John Bradshaw - Preventing Cognitive Decline - Part 2
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. My guest today is Dr. Wes Youngberg. I've spoken with him before. He's written a book, a fascinating book, I think a life-changing book, called "Memory Makeover," dealing with Alzheimer's, how to prevent Alzheimer's, and how even to reverse cognitive decline. Very exciting in an age where the incidence of Alzheimer's seems to be, in fact, it is exploding. Dr. Youngberg, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Good to be here, John.
John Bradshaw: Now, tell me a little bit about your background, what you do, and, and where you do it.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Well, I had the privilege to study at the school of public health and get a doctorate in lifestyle medicine back in the '80s, and, and also did a master's degree in nutrition. So I've been involved in lifestyle medicine and clinical nutrition for about 30 years now, and I even had the opportunity to be a medical missionary in Guam for 14 years, where I learned a lot about how to reverse type 2 diabetes. Now, what's interesting, John, is that, even of, even some years ago, researchers at Brown University and other universities were discovering that people with Alzheimer's actually had a form of diabetes in the brain. And they refer to it now as type 3 diabetes, or insulin resistance of the brain, or literally, diabetes of the brain. That's what Alzheimer's is.
John Bradshaw: That kind of helps us focus in on a little bit more, uh, a little more about what this is. Now, I think what many people are...surprised to learn is that Alzheimer's is a, a lifestyle-related illness.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: Meaning what?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Meaning that if we learn about lifestyle and what our unique risk factors are, we have the potential, John, to actually reverse aspects of that cognitive decline. That's very exciting.
John Bradshaw: You've seen that happen. In your practice, you've seen people start to reverse cognitive decline.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: I've seen it happen many, many times.
John Bradshaw: Okay, well, let's talk about reversing Alzheimer's, reversing...
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Reversing cognitive decline.
John Bradshaw: ...cognitive decline. That's right. We want to chip away at this and see if somebody can grab ahold of something that will give hope and improvement. Now, when we talk about improvement, are we really expecting that grandma, who right now can't remember anybody's name, is soon gonna be remembering her grocery list? Are we talking about that? Or what are we really talking about?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: We're talking about improving cognition at some level with almost everybody who pays attention to the risk factors.
John Bradshaw: Okay. An improvement of any kind would be welcome. How do we go about that?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Okay, so, the, the first test is, the first key is understanding what the primary drivers are of dementia, and primarily of Alzheimer's, or impaired cognitive function. And we know from a lot of research that that insulin resistance of the brain, or this metabolic syndrome, where, where the brain is not getting sugar at a, in a stable way, where high insulin levels are being produced that rob the brain of being able to detoxify the beta amyloid plaques properly, and so if we stabilize blood sugars and stabilize insulin production by the pancreas so it's not too high or too low, that actually dramatically alters the progression of cognitive decline, and if we do it right, it actually helps set the stage for beginning to reverse cognitive decline. Because, you see, John, the brain literally produces roughly a thousand new cells, neurons, every day. And that's called the process of neurogenesis. And so, if we're able to do things that keep those cells alive, rather than doing those things that destroy those cells before they can work for us and help us with our memory challenges, then we're gonna be on the right track.
John Bradshaw: So how do we, how do we get about doing this business with the, with, insulin production?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Okay, so the first step, there, there is a, a well-known, PET scan, this is a fluorodeoxyglucose PET scan, that measures whether or not your brain is getting the glucose, the blood sugar. Uh, this is a very specialized radiologic test, unfortunately costs thousands of dollars to do, and Medicare, as of yet, has not approved it for the average patient who is concerned about this process. And so, in my opinion, the very best test to assess whether you have insulin resistance is to do a glucose tolerance test, where you actually go into the lab, and your doctor can order this lab, any lab in the world can do this test where, where you do a fasting test to measure your insulin and your glucose. And then they give you 75 grams of glucose. It's a standard test that any pregnant woman would get to make sure she doesn't have diabetes during pregnancy. It's a standard test that can be done anywhere. And then, after that sugar drink, they check the blood sugars for either two to four hours. I prefer the four-hour test. Uh, and then we measure insulin levels along that same course of time. And so, as the, if the sugars shoot up, after that sugar drink, in the blood, that means that there is an insulin resistance. And that's related to heart disease, cancer risk, autoimmune risk, all kind, hypertension. It is also a dramatic factor related to Alzheimer's. So we can track risk by evaluating that test. We can track how high the insulin is produced to evaluate risk, and whether the blood sugar drops too low later in the third or fourth hour. So that becomes, in, in my practice, the, the state-of-the-art evaluation to see if somebody is at risk for the most common trigger of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's.
John Bradshaw: And, okay, if somebody is at risk, then this is the sort of thing that can be addressed? We can work with that pretty easily?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Absolutely. And, and what's interesting, John, is that most people who have that test done, uh, recognize that there's a problem. They actually, most people have some level of insulin resistance. They may have never heard of this before, but most of us do, especially those of us that are not already following the fundamental strategies that we talked about in the last program, and which is the exercise and the proper diet and the sleep. Just one night of, of not getting enough sleep makes you more insulin resistance the next morning, makes your blood sugars go higher, and makes your pancreas, forces your pancreas to produce a lot of extra insulin, which then throws you into a roller coaster of blood sugars, causing cravings and, and mood swings and so forth.
John Bradshaw: Mm. Mm-mm-mm. Okay, and too many of us are saying, "Okay, familiar with that". What else can we do now to bend this thing back in the right direction? If we are at risk, or even if there are people dealing with cognitive decline, what else? We spoke about insulin resistance. There must be numerous things.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah. There's, basically anything that's good for the heart is gonna be good for the brain. Okay, so one of the principles here, John, is that we need to make sure that we're really taking advantage of everything our friendly cardiologists have told us about taking care of our heart: uh, eating a diet that's optimal for heart health, for blood pressure, for blood sugars, and reversing the type 2 diabetes or the prediabetes that we might have. We know that most people can reverse those conditions. Fifteen years ago that was, that was considered to be, uh, questionable whether you should even say that. Now we have plenty of data, plenty of research showing that type 2 diabetes is reversible. Right now, we're at the crossroads of recognizing that not only is 90 percent of Alzheimer's preventable, but much of the cognitive decline and the dysfunction in Alzheimer's is actually reversible if we pay attention to these strategies, including additional tests that look, that are cardiovascular tests, like, for instance, the blood test homocysteine. Elevated levels of this amino acid in the, in the body, uh, become neurotoxic. And so, naturally, if high homocysteine destroys hippocampal brain cells, we don't want that. And so there are natural strategies that we can use with our doctors to lower the homocysteine amino acid proteins to a healthy range so that they're not causing this, this, this, destruction of, of the hippocampal brain cells, preventing neurogenesis from taking place.
John Bradshaw: I think what a lot of people are going to be surprised about it there, that it is, that there is hope.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: This can be dialed back, and the future can be a whole lot brighter than you might have otherwise thought. I'll be back with more with Dr. Wes Youngberg in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest is Dr. Wes Youngberg. Dr. Youngberg, in your book, "Memory Makeover," where you talk about preventing Alzheimer's and reversing cognitive decline, you devote quite a lot of space to the case of John and Mary. And it's a remarkable story. Tell me about them.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: I, I first met John and Mary, not their real names, about, about four years ago when I was invited to that city to do a workshop for the hospital on helping physicians learn how to reverse diabetes. And, and it just so happened that John and Mary were attending a, a "Diabetes Undone" series at their local church. And so I was invited to present there, and, and that's when I first met John and Mary. And he was concerned about her blood sugar. She had already been diagnosed with, with advanced Alzheimer's.
John Bradshaw: Mmm.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: And so he asked me at that time, he said, "Well, is there, is there anything that can be done for Alzheimer's"? And so, at the time, I, I said to him, "Well, yes, they're, we're learning some new things on how this relates to type 2 diabetes". Well, they got busy with their lives, as we all do, and four years go by. So she's now had advanced Alzheimer's for four years. She's seeing a really good neurologist, and, and so he, he asks this neurologist one day, says, "Is there anything else that we can do"? And so the neurologist, not wanting to give false hopes, but, but wanting to encourage them to do whatever was rational and reasonable, said, "Well, why don't you start working on a more comprehensive and aggressive lifestyle medicine program"? As we've been discussing so far.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: And so, so, John was encouraged by the neurologist to actually give me a call and set up a series of phone consultations. Well, initially I was very careful to caution John, um, not to expect, you know, something dramatic, but, but to have hope that we could do things that could, number one, slow that decline further, because he was already having problems with even understanding her. She would try to communicate with him and, "Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh," she would talk like that.
John Bradshaw: This is quite a way along?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Literally, she has advanced, more severe Alzheimer's.
John Bradshaw: Oh yeah.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: And so his doctor had said, "Basically we're at a crossroads here. You, you really need to get her into a home, because otherwise you're going to burn out, and, and, and if you burn out, what's going to happen to her? Right? So at least if she's in a home, you can go and visit her and spend time with her, but then get your rest". 'Cause he was 24/7 with her. It was really rough. She was having horrible sundowning syndrome. Anybody who understands Alzheimer's knows that that's a horrible experience. It happens around sundown; that can last for three to four hours where they are, they're confused, they're agitated, they're hostile, they're, it's just a horrible experience with a loved one to, to go through that. Well, so this had been going on now for about three years. And, and so, when they started, uh, uh, a comprehensive lifestyle medicine program, where he didn't just ask his wife, John, "You want to go exercising, honey"? 'Cause he knew she would say no. She would become belligerent.
John Bradshaw: Right.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: "Uh, no"! You know, she wouldn't get off the couch. But if he said to her, "Honey, would you like to go shopping"? she would brighten up, you know. And, and even though she couldn't communicate very well, she didn't, she didn't know some of the family members, she wanted to go shopping. So she started looking for her purse, she'd grab her purse, and John would take her to the mall, and they'd walk to the end of the mall and back, and back again. They'd get half an hour of exercise in going to the mall. Then they'd go to the grocery store and walk about the perimeter of the grocery store. She would grab donuts and grab sodas and all the things that she loved, 'cause she was a sugarholic. And he, she would get her exercise grabbing them, and he would get his exercise putting them back.
John Bradshaw: Putting them back.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Okay, and so he made sure... you see, at that stage you're dealing with essentially a toddler's mentality. You can't say, "Well, they want it, so I should just give it to them. They're an adult". You can't give them to them, dementogenic foods; they're never gonna get better. So, so, he made, he found a way to get her to exercise. He found a way to get her to eat the right foods. We did all the rational things that were available in the medical literature, which was a lot of things. We did all the right tests and treated every single risk factor optimally, not just, not just the normal, but optimal. In six weeks, her sundowning syndrome started going away dramatically. Can you imagine spending three hours every night trying to get your spouse to calm down and not to go outside after packing all her bags and wanting to go see mom, who has been dead for 30 years? Every night for three hours. Okay, and then the, the next morning have to take all the, all the clothes back and put them in the, in the drawers? That'll happen every day for years.
John Bradshaw: A lot of people are dealing with this.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: That was gone in two months. Now, I'm not saying everybody who has a spouse with that, with, with sundowning syndrome is going to cure that in two months. That, this was the case in, in this situation. And, and she had not been able to make a long story short, she had not been able to, uh, recognize her sister for over three years. So just about 12 months into the process, actually 11 months, this is just recently, they traveled to a city three hours away, where her sister lived, and for the first time in three years, when she got out of the car, she recognized her sister. She walked up to her and hugged her, called her by name, and sat down in the living room, talking with her sister as sisters should be able to do, remembering how they grew up together. And this is something that she had not been able to do for three years. And so, she still has, technically, Alzheimer's, but it is a form of Alzheimer's which is so much more functional than it was for that period of time, that John told me, he said, "I feel like I have my wife back again. In fact, she even laughs at my jokes now. She knows the time when she looks at the clock. She knows where we are as we're driving, and she corrects me if I miss a turn". Previously she had been unable to do that. And so there is hope, even for people who have advanced Alzheimer's, if you have a health partner, a spouse, who's willing to put the effort into it now, to prevent that further decline and to begin that reversal process. It's exciting to see what John was able to do for Mary. And that's why in the book I call it a love story.
John Bradshaw: "Memory Makeover" is the book. And the good news is there is hope, and lots of it, for somebody battling cognitive decline. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. Dr. Wes Youngberg, we've been talking about, uh, preventing and even reversing cognitive decline.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Right.
John Bradshaw: Do you meet people who say, "Nah, this just can't happen"?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: You know, I was trained, and most of my colleagues were trained, that this was just really impossible. And so, unless, unless we have taken the time to look at the new research and to study it and to see what is possible, then we're gonna believe what we were taught 30 years ago. Right? And so, so that's why I spend a lot of my time lecturing to medical audiences, to give them, give them the vision of what is really possible, because if we take the time to address the underlying triggers of Alzheimer's, it, it's, it's transformative. So that's why, once again, the, the research out of the Adventist health study at Loma Linda University has documented that 90 percent of Alzheimer's is preventable. We can, we can track that. But, but the, I also see in my practice, and, and other colleagues of mine that do this full-time have noticed, that at least 80 percent of those who are willing to invest and, and put effort into addressing the fundamental strategies and then the specialty strategies related to their individual risk factors, are actually able to begin to reverse that process, which means that it's also preventing progression. So the first step is to prevent progression or to slow progression. The second step is to stop progression. And the third step is to focus on reversal of that cognitive decline. And the vast majority of those who invest in this, like John and Mary did, are actually able to accomplish that.
John Bradshaw: We have a few moments left, so let's, let's, let's leave this with some, some steps. Someone is saying, "I hear what you say. This isn't a guarantee. I hear what you say. This doesn't mean we're going to get rid of everything".
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Right.
John Bradshaw: "But we're talking about improvement and very significant improvement. I want that for my family member. I want that for myself. I'm going to start". Where do we start? Let's look at some steps.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Okay, so, but, we, we need to start with exercise. That's the most fundamental strategy. Exercise is what makes you feel better. Exercise is what starts to change the brain to start healing. Uh, but exercise by itself isn't going to fix all this, right?
John Bradshaw: Okay, so exercise, plus?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah, so we have to have the right diet. We have to have the right fuel. We have to get the right nutrients into our body. We have to avoid the very foods that are bringing toxins that, that are causing damage to neurogenesis.
John Bradshaw: Unfortunately those are the foods that a lot of people like but everybody is willing to admit are bad for us. So, keep away from or minimize or eliminate what?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah, basically, fast foods, fried foods, refined foods, the, you know, all the sugary foods. There are so many studies we could cover, John, but if, if, if you're going to start with avoiding one thing that's really bad for the brain, it's sugar, you know. And I, I, I could eat a lot of sugar.
John Bradshaw: I think everybody could.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: You know, we all love sugar. But here's the bottom line. Sugar actually dumbs down the brain very quickly. I could tell you stories when I've experienced it myself, right? So I'm not perfect. I make stupid mistakes from time to time, and I notice it when I do.
John Bradshaw: And it's not just that sugar is so bad, but again, you look at the standard American diet, we're consuming tons of this stuff.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Way more than the body was ever meant to consume.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: So if we pull that back to a realistic level, that's really gonna help.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah, absolutely. And so then we talk about sleep. Sleep is so critical. If, if somebody doesn't fix the sleep problem, uh, even if they're addressing the other things quite well, it's going to really slow any of the benefit. And so, again, we want to slow things down; we wanna begin to reverse that process. You've gotta get a good night's sleep. We gotta figure it out.
John Bradshaw: How many hours is a good night's sleep?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah, so, so, for the average person who's trying to prevent further cognitive decline, they really should be getting at least seven or eight hours of sleep, you know, somewhere between seven and eight hours of nightly sleep. Studies have shown just going to bed late, even if you get eight hours, causes damage to the hippocampal cells, even in young people. So, so this is some, neurodegeneration doesn't begin at age 75 or 85. It begins, begins very early, even as teenagers. So, so if we start paying attention as teenagers and young adults, we are protecting the reserve of cognitive function in our brain. And that way it'll take a lot longer to eventually get to a problem, if there ever was one.
John Bradshaw: Exercise, the right food, and eating the right food is, is two things; it's eating the right food and not eating a bunch of junk.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Getting adequate sleep.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: What else?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Optimal hydration, getting plenty, plenty of water, spending time outside, getting, getting some sunlight on a daily basis, optimizing your blood vitamin D levels. Those, those are critical, critical steps. And I would like to say that doing comprehensive blood testing, doing genetic testing, all that is, is indispensable to understanding our individual risk. So at some point the fundamentals have to be, have to be, we have to add to the fundamentals the, the individualized risk factors that we might have. And the only way you're gonna know if you have a problem with these is to work with your doctor to get comprehensive blood tests, not just the standard physical blood tests, but tests that relate to all the risks that can affect the brain.
John Bradshaw: Why do you think it is that the incidence of dementia, Alzheimer's in particular, is way up, way up compared to 50 years, 100 years ago?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Well, yeah, I think it has to do with, uh, the choices that we've made, and we've bought into some of the marketing, the biggest marketing lies of our, of our generation. Uh, I, I just recently read, a big magazine at the airport was saying how to deal with, Alzheimer's, and it had "hope" on it. So I thought, okay, I want to find out what they say about hope.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: And you know what one, they had two things about hope; one of the things was "more good news for," for, "drinkers". Basically they were saying, suggesting, that if you just drank more alcohol, more, more alcoholic beverages, that that would protect your brain from dementia.
John Bradshaw: That's absurd.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: The opposite is true. The best studies ever done, British Medical Journal, uh, showing that a 30-year MRI study, so that even occasional social drinking led to hippocampal brain cell loss, even occasional, by over 300 percent, moderate drinking over a 30-year period. And these were people that had, you know, upper social economic status.
John Bradshaw: So we've become prisoners, really, of our own lifestyle.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: Right.
John Bradshaw: Our forebears didn't live this way. We don't have to go back to the Stone Age, but just in relevantly recent times, people were living far healthier lives. If we can somehow tweak this thing a little bit, we'll find fantastic results. I'm impressed with this very much, "Memory Makeover: How to Prevent Alzheimer's and Reverse Cognitive Decline the Natural Way". Thanks for doing this.
Dr. Wes Youngberg: My pleasure, John.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for doing this. This book will change lots and lots of lives. And if you look to the God who made you, remember the Bible says, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made". If you bring into your lifestyle the God who made us in the beginning and made us to live a certain way, and, let me just check this with you. When you add into this faith, hope, trust, and a relationship with God, there's healing in that, too, isn't there?
Dr. Wes Youngberg: That's, that's actually probably the number one thing. Having healthy relationships with our fellow man, but also vertically with God, I think we can clearly say that that's the most important part of healing.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Youngberg, thank you. I appreciate it immensely. Let's pray together now.
Our Father in heaven, we're grateful, grateful that there's hope, grateful that You are the Great Physician. We are grateful today that You love us and loved us so much to allow Jesus to come to this world that we could live here, and there. We know He's coming back soon. You want for us the more abundant life, a life that stretches beyond this world and into the world to come.
Friend, you can have that life in Jesus. If you've not accepted it from Him, would you do so now? Would you pray a prayer in your heart that says, "Lord, take me, make me Yours. I want You, the God of heaven, to have my life and guide me in Your path".
Lord, will You guide us in the paths of better health? There are people right now who are saying, "Thank You. I want this new life, new hope". We want to fight this thing off and, and reverse the ravages of this terrible disease. Lord, we thank You for the great hope of the wonderful future that we have in You in this world and soon when Jesus returns. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.