The Freight Train of Alzheimer’s

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, a team of neurologists who run the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University. They are on the front lines in the battle against Alzheimer’s. Their book, The Alzheimer’s Solution, is a critical resource for anyone who is in any way dealing with the disease, including in caretaking roles, or those who are concerned about preventing it in themselves or others, which should be all of us.Needless to say, in the spirit of Dean Ornish’s unifying theory of disease, it is once again a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet which is the central tenet around which it all revolves. For more details, see also some of the other entries in my Lifestyle Medicine bibliography.

Obviously, it is worth attending a live presentation, but there are some good YouTube videos by this husband-and-wife neurology team. Here is an important video, a presentation on the healthcare of the future, focused not so much on treatment (there is no known cure), but more on prevention with adoption of a better lifestyle (including nutrition) and putting medicine in its proper place as a complementary tool in acute situations, based on solid knowledge of how much the body can do to heal itself:

Team Sherzai

The bottom line that should get your attention is this: unlike CVD (Cardiovascular Disease), T2D (Type II Diabetes) and other conditions that are partly or wholly reversible with a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet, Alzheimer’s is preventable in probably 90-95% of cases, but it is not reversible. Once you are symptomatic, all the diet can possibly do for you is to slow down the disease’s progression, although I have heard from a friend whose wife has the disease that her temperament seemed to improve after they adopted a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet.

It might be worthwhile to note that the Sherzais are based in Loma Linda, California, the heart of a better diet and one of the so-called Blue Zones – maybe not all strictly whole foods, plant-based, but mostly vegetarian or vegan, thanks to the prominent presence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which espouses plant-based diets. The area provides an interesting foundation for actuarial studies, because life expectancy is some 12-14 years above average, with a lower incidence of disease. No doubt it would rate even higher if specifically Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition were to become the norm there. Philosophically, I think that in the long term, longevity is in and of itself less important than freedom from disease: you’re going to die anyway, sooner or later, but how much or how little you suffer from various debilitating chronic illnesses while getting there is what matters. It turns out that much suffering is by choice on a lot of levels. One of the famous cases is that of Dr. Ellsworth Wareham – he got it:

The Alzheimer’s Avalanche

According to the Sherzais, Alzheimer’s alone has already bypassed CVD as the biggest healthcare cost, even while no known drugs have made any difference. As noted above, once you are symptomatic for Alzheimer’s, #WFPB nutrition can improve the prognosis, but disease reversal has not been shown. This is the reason that all of the best effort of the Sherzai’s is going towards prevention, while the medical system bears the cost of what by then is an untreatable disease. The upshot is that Alzheimer’s alone is sufficient to bankrupt our healthcare system completely. It is just one more element in a hyper-inflationary scenario that says loud and clear that healthcare as we know it must go the way of the horse and buggy.

Specifically, in the first half of the twentieth century, when the AMA was formed, its purpose was to raise the income of doctors, and to keep women, blacks, and poor people out of medicine. They were able to negotiate a virtual monopoly on the basis of the successes of allopathic medicine in the fight against contagious diseases. But by the 50s and 60s, that battle was mostly over, and today people die predominantly from non-contagious, chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and from medical treatment itself-iatrogenic illness. In fact, the Sherzais argue (see also the Global Burden of Disease data) that diet is the cause of all non-contagious, chronic diseases and that those diseases combined are the leading causes of death today, while the 3rd leading cause of death is iatrogenic disease. I would argue that once you add in the opioid crisis and inappropriate protocols for these chronic illnesses, doctors are actually the 2nd leading cause of death, diet being the first.

Paradigm Shift: Materialism to Idealism

Medicine is one of the scientific fields that has been slowest to adapt to the implications of quantum mechanics, but it seems that the realization of its significance for the rest of science is only just starting to be realized. Philosopher of science Bernardo Kastrup is one of the people driving that effort. An essay of mine about this medical paradigm shift was published on his site, here. I believe it is a pretty complete introduction to the issue, complete with a list of relevant literature. It boils down to this: medicine is still stuck in a materialistic and essentially Newtonian view of human nature and the body, which kind of worked for infectious disease, where a discrete number of symptoms could identify a specific disease organism, and action taken accordingly.

This materialistic model, generally known as the germ-theory of disease, is proving useless today. What is emerging now is a more holistic, systemic view of medicine, specifically in the area beginning with the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell on nutrition, in particular his book Whole. A further book is expected to be published this year. Dr. Dean Ornish, in his book Undo It!, speaks of the modern approach of a unified theory of disease, which is the foundation for Lifestyle Medicine, a systemic approach in which the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet plays a starring role.

What the idealist view (v. materialist view) brings to the party is the realization that the body is in the mind, not the other way around – this is a direct implication of the quantum mechanics model: the observer causes the observed by his observation. We are very much in a world of appearances. The direct corollary to that insight is the realization that healing starts in the mind of the patient. Any good healthcare provider can sense whether or not a patient has the will to live versus the resignation to die (although it is not always very straightforward). Many people are often pretty conflicted and seem to be in a codependent relationship with the healthcare system, which is of course completely counterproductive for them. Treatment then becomes a substitute for the love they seek in their life. For the medical industrial complex those patients are their best customers – they are the natural addicts. At some level, this amounts to nothing more than legalized drug abuse. The key insight is that healing must start in the mind, and Western doctors are trained to ignore the mind.

The websites of the Sherzais – even the very title of the Healthy Minds Initiative (HMI) – reflect pervasive confusion between the brain and the mind. Thereby, the confusion about healing continues. This confusion is pervasive in the medical profession (as it is among patients as well), the Lifestyle Medicine community included. Bernardo Kastrup explores these issues in depth in his essay on Integrative mind-body medicine which is included in his book Brief Peeks Beyond. You might also want to look into the work of Eben Alexander and Anita Moorjani, both survivors of near-death-experiences. The foundation of healing of any kind is the inner work on our own conflicts that merely show up on the stage of our lives as disease and other disasters. All of Lifestyle Medicine and the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet are merely the tools we can use when and if we make up our minds that health, healing and wholeness have become our focus.

In short, if people really wanted to be healthy, they would be, but it’s not that simple. For doing that inner work, everyone has to find their own path. In my bibliography on healing, I strongly endorse the book by Cindy Lora-Renard, A Course in Health and Healing. If you knew what the Sherzais knew about Alzheimer’s, namely on a personal level lifestyle is the only thing that can prevent Alzheimer’s, and with a 90% success rate, you would want to be following their recommendations already. On the level of public health, we would instantly realize that Alzheimer’s care is about to wreck the whole healthcare system all by itself, and we would run, not walk, to do whatever we needed to do to get the whole country on a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet. Instead, the political dialogue is completely wrapped around the axle on a minor administrative point that would do nothing to solve the real health crisis.

In terms of social policy, of course Medicare or Medicaid for all would be a more efficient option, but in and of itself it does nothing to improve healthcare. Not only that, but the Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration have become centers of improvement in healthcare and are experimenting with Lifestyle Medicine under the auspices of paying for performance: rewarding good outcomes rather than more treatment. These programs are slowly figuring out how to deliver more health, not just healthcare per dollar spent. Medicare has been supporting the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program since 2010, and Medicaid is supporting Oasis jumpstart programs (developed by Plant Pure Communities), while at the VA, Dr. Koushic Reddy is running a successful Lifestyle Medicine clinic in Florida.

Note about healing

Projection makes perception. 2 The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. 3 But though it is no more than that, it is not less. 4 Therefore, to you it is important. 5 It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. 6 As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. 7 Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. 8 Perception is a result and not a cause.

A Course in Miracles, T-21.In:1-8

In its most basic form, healing is the giving up of inner conflict. And, while Bernardo Kastrup and other idealist thinkers are clear that the consciousness is the cause and the material universe the result, what is most often missed is that consciousness itself is the foundation of inner conflict. Kastrup and others may recognize there is one mind, but consciousness and the mind are not one and the same. In fact, “consciousness” happens within the mind as a result of the split mind in which there is individual awareness, for we are conscious of something. In the astrophysical creation myth that we subscribe to in our culture, that split-off expresses itself as the big bang. The one mind is pure oneness, and there is nothing to be conscious about. Oneness precedes twoness. In Western psychology, transpersonal psychology perhaps comes closest to understanding that individual consciousness, which we tend to adore, is really nothing: it is the tip of the wave thinking it is the ocean, and it dissolves back into the ocean a moment later. Rupert Spira is a teacher of advaita who explains some of this extremely clearly. Healing cannot be understood without coming to grips with the fact that what we really are is the ocean, not the momentary identification as an “I” opposed to a universe that is “other,” “outside.” The choice for healing means giving up the belief that we are entities separate and independent from the whole, different and special, and accepting the truth that we are and always will be the ocean and not the tip of the wave thinking it is the ocean.

A friend of mine went through the whole Alzheimer’s scenario with her father, and it was a profound experience for her, where she learned that unconditional love and acceptance were key to maintaining the relationship with her father. Others might be able to see only what he could not do and were experiencing only frustration and non-communication, while she was able to communicate with him and thus maintain a loving relationship to the end. Debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s will end up involving others one way or another, be it family, professional caregivers, or total strangers. Thus, the healing process involves sometimes an expansive group of people and all of them experience the process from their own vantage point.

Healing is in the mind, because that’s where the origin of the sickness is, it is the decision to want to be well, whole, healed. Things like the whole foods, plant-based diet are the expressions in form of that decision, it is not a simplistic cause and effect relationship. If you approach it that way, you will get bogged down in conflicts with yourself, for you will have days when you want to break your diet and go back to your bad old habits, even if you understand all the reasons why. Healing that inner conflict is the real work of healing.

In short, there are two confusions going on that prevent us from understanding what healing is as a spiritual growth process. One is the materialist confusion of cause and effect, acting as if mind and brain are the same thing. No. The brain is the physical expression of the limitation an individual accepts when it thinks it is separate and manifests its individuality, the body and the brain is the first indication that the mind is sick. Then, when we realize we are mind and the mind is at cause, we have a habit of perpetuating the conflict by focusing on individual consciousness as the source, but it is not. This is pure non-dualism and it is where healing leads us.