure of the brain and the chemical processes that bring on motivation and happiness and all the necessary chemicals that make you want to get up and take good care of yourself. That said that’s most of the game right there. You’ve gone along taking care of so many things that are considered, you know that are taken for granted.
SHAIZER’S INTEREST IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Andrew: had couple of aha moments already for me is the idea that uh, everything the brain uses more blood and everything more than the rest of the body.
So, you know, everything affects the brain first, that’s a really uh, A new way to understand things to me and I also just what you just mentioned it. Really the brain is contains everything that makes you you essentially so it’s a really good way to look at a bit to look after who you are.
I got my interest in Alzheimer’s comes from my grandparents both of my my father’s parents, but I’ve died from Alzheimer’s and yeah, it was a struggle watching them that were a few years apart, but they went through it. Uh, yeah separately. Um, my grandma after my grandfather, but yeah, just just watching their life deteriorate and then you know, I was there on both of their last days. I was was really hard thing to go through, uh, both myself, but also for them to you know, he could see it was not obviously for a probably everyone that go through it. It’s not a fun thing to be aware have those moments of clarity and awareness that your life is fading away and then other moments where you’ve got no idea what’s going on.
Anyway, that was a an emotional time for me twice with that. And uh, so that’s where my interested in Alzheimer’s comes from. So where did it come from for you guys?
Ayesha: Same place, same place as you, we were personally affected by it. We both had two grandparents each that went through the slow painful pathway of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and we saw how it affected our parents and our community in general.
And uh in many ways that’s what brought us together because we were very interested in understanding the brain better to see how we could actually find, you know a solution for it and we both trained at um, very good universities. Um, and we were among the scientists who were completely focused on finding a treatment for this devastating disease. The Pharmaceuticals. Dean was in the experimental and therapeutics branch of the National Institutes of Health. That’s an area where they only talk about chemicals and pills and finding specific solutions and treatments for dementias and Parkinson’s disease Etc.
And you know, I trained at Columbia University where everything was focused on treatment as well. But after years and years of working in the trenches with patients and seeing loved ones and family members suffer from it, we’ve come to a point where you know, now we have a better understanding of how this disease evolves.
It doesn’t come on right away when you’re you know in your 70s or 60s for that batter. That’s a process that is actually um promoted by lifestyle choices. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are blaming anybody for not, you know, for not doing anything their lifestyle but we’ve come to a point where we have diagnostic tools and have a lot of data that actually show us time and time again that the disease actually starts way or 20 or 30 years earlier, but it manifests itself at a point where you know, it’s almost too late.
Dean: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s something that was really interesting for me. Uh because I’ve learned a lot recently about heart disease especially and I learned about that, uh, you know, a lot of a lot of young kids like less than 10 years old when they died of other causes like a car crash or something the do an autopsy and find that these young young children have uh have heart disease already, uh, already Progressive heart disease and uh, and yeah now to learn that.
Maybe not quite so young but similarly a lot further a lot earlier in life, maybe 20-30 years before any signs show up. Uh, you people could already be suffering from uh, at least not maybe not Alzheimer’s but at least some precursors
LIFESTYLE VS GENETICS
Dean: And the Alzheimer’s process like I said starts earlier and so it’s cognitive decline and effect of different parts of the brain tension memory visual spatial processing but it starts very early.
We tell people that there are two paths you start taking in your 20s in reality one of decline or one of continuous resilience and growth. And that depends and that actually speaks to process outside of Alzheimer because if you take the path of resilience, you’ll never get to all tenders majority of people won’t there’s yeah, everything is genetics but the great deal of about 90 to 95 percent of those who ultimately develop Alzheimer’s are not driven by their genes and the environment affect on their genes.
There’s five percent that are really heavily driven by genes. And even they are affected by environment, but they will get in their lifetime but the other 90% or more their genes which are so far, we’ve identified nearly 30 genes. They determine a range of when you could be developing the disease as much as 30 to 40 years and what you do to add life or what happens to you in life determines if you going to get it early or later, so that’s the relationship between lifestyle and genetics.
Genetics just give you a a canvas. And then what you do on that canvas is determines if it’s going to be a Picasso or or uh a pseudo Picasso. Let’s say a pretender. Yeah. I mean my own grandfather one of the most brilliant man. We’re not gonna get anyway. I guess we will get into the specifics later, but. brilliant man, so he had done what was needed as far as brain activity. That’s a protective thing. But when it came to nutrition, it was absolutely terrible and as far as exercise that movement terrible, so that’s it’s not a matter of blame. It’s a matter of us knowing and knowing as individuals as families as communities what things we can do to push that disease back.
Andrew: Yeah, you can only you can only do what you know, and you know when you’re no better than you can do better. So yeah, it’s important to to uh to recognize that and not blame you can’t help but if you don’t know something it’s not your fault. But you know, at least once you know, then then you’ve got the options to make improvements.
Andrew: It made me feel good when you talked about the genetic side of thing because obviously that’s also a concern for me both of my grandparents. You know, the genetics are there for me must be there whether or not whether or not it actually gets to me. That’s what I want to talk to you about. But yeah, I can’t remember who said it right now
but there’s a good quote about this sort of thing that goes along the lines of you know, genetics loads of the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger.
Andrew: Yeah, do you think that applies here as well?
Dean: It does.
Ayesha: Yeah, absolutely. They are, you know, Dr. T Colin Campbell. He says that lifestyle is is that switch where you turn on enough the um, um your genetics and so lifestyle is essentially the tool where you can turn on and off those jeans whether you want them to become active or not or stay inactive and dormant, and we’ve seen that over many decades and so much research that shows that that’s exactly how it is for brain health as well.
Yeah. All right. Well, so there’s a there’s a lot to this man and you already talked about that you’ve worked with uh, Pharmaceuticals and studied that sort of side of things but that’s really not your focus these days. I guess those sorts of pharmaceuticals and drugs probably have their place at some point.
But uh, I guess the major focus is your what I’ve read about in your amazing book is the the new plans. Uh, Uh, let’s start talkin about that. So the first part of neuro is. The first part is near and nutrition and stands for nutrition. And you know, it’s um, probably the most important way of creating the right environment for the brain and the body to thrive and grow and we always say, you know, how can it not be important?
It’s um something that you put in your body, you know, three to five times a day and it makes and breaks the the infrastructure and the connections between yourself. And uh so far, um, as far as data is concerned. We know that the best kind of the diet is a whole food plant-based diet, which is essentially an unprocessed plant and plant based diet.
Um, saturated fats that come from animal proteins or animal sources sources as well as refined sugar and those seem to be the most harmful thing for uh for the brain. It breaks down the connections between brain cells and causes inflammation in the brain structure as well as the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the different parts of the brain and uh, you know, like we said earlier the uh, the effects may not manifest themselves right away, but say years and years and years of staying in that kind of dietary pattern actually shows higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
High risk of Parkinson’s disease and stroke as well. Um, and so we can’t emphasize the importance of eating the right type of food,
Andrew: Yeah, my major focus personally is obviously a big focus on nutrition. Yeah, the way I ate is really what changed my life, you know, it’s not but it was it was a start for me and.. Yeah, once I once I got the food right then all other areas of my life, somehow fell into play not without effort things were made a lot easier by by getting my diagram and uh, well we’re talkin about my personal diet.
Obviously. I did my year of only potatoes. What do you think of that effect would have had on my brain? My brain health would that have helped?
NEGATIVE SIDE OF KETOGENIC DIET
Dean: Yeah. So there are many factors there. You want to make sure that you get energy to the body. So that speaks to the demonization of carbohydrates.
There’s a whole industry out here which actually serves the purpose of the media industry by demonizing carbs, you know, so if you can’t eat carbs, you can trigger what’s left. Well, that’s the bacon. So that’s the demonization of carbs their carbs are not bad. It’s not about carbs. It’s not about it’s about high and low glycemic foods and making sure that you get glucose, glucose is the most efficient way to get energy to the brain and to the body.
Yeah ketones are easier to get in because they just go into the cell but easy is not always good when it comes to physiology. I mean whoever told you that. They have not studied any medicine and I’m not saying you or anybody says that um ketones, um actually damage the body over long time, especially the brain because it’s a shortcut and some people say all but when I’m on ketogenic diet lose weight I said and I said, there are actually the ??? says that I said, there are many ways to lose weight.
They’re not necessarily good ways to lose weight. You can be drinking acetone and you’ll lose weight and if you can and you can you know get severe depression and you lose weight and you can cut off your arm and you lose weight. There’s lots of ways just so and so that’s not that’s not that appropriate measure or the immediate attention because it’s a quick little boost of energy but long term given that the cell is not getting its regular source of very complex carbohydrate and it’s the cycle that that binds to the receptor. Then it turns on others and receptive if the whole process is not going through inflammation builds up. So carbohydrates are good complex carbohydrates are good. Um, And and potatoes are great source of complex carbohydrates, and I don’t think you did yourself any harm and definitely staying away from saturated fat and simple sugars.
You did yourself a lot of good. Uh, the only thing is making sure that one doesn’t get the have any deficiencies vitamin deficiencies deficiencies. And so does this potato provide all of the vitamins needed? I’m not sure it does but did you take any supplements at the time?
Andrew: I took a B12 supplement and yeah that was it for me. And uh, yeah, it was only ever meant to be a temporary thing. Anyway, I was one year Challenge and my blood test showed that everything was good, but it’s not it’s not my plan for the rest of my life. Yeah for me it was about um, it was really I was hard for me. I tried to go home food plant-based many times before and I was terrible at sticking with it. I could never stick with it and along with every other day. I could think of I couldn’t stick with any diet. And uh, and so this was sort of my way of uh, trying to kick start a new lifestyle. Yeah, it was a nut probably a long time to do it. But anyway, the point is that I ate half food plant-based now still would lots of potatoes but lots of other-
Dean:No, no, absolutely but main story there is that it’s cocoa complex carbohydrate. Yeah complex. Carbohydrates are great. And you can survive on them and survive thrive on them. And yeah, and and you’re very much better off than that what we call here in America the standard American diet that acronym speaks volumes, sad.
Yeah. The sad diet is uh is poor in every way high salt high sugar high saturated fat and and somebody says a meat is bad. Another person says no sugar is bad. No, both of those should be watched simple sugars should be definitely reduced. Saturated fats should be reduced or eliminated and then and then there’s a world of wonderful beautiful Whole Food plant-based, uh culinary environment that you can live Thrive build the brain with. Build the brain literally with that.
Ayesha: Absolutely! people always associate a whole food plant-based diet with a sense of deprivation. And that’s because of just the culture that we’ve lived and um with lived in a very meat centric culture, but slowly gradually with you know, Inspirations like yourself, you know showing people that there’s just a whole variety of things that people can do and um, I’m glad that the there is a paradigm shift in consumption of food here in the us as well.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah and that idea of deprivation that was certainly something I struggled with before for my big change. And one thing that I like to tell people is that if you don’t sacrifice for what you want, then what you want becomes the sacrifice in this case would be if you’re not willing to sacrifice for your brain health then your brain health will be the sacrifice.
Yeah, I think it’s true in all areas of life and the beautiful thing about this whole food plant-based diet is uh, you know, initially it does but for me anyway, after lots of people that does feel like a sacrifice but once you get into it, then you certainly realized very quickly that it’s the opposite of that opens up to you.
So, uh, yeah, I think it’s a really important thing to remember.
I’m glad you mentioned, uh, Ketone and Ketosis and that sort of thing because that’s a huge thing at the moment, and it seems to me just growing and growing and everyone’s all about ketosis and uh, you know, bring back the fat and all that sort of stuff.
Yeah, so you covered it a little bit already but specifically one of the one of the area’s I wanted to ask you about was… I see in these ketosis, uh people. One of the one of them, uh, plant-based criticisms already is there high amounts of cholesterol, and then you get the ketosis Advocates saying that our cholesterol doesn’t matter.
It’s uh cholesterol is good. You should eat more cholesterol because it’s good and you need it for brain health and various other functions. So what what can what would you guys say to that idea of… we need more cholesterol and cholesterol is good.
Ayesha: Well, We’re scientists and we go by data and one of the most beautiful statements that Dean always starts his conversation with is “to the best of our knowledge today.”
And I think that’s the humility of science because it shows that we’re speaking from what the data has shown for decades and so far the data shows that’s saturated fats and cholesterol are detrimental to health. Heart health, brain health, Gut Health you name it! There’s no data out there that shows saturated fats and cholesterol are necessary elements in our diet that and that on the contrary should be reduced as much as possible for longevity, for lower mortality and lower disease, period. As far as ketosis is concerned, Ketosis is a necessary process during the flight conditions where you need a boost of energy in situations where you’re deprived of food where your body uses alternative sources of energy to make you function for a short amount of time to get you out of a bad situation.
That’s how that’s how we’ve evolved so far. To continue that state of ketosis longer than the fight or flight situation? is flawed. It starts causing inflammation and damage to the body and we’ve seen it in individuals and um, you know people who have been on the high state of ketosis for a long time, they can’t really function normally. There are certain diseases in neurology particularly a pediatric type of epilepsy seizure.
That benefit those populations benefit from a ketogenic diet from a very very low carb high fat diet and high protein diet, beyond that there is no data that shows that a ketogenic diet is good for anybody.
Dean: And that’s a very small population and that’s a population that’s so sick that the normal anti-epileptics drugs are not working so they have to be resorting to a shock state of the brain which is the Ketosis brain and why would we apply that to the general population?
Ayesha: Oh by the way, and it hasn’t been studied Beyond a couple of weeks longer. Nobody has done studies actually. Look at the long-term effects.
Andrew: Yeah, I was gonna say too because I have read a little bit about that.
Probably not anywhere close to as much as you but I have read. Yeah that these diets have been applied in the short term, but I wasn’t able to find anything that what happens in the long term, which is a worry for me.
Andrew: Yeah, so I I know you’ve got to go I shall but one last question before you’re out of here.
Uh, and that was about like I mentioned already my problem with our food diet until I did this potato thing was making a stick. I had the knowledge. I knew that it was the best thing I could do. Um, I knew that it was something I really desperately wanted to do but I just was no good at making a stick so.
Obviously, I’ve got my ideas about how how to make it work. And can you give us uh some some of your advice on how to actually… Knowledge is one thing, but action is what’s important. So, how can we make the action work for us?
HOW TO STICK TO YOUR NEW FOOD DIET?
Ayesha: Planning. You know having enough time during the week to plan your food for the rest of the week.
I actually went to culinary school to learn how to cook good food and you know, make it palatable for everybody and delicious. I understand that if it’s not delicious it’s not going to stick and people are not going to eat it but what I found very helpful for myself and helping our patients in the community is planning. You know getting a list of things that work for you that are based on your likes or dislikes and then preparing that and sticking to it and of course bringing in healthy variations during the week to keep things exciting.
I think the the feeling of well-being that comes with sticking to a whole food plant-based diet and it is in itself a one of the biggest motivations ever and our patient population people feel the cloud lifting off, the fog going away and that in itself is an incredible source of energy and motivation to continue.
Andrew: Yeah hundred percent or like to that idea of the cloud going in the fog lifting all of that. That was a very big part of my experience too. And it was really really motivating in that first couple of weeks, the first couple of weeks of potatoes only, I’m talkin about again because that’s my experience.
But the first couple of weeks of that for me was really really hard but once , the effects of it kicked in and I started feeling really good that just made a huge difference and I’m sure if I had done the same thing but with sticking to a strict plant-based diet I think the experience would have been pretty similar.
Ayesha: It was a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks for making some time and uh, we’ll finish off with Dean. Of course. Well, Dean’s gonna be here have fun.
EXERCISE AND MENTAL HEALTH
Andrew: All right. See you later.
Uh, okay, let’s uh push on and keep going through yes idea. So the next part of it was exercise, which is also they’re all very important. But my two personal things that are focus on most of all, which is something I need to work on I guess is the nutrition and exercise exercises is something I like as well. So not everyone does but uh, I do so. Yeah, let’s go.
Dean: Exercise is critical that actually builds the connection between neurons and whereas nutrition and some of the other elements create the environment positive environment for the brain to thrive and and have the the nutrients and and and elements to build.
Um, extra size actually creates connections and and and maintains the function at much higher level of the blood flow that neurotrophins factor. Um, but um, there are three elements that we know to the best of our knowledge again, there it is. Um, there are three. Types of exercises that seem to stand up one is we need to do a lot more aerobic than we had thought before. At least get yourself tired up to 20 minutes to 25 minutes a day four to five days a week and then really get tired and the second element is important that even if you’ve done that to move throughout the day, to not then become sedentary for the next 12 hours just because you did 20 minutes of war, you know exercise because that
act of going to becoming sedentary makes. Negates the benefits of of the 20 minutes of exercise and the third element which is as a very unusual is that leg strength seems to be strongly correlated with break great strength. So if anybody’s going to do an aerobics exercise or muscle building, yeah, it’s all great but legs are very important.
So I tell people do little mini squats do whatever you need to do to build those leg muscles. They help blood to go back to the brain. They create… They’re the largest muscle so therefore they’re this Center of metabolism of the body as well as the fact that they create these neurotropic factors there as well.
So, uh, those three elements in exercise and study after study has shown that it reduces the chance of going on to developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 40% exercising.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s much bigger than I wanted to expected. Yeah,
Andrew: So I love to exercise, like I said, I like running in cycling, I like kayaking.
I do a little bit of weight training as well, strength training, my favorite is the erratic training and one of the reasons I like aerobics exercise Is actually the way it seems to help me think I do I seem to do a lot of my best thinking while out cycling or running, kayaking. You know, I could be stuck on a problem at home and then soon as I you know, half an hour into a run the solution just comes to me. What does that say about Alzheimer’s does that- is that a factor or
Dean: It speaks to focus.
I mean a lot of times exercise becomes a form of meditation. We talk about meditation in the third section of the ??? the unwind, meditation is not just about crossing your legs and doing a mantra which is fine and that that’s great. People will do transcendental that’s phenomenal but meditation is about building Focus.
It’s in fact and we’ve talked about this with kids. We have two kids and we were writing a book on that is that “if you ever want to change IQ, which is thought to not to be able to change but to really expand cognitive capacity work on Focus. And exercise, especially the kind that you’re talking about where you run in your own isolation and your own world in this repetitive Mantra of beat to the ground beat of your heart.
That’s a mantra that’s focus at forces out all the noises and then you collapse into your own world and it’s almost like the best form because now you’re not falling asleep. You’re actually hyper-focused. And and then from that hyper-focus comes this idea that you you you pull in one of the thoughts streams of thought into that hyper-focused state and that you literally and figuratively figuratively run with it.
So isn’t that the most beautiful thing? I mean you’re creating a hyper focused state of mind and you’re running with the idea that you pull out from your folders and it has the function of pushing away all the distractors. That’s the beauty of something like running something like biking. Um, it’s wonderful.
It’s a meditative state as much as it is an aerobic state. Yeah, that really is a beautiful description. I have I have thought about it as being a meditative type of thing before because I have done meditation and and personally when I run I know not everyone’s the same, but personally when I run.
My focus is on my breath when I run in meditation, I forget exactly I personally most of the time I take I breathe in for three steps and I breathe out for two steps. I’m just focusing on that the whole time and uh, and yeah, I’m glad to say that it’s like meditation because of without having researched it to confirm it.
I’ve always felt like it was a form of meditation for me
Dean: Definitely is! I mean the people create magical qualities that things so that they can sell books. I hope that we didn’t do that. There’s no magical qualities. We always say this is science and it’s a humble science to the best of our knowledge right now.
It’s profound amount of data 80 years of data that and now we bring it to the brain, which is again by the way part of the body, but there it is. You thought it helped, we know that it helps the heart. We need have the endocrine system and everything else. We’re talkin about Whole Food plant-based.
But here’s how it works in the brain and it’s that’s your most important organ. You know, you can transplant any organ but you can’t transplant the brain because the moment you transplanted the brain you’ve actually transplanted the body because the buttons everything’s around the brain. So why wouldn’t you do the same thing if not more for the brain?
And then the meditation absolutely there’s no magic to it. It’s that idea of creating something to focus around pull the blood and then bring ideas into that stream of consciousness. What better than the most wakeful state yet focused State and then then running or biking.
Andrew: Yeah, beautiful. Um, I like that.
I like that you said the most wakeful state as well because uh, I think not not myself but a lot of people think of meditation as being you know close to sleep where it’s really it isnt.
Dean: Yeah, it is the opposite.
Andrew: So again the same question with nutrition, uh, you know, it’s all good to have this knowledge, but if you can’t make make a turn this knowledge into action and behavior and habit change then it’s pointless, so…what would your advice be for exercise, especially with someone who let’s say the obese and they’re starting this day and they’ve never eaten well in their lives, we’ve got that on we’ve got on top of that, they’ve never done any exercise either. So how would you advise someone to start, when they don’t even know what sort of exercise they like?
MOTIVATING TO EXERCISE
Dean: Yeah, So where as Ayesha’s specialty is nutrition. And mine is brain building an exercise and habits, habits as a behavioral neurologist habits are everything for me and at the core is motivation. The most demotivating world word in English is motivation. Everybody uses it but nobody has a meaning for it.
So you throw it at people and they don’t feel motivated because they think they don’t have it. It must be something magical. So I’ve actually operationalize that term because my daughter came to me and said, you know, Sophie said, you know, Alex is so motivated. He took the SAT 10 and Mom is this and you’re as- “My gosh you’re highly achieved!” forget about the word motivation motivation is when you have a goal.
It could be small girl big goal and you create small steps of success towards it and those small steps of success whether we like it or not pulling emotions from the limbic system of the brain if it’s a steps of success for the goal that emotion is a positive emotion. It’s a propelling emotion that is motivation.
So there’s the answer to how you create Behavior change create a goal an achievable measurable attainable time-bound goal create small steps of success towards it small steps of success being operative and you will be shocked and it has to be visible be in a whiteboard where you’re checking off or something that’s visible and you’ll be shocked that in one year how much you will accomplish toward that goal.
Any goal! I challenge anybody as long as the steps are clear, the steps are truly connected to the ultimate goal and they’re achievable steps. You will be shocked how much you will achieve in anything so be it nutrition. So I don’t tell people to go to Whole, you know, Whole Food plant-based. No, you know, I when I was in Pittsburgh 15, 20 years ago, You know Philly steak and cheese was my favorite food in the world.
Let’s be honest still tastes phenomenal, but I choose not to because my father had a heart attack at 40 my two grandparents died from Alzheimer’s, brilliant people, in their 70s and I decided not to, but it wasn’t overnight. It was small steps that took several years towards that um small steps. Take one thing.
I eat this much sugar in a week and quantify it. Literally quantify it. I’m going to cut that by half in six weeks. Don’t worry at six weeks everybody. You didn’t come to this part of your life Journey overnight. You’re not going to get out of it overnight. Give yourself a year to come to that Optimal Health.
Yeah next as me, you know for me and another word. I hate is moderation, what does moderation mean?! I mean if you would have come to me 20 years ago. I said, you know meat moderately, okay. That would have been four times a day instead of five. I mean moderation depends on denominator. That was it. I mean, where were you starting from?
No, it’s not moderation. What is what is science show to be truly optimal not the latest little Quirk science or one-off paper that was funded by the egg industry or what off paper that was funded or one-off paper that’s been read in a certain way that people know 80 years of data that that in large studies like, California teachers.
The teacher and the Harvard study having this house study. These are 100,000 people The China Study million people not little off one-off studies that they want to make a book from, we’re talking about billion billions of data points. That’s where and even there we said humbly to the best of our knowledge today.
This is what it shows and and perspective data that showed 5,000 people who were put on that mostly of Whole Food plant-based diet. They had a much lower chance of going on to develop dementia. I mean, this is not one little person taking coconut oil all day one person and then making a billion dollars off of it.
This is robust data, so given that goal what is the first step I can take? and take your time and time-bound, you know, smart goals S M A R T specific, measurable, attainable, time-bound. So there in six weeks. I’m going to cut my Sugar by half. Yeah, those small steps of success become a avalanche before you know.
And forget about motivation, you don’t even have to use that word anymore. It becomes intrinsic in your existence.
Andrew: Definitely I’ve often said I think six weeks is you can achieve a lot in six weeks but most the most of the biggest thing you can achieve in six weeks is that. Uh that whatever habit it is, you’re trying to form starts to feel I think at the end of six weeks.
It feels good. And it feels like to do things for me with running when I when I first got back into running after not running for years. Uh, it was hard to do. It was really it was a struggle to get myself out and running, but I did it and after six weeks I started to love it and I didn’t want to go down anymore.
So. Yeah, it’s amazing how life can change in just six weeks and then if you extrapolate that out to a whole year like you said you can achieve huge things in a year.
Dean: Absolutely. Absolutely. All right.
THE IMPORTANCE OF UNWINDING
Andrew: So next is unwind. So we’ve talk a little bit about meditation but-
Dean: More than meditation. Most people just focus on meditations. So I frost unwind is not eliminating stress its managing stress, we believe there’s good stress and bad stress and unwind is literally and figuratively the center of our plan, you know, it’s the you in the middle, but it’s also because management is everything.
Stress first question is most people live through stress without ever defining. What’s the source of stress? What is it? How does it affect them? Quantifying it in any way you just lift through it. So one of the first things we say is identify your positive stresses, like I’m taking courses for you know, some degree positive stresses.
I have a podcast that I have to reach a certain number, you know, uh positive stress is I have a purpose to help the community and it means that abide by the year 2019 I want to go to 15 communities, hopefully even in Melbourne where we expand knowledge about brain health. And how you don’t have to pay anybody anything not a penny to anybody including us and you can build communities that are built on right now.
That’s a goal. That’s a part. That’s a lot of stress though. You know, that’s a lot of work that’s positive stress. Negative stress is the kind that’s not yours doesn’t have a timeline that doesn’t have direction and it’s cumulative. and its destructive and the cortisol that then inflammatory markers all of them go up and people who have had chronic stress have smaller brains. Studies have shown that. So differentiate what are you- literally write it down on a whiteboard. This is and make sure they’re really specific. This is my these are my good stresses. These are my bad stresses. The bad stresses figure out how to manage them, meaning delegate, timeline, organized or just get rid of. The good stresses prioritize, fit them in line were to see how it fits you bigger goal in life and expand, that’s good stress and there’s much more to that.
I say actually I have a whole thing on that. That’s Stress Management. It’s not just meditation. Once you do that once you’ve gotten control of that your life actually gets purpose your life becomes orderly your life becomes meaningful. And that’s where the dopamine receptors just start firing like it’s you know New Year’s Eve.
So that’s what you’re going for that oxytocin driven brain as opposed to adrenaline and cortisol driven brain and that comes with organization. Then comes things like meditation and mindfulness and meditative walking or meditative running which actually talk about those come next and those create these islands of calm and focus that you have complete control over and short term that gives you the short burst of energy and motivation. You need those because this organization takes- things takes a little time, right?
These short bursts of three minutes in a car where I’m just sitting… *inhales*
the captive breathing people actually don’t know that the simple little act breathing in and breathing out and at the same time relaxing your neck muscles forehead muscles core muscles that is more powerful than you can ever imagine. We know that chemically it changes your body even the few minutes.
Imagine you get good at it and then people say “No I can’t meditation because I can’t focus.” Wait a second that actually is the positive part of it. Every time you lose focus and come back you’re building the muscle of mental focus, not literal, but because you’re pushing the brain to create those Pathways of focus, it’s okay you’re losing it. Right now, you can focus five seconds. Next week try for 10 seconds, the following week 15 seconds of focus and maybe you will fall back, but the trajectory will always be better and better so that act of refocusing is actually a positive thing. That’s why these short births of focus building through meditation mindfulness my meditative walking.
Yoga. You know Tai Chi is is it is it is a reward form of of management of your stressors. So it’s a wonderful center to begin with.
Andrew: Yeah a lot of that idea that you know, I was one of the same people with meditation that are coming to take because I’m not good at it. I love this idea that there really is no good or bad with meditation.
There’s no- it’s not a results-focused thing. It’s just if you can sit for any amount of time, not even sit, lie down. Whatever is the position for you then uh, you know, you’re doing it right. There’s no away from this idea that I thought about something else. So I failed it doesn’t matter. What matters is that every so often you catch yourself and bring in recenter and refocus and that’s it. That’s all there is.
Dean: That’s that is that is I mean most of us go through life reflexively. I mean people talk about Consciousness. They’re really really rarely are an unconscious State. It’s when we’re in that Focus state that we become conscious.
So even if this exercise seems futile to you what if you can achieve that hyper-awareness, Once every four days once every 10 days isn’t that an amazing gift? but then reality is that if you keep doing it that will become more and more and more part of your consciousness your awareness.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEPING OR RESTORATION
Andrew: Yeah. And like everything you just get better with practice like everything in life literally everything in life.
Uh, so the next one I think is probably the most important one from my point of view. Well, I think nutrition is the most important overall, but I feel like I’m on top of that now so the next most important thing for me is uh is restore. That’s uh, I really need to work on that. So what’s restore involved?
Dean: So a lot of people have written about sleep, but it’s not about sleep. I can knock anybody out with medication. You want me to they say I have no problem. You know, I’m people come to us. They all have such a difficult time sleeping. Well, they were able to knock out poor Michael Jackson with propofol which is any medicine knocking people out is not the answer.
It’s getting restorative sleep the kind of sleep. That’s. Goes through cycles of you know of sleep, the four cycles including the repetitive movement. It has a purpose. There’s a reason that we actually have it in our life where we sacrifice safety 1/3 of our day. To restore the brain, that it’s profoundly important.
So there are two functions that we know of that it serves one is it helps with filing the memories and thoughts into the right places putting things into right places. The second function is uh detoxification, you know, when we were in Beverly Hills as directors of brain health. Everybody would come with a uh, with the detox of the day from every pore you can think of I will tell them there.
Only due to detox that we know when is it water? Lots of water at least 8 glasses of water and then the second is sleep, because we know that people who sleep well, they actually have the next- when they measure their blood and CSF levels. There was less inflammatory factors. There was that cortisol there was you know much less even amyloid which is a bad protein that builds up in Alzheimer, but if you had a bad night’s sleep… the reverse.
So sleep serves those two critical functions and the other side of the picture is that people who don’t get sleep chronically. Don’t get good sleep. They have actually shrunken brains, especially the hippocampus, which is memory centers. So it’s critical to build a sleep. A good sleep environment and part of that is sleep hygiene, which is a whole list of things you can do slowly to to build better sleep environment working on the environment.
There’s a lot of things as far as the hygiene is concerned from foods, to lie, to time of how often you go to sleep, and then what pattern lots of stuff that you can do as far as sleep hygiene. And then for those who have these thoughts that wander through their head continuously anything from meditation to mindfulness as well as neuro-cognitive therapy behavioral cognitive therapy that helps you stop those thoughts from running through your head. And so that’s a very important element to your brain health and to your health in general. So sleep is critical and then there’s a group of people that have this disorder called Sleep Apnea or they’re actually holding their breath because of either obstruction or sent or dysfunction in the brain and they’re not getting enough oxygen to the brain.
So if there’s a suspicion of that because they’re getting eight hours sleep yet. They’re tired during the day or there. Spouse notices that they’re holding their breath or they’re snoring too much they should get evaluated because that can be remedied that can be cured or treat it and it’s critical that it is treated because otherwise, they’re not getting enough oxygen.
So sleep is critical then there’s a lot of data on how to achieve optimal sleep.
Andrew: yeah, so sleep is good. I agree on need lots of sleep. Yeah. It’s really, uh, obviously the- one thing which I don’t have so much trouble with these days. I used to have a lot of trouble with it, but I’m getting much better, but I know a lot of people do have trouble is that this when they go to bed at night, Uh, I just have trouble switching off the brain and yeah, “I wish I was a slave.”
So do you have any sort of advice for that or-
Dean: Yeah, I mean depends on the cause of anxiety if it’s stress all that stuff that you go to the core there if it’s uh, if it’s a because the because of the GI system, so what happens as we get older our GI system gets slower. So even if you think that your stomach is not working, but if you eating late, Your stomach still working.
It’s not making those sounds but still keeping you awake or too much caffeine that you are used to before but you can’t respond to now so you have to move it earlier in the day or not enough light or not enough light at the right time or the environment. You become much more sensitive. So the temperature which usually is required to be about 2 to 3 degrees. cooler than your core body temperature should be adjusted. So there’s a whole slew of things that you can do that actually stops the running thoughts. The thoughts are started either because of the stressing anxiety, which you have to address, or the environmental situation that allows those thoughts to come about and even if that doesn’t work, then there are these techniques to meditation and mindfulness or uh, behavioral therapy behavioral cognitive therapy that allows you to calm the Mind down beforehand one of the thing for sleep that’s great which I’d say that serves multiple purposes is in early brisk walk in daylight ,quite a bit light stimulates the melanocytes or melanin producing area of the brain melatonin, and melatonin natural melatonin as it is supposed to be released actually helps sleep later at night. So if you walk.
In the morning, you do two things one is exercise early in the morning not so much late in the evening early in the morning helps to sleep cycles that the light helps with sleep. So it serves multiple purposes. If you meditate like you were saying during that time then you’ve done three things to help with your sleep.
So it says that that’s a wonderful little thing that we do in some of our patients.
Andrew: All right. Now I lost track of time. So I know that you’re pressed for time. Yeah, can we optimize?
OPTIMIZING THE BRAIN
Dean: Yeah. Yeah. So the last one is optimize, optimize is probably the most important as far as protection optimizes it speaks to connectivity of neurons.
So we talked about this 30 pound organ that consumes 25% of energy the street Oregon has 87 billion to 100 billion neurons. But that’s not where the solution is. You can lose a lot of neurons and wouldn’t matter because the connectivity Maps each neuron can make a few connections or as many as 20 to 30 thousand connections.
Those connections are determined by your level of one of the major things that determine those connections your level of cognitive activity. How much you’ve kept your mind active thread line or you challenge your mind really challenge your mind that’s where the positive stress comes in, you know people who have higher education but it’s not about education, Bill Gates, god, poor guy had one year of education, but he’s pretty protected because of how he challenged his mind to his work.
How would you doing here with this and podcasts and conversing? This is challenging. So we say that’s the greatest protection optimizing brain activity to us as not little. Dots on the screen that you follow to build brain like these games that are there they’re claiming to delivering but more complex activities learning new musical instrument.
Learn a new dance learning new song learn new language build something Raonic company run a project the run a podcast would all the elements that involves. I mean, uh, you know knowing how many people are here following the metrics. All this is brain activity that’s challenging. So if you have to distill that three elements, its complexity, so tasks that are complex, that means that involvement multiple areas of your brain, visual spatial attention, focus, all that stuff which are usually complex behaviors. If you playing a guitar, it’s not just following a number, you know, it’s motor. It’s the memory centers as the frontal lobe which is processing as the creative centers of the of the Primal as well as your occipital lobe in the back of the brain, as well as language centers. Involves all of that.
That’s complexity. The next element is challenge, something’s that are complex but are repetitive. They’re not going to really push those neurons to connect. So always move it to the next level of Challenge and who knows that better than you, you know, somebody else can’t tell you. Oh jump now learn all of like five songs.
No, I can’t you know, I you know, I played guitar for 30 years, but I’m the worst guitar player in history. I know my limitations so I moved slowly and that’s what it is push challenge, the second element is challenge really challenge whatever you’re doing. If it’s if it’s a business you running, don’t just delegate to others to do everything challenge yourself so that way you have your mind is working at all cylinders. The third is purpose. The third is actually the center of positive chalice press which makes it also the center of you as well, which is unwind which makes it a center of all of life. If you have a purpose, it doesn’t have to be grandeure purpose.
I’m going to bring peace to the world. It can be a small thing. But it’s your purpose that becomes the driving force that becomes a fun challenging complex activity as opposed to some silly thing that I’m forced to do, that I’m not happy to do which also brings in these negative emotions and negative hormones.
So purpose-driven challenging complex activities build a brain. That’s where optimize is.
Andrew: I know I’m really um, glad you mentioned music because uh, my wife is a very passionate music teacher and musician, you know, and she’s often talking about how great music is for the brain and all sorts of things.
So, uh, yeah. Pick up a guitar and piano and it’s gonna only be good for you.
Dean: Exactly exactly exactly.
Andrew: Now you’ve got to get going. So thanks very much for sitting down with me and having this conversation. It’s been enlightening to say the least before you go can you let people know where to find your book and where to find you and if they want to follow up and learn more about you and what you guys do.
Dean: Uh, well, you can go to teamsherzai.com when you go there there’s also a brain assessment tool where you can actually put in your nutrition your exercise that these questions and it gives you a score where you are in all of those and then the in the month of June we have a 25-day challenge where each day we send people advice as far as one element of of neuro+ habit so each.
Very short concise advice. So if they go to that website, they will see all of that, aswell-
Andrew: Yeah, and tell us a little bit about that book just briefly.
Dean: Yeah, the book is titled “Alzheimer solution” and it’s a lot of things that we set here and a lot more and 100% of the profits go to community-based awareness.
So if there are any communities in Australia that want us to come we actually will help with their whatever funds they raise will also raise funds from our side. And bring awareness as far as brain health to those communities. That’s our passion.
Andrew: Sounds awesome, uh definitely signing up for the the June, 25 days Challenge and and I’ll put a link to your website on my blog where this will be posted.
If people are in the car driving in when I would write that down just go to Spud Fit where you’re listening to this and you’ll see the links. Uh, all right Dean Sherzai and Ayesha thank you very much for joining us. It’s been great and really helps to get some clarity in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
So thank you.
Dean: Very much phenomenal job you’re spreading the news and that’s what we are all connected to spread as much of the truth as possible. Thank you so much for everything you do
Andrew: Alright. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your day. and uh, I’d love to talk to you again sometime.
Have a great one.