The NEURO Plan: an holistic approach to brain health

The alarming rise of chronic diseases and cognitive decline is a testament to the lifestyle choices and environmental factors that have become prevalent in modern society.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, is not just a disease of the elderly, but a looming epidemic that casts a shadow over the global health landscape.


What does the ‘NEURO’ Plan stand for?

N: Nutrition
E: Exercise
U: Unwind
R: Restore
O: Optimize

With a staggering 50-million individuals diagnosed worldwide, the emotional, social, and financial repercussions are profound. Families are torn apart, economies are strained, and the very essence of human experience — our memories, our identities — is at risk.

We — Drs. Ayesha and Dean Sherzai, AKA ‘The Brain Docs’ — developed our NEURO Plan as a beacon of hope amidst a seemingly bleak scenario.

More than just another health fad or temporary solution, the NEURO Plan is a comprehensive, holistic, scientifically-backed methodology that addresses the root causes of cognitive decline.

The preventative impact of the NEURO Plan

At the heart of the NEURO Plan’s effectiveness is its ability to combat the four primary detrimental pathways of brain destruction:

Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a silent killer, gradually damaging brain cells and impeding their function. The NEURO Plan, with its emphasis on nutrition and stress management, helps reduce inflammation, ensuring a healthier brain environment.

Oxidation: Just as rust slowly degrades metal, oxidation in the brain can lead to neuronal damage. By promoting foods rich in antioxidants and encouraging activities that combat oxidative stress, the NEURO Plan acts as a shield, protecting the brain from such damage.

Glucose Dysregulation: The brain is an energy-intensive organ, and any disruption in its energy supply, especially glucose, can have detrimental effects. The NEURO Plan’s focus on a balanced diet and regular exercise ensures that glucose is regulated, providing the brain with a steady energy supply.

Lipid Dysregulation: Cholesterol and other lipids play a crucial role in brain health. However, an imbalance can lead to various brain diseases. The emphasis on nutrition in the NEURO plan ensures that lipids are balanced, promoting brain health.

How the NEURO Plan promotes cognitive resilience

The NEURO Plan doesn’t stop at just prevention, though; it goes a step further by promoting cognitive reserve and resilience.

The human brain, with its 87-billion neurons, is a marvel of connectivity. The more these connections are strengthened and utilized, the more resilient the brain becomes.

Activities that promote mental and social engagement, as emphasized in the NEURO Plan, ensure that these neuronal connections are continually forged and strengthened.

This enhances cognitive abilities and ensures that the brain has a buffer — a reserve — to draw upon in times of stress or damage.

This holistic approach focuses on five fundamental lifestyle factors:

‘N’ for Nutrition

Every meal can build or degrade the brain.

A diet abundant in unprocessed plant-based foods and rich in phytonutrients, fiber, and beneficial fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to provide the brain with the essential nutrients it requires to function optimally.

One of the primary culprits contributing to cognitive decline is the consumption of processed carbohydrates, particularly sugars.

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to a host of health issues, including insulin resistance, which has been dubbed ‘Type 3 Diabetes’ when referring to Alzheimer’s.

Moreover, high salt intake has been associated with hypertension, a known risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

Saturated fats, commonly found in animal products, have also come under scrutiny. Studies have shown that individuals consuming higher amounts of saturated fats have an increased risk of dementia.

For instance, a study published in the Archives of Neurology found that individuals with the highest saturated fat intake had a two-fold increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those with the lowest intake.

On the flip-side, the benefits of a plant-rich diet are manifold. Beans, greens, legumes, and fruits are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that combat oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, and provide the brain with the energy it needs.

The Mediterranean (MD) and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets, both rich in these plant-based foods, have been associated with reduced risks of cognitive decline.

The MIND diet, a beautiful amalgamation of MD and DASH, zeroes in on foods with neuroprotective properties. One of its standout recommendations is the consumption of green leafy vegetables.

A study from the Rush Memory and Aging Project found that individuals who consumed 1–2 servings of green leafy vegetables daily had cognitive abilities equivalent to a person 11 years younger than those who rarely or never consumed them.

A case study for nutrition’s impact on the brain

She grew up in a household where meals were predominantly meat-based, with vegetables often taking a backseat. Over the years, Clara noticed her energy levels waning, her memory not as sharp as it once was, and a general feeling of mental fog.

Concerned, she underwent a series of cognitive tests, and the results indicated the onset of mild cognitive impairment.

Determined to take control of her health, Clara began researching brain-healthy diets and stumbled upon the MIND diet.

She decided to overhaul her nutrition. Out went the processed foods, sugars, and excessive meat. In came a rainbow of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fruits.

Clara made a ritual of starting her day with a green smoothie, packed with spinach, kale, and berries.

Lunches were hearty salads with beans, nuts, and seeds, and dinners were vegetable stir-fries or legume-based stews.

Within months, Clara’s cognitive tests showed improvement, and she felt more energetic, her mood stabilized, and her sleep improved.

Her transformation was a testament to the power of nutrition in reversing cognitive decline and enhancing overall well-being.

While the brain’s intricate workings are still a subject of extensive research, one thing is clear: nutrition plays a pivotal role in its health. By making informed dietary choices, we hold the power to influence our cognitive future, ensuring a life of clarity, memory, and mental agility.

‘E’ for Exercise

Exercise is more than just a regimen for physical fitness; it’s a cornerstone for nurturing a robust and resilient brain. The myriad benefits of exercise encompass enhanced metabolic rates, improved vascular health, positive psychological outcomes, and the acceleration of neuronal connections.

Strength training: the brain’s strongest ally

While aerobic exercises often garner much attention, the significance of strength training, especially for the legs, cannot be understated.

The legs, being among the body’s most substantial muscle groups, play a pivotal role in overall health, including brain health.

Research has consistently shown that leg strength correlates with enhanced cognitive function.

By engaging in regular strength training, individuals build muscle and lay the foundation for a brain that’s resistant to age-related decline.

Aerobic exercise: nourishing the brain

Aerobic exercises, particularly those of high intensity, are a lifeline for the brain.

They boost blood circulation, ensuring that the brain receives a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients.

This increased blood flow is instrumental in fostering new neuronal connections, enhancing the brain’s volume, and promoting the release of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF acts as a catalyst for neuron survival, growth, and connectivity, making it an essential component in the fight against cognitive decline.

A case study for the transformative power of exercise

Upon retirement, Maria, a 60-year-old teacher, embraced a new chapter of her life, integrating brisk walking and light aerobics into her daily routine.

This decision proved transformative. Over the ensuing years, Maria didn’t just maintain her cognitive prowess; she elevated it.

Beyond her sharpened memory and focus, Maria experienced uplifted moods, heightened energy levels, and an overall zest for life.

Her journey stands as a testament to the profound impact of regular physical activity on brain health and overall well-being.

‘U’ for Unwind

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the brain, leading to inflammation and cognitive decline. Chronic stress is the poison of our time, and is one of the most destructive elements of our life.

It is critical to engage in relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, and hobbies, but most importantly to address the stress in one’s life specifically and strategically.

This means identifying the negative stressor and work to reduce, eliminate or delegate the activity over time instead of carrying the activity for the rest of one’s life.

A case study for the cognitive relief of relaxation

Sam, a 63-year-old corporate executive, faced immense work-related stress.

He had experienced this stress for years, but never addressed it, as he thought it was just a part of his work.

But finally, upon meeting with a friend who was in a similar position, he realized that he simply had never learned to delegate properly.

By learning how to delegate he immediately felt more relief than he had ever experienced before.

‘R’ for Restore (or, Restorative Sleep)

Sleep is the body’s natural healing mechanism. Quality sleep ensures memory consolidation, toxin clearance, and overall brain rejuvenation.

There is plenty of evidence that when sleep is altered through poor sleep habits, or diseases like sleep apnea the individual suffers significant cognitive decline and their risk of dementia can increase by as much as 70%.

Ensuring 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep can work wonders for brain health.

A case study for the importance of sleep

Lily, a night owl, often complained of memory lapses. She would always say that she is not worried as she always catches up on the weekends.

But the brain can’t make up for the chronic damage of weekly toxin build up when one doesn’t get enough sleep.

Around age 55, she’d had enough, and visited a sleep doctor, who started her on a strict sleep hygiene program.

Within weeks of adjusting her sleep schedule and creating a bedtime routine, she had improved her memory and felt more energetic and alert during the day.

‘O’ for Optimize

Engaging in mentally-stimulating activities and maintaining social connections can boost brain health.

Activities like reading, learning a new language, or learning a new musical instrument, combined with regular social interactions, can keep the brain active and agile.

This is great for your mood, and pushes your neurons to make as many as 30,000–50,000 connections each. More connections means greater resilience and protection.

A case study for the neurological benefits of socializing

Alex, a 78-year-old widower, felt isolated and witnessed cognitive decline. Joining a book club and attending weekly community gatherings enriched his social life and reinvigorated his cognitive abilities.

What had started as a path towards cognitive decline and possible dementia turned into a life full of purpose and sharp-mindedness.

The NEURO Plan is not just about brain health; it’s an holistic approach to overall well-being.

By adopting this plan, we can significantly reduce the burden of chronic diseases, improve quality of life, and ensure a healthier future for generations to come.

It’s high time that public health agencies worldwide recognize the potential of the NEURO Plan and promote it as a primary preventive strategy.


About The Author

Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD

Dr. Dean Sherzai is co-director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University. Dean trained in Neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and completed fellowships in neurodegenerative diseases and dementia at the National Institutes of Health and UC San Diego. He also holds a PhD in Healthcare Leadership with a focus on community health from Andrews University.

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