Cognitive decline can be prevented and at least partially reversed, according to Adventist lifestyle medicine specialist Wes Youngberg. In one of his books, Hello Healthy, Youngberg explains how to do it. In July 2019, he shared some tips in a series of talks in Loma Linda, California, United States. Photo: Adventist Review

A comprehensive and personalized approach to rebooting your health can help you to prevent and reverse cognitive decline, including significant improvements in various signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Wes Youngberg said at the Loma Linda Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California, United States, on July 10, 2019.

Youngberg, an assistant clinical professor at the Loma Linda University schools of Public Health and Medicine, is also a certified nutrition specialist and author of Memory Makeover — How to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Reverse Cognitive Decline. Recently, Youngberg led three talks on the sidelines of the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University. The talks were based on his extensive experience fighting and reversing chronic diseases.

“One way or the other, all of us are at risk, and many are on our way to cognitive decline,” Youngberg told his audience. “But there is hope, and my goal is to give you hope so that you can start addressing your risk factors now.”

The first thing you must determine is, Who is responsible for your health? Youngberg said. “Who is in charge? Who makes the decisions that affect your health?” he asked, before answering, “You are the chairman of the board of your health, so don’t let others do it for you.”

Fighting Chronic Health Conditions

Cognitive decline does not have to be part of the regular aging process, Youngberg explained, and yet it usually follows a continuum from subjective cognitive decline to mild cognitive impairment to the various stages of Alzheimer’s. It can lead to what is usually called dementia, or “a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with activities of daily living,” he said.

But using integrative lifestyle therapies is a powerful tool to fight not only cognitive decline but also for reversal of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, recovery from depression, and effective management of many chronic health conditions.

“The goal is not simply to normalize your metabolic parameters but rather to optimize them,” Youngberg said. “You focus on optimal levels and do whatever is necessary to achieve them.”

It is something, he said, that helps you reach a threshold, a tipping point that may allow you to stop or even reverse any chronic condition, including cognitive decline.

How Does It Work?

The approach used by Youngberg and a few others is personalized and is based on more than 150 data points that create a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s health. “All of us have risk factors, so by using this method we can determine the risks specific to each one of us,” he explained, adding that this is actually positive. “The more risk factors we discover, the better results we will get,” he said.

The many data points are based on extensive lab tests designed to uncover a person’s unique risk factor profile associated with levels of lipids, glucose-tolerance tests, inflammatory measures, vitamins and minerals, and various other markers. It also includes neuropsychological testing to determine your brain health. Based on that treasure trove of information, Youngberg suggests specific changes to the person’s diet, starting or improving a walking-exercise program, and fixing other health-related aspects.

“If you’re serious about reaching your full potential for health and wellness, you’ve got to be serious about exercise and diet,” Youngberg explained. In that sense, he said, the genes every person is born with are not unchangeable. “They are not fixed indicators of how healthy we can be,” he said. On the contrary, “extensive research has shown that exercise and diet can affect the way our genes function.”

A Comprehensive Strategy

Youngberg explained that in the case of Alzheimer’s, it is important to remember that the disease is not caused by just one thing, so to prevent it and fight it, a comprehensive strategy is needed. For instance, one of the most common triggers of Alzheimer’s is insulin resistance. In fact, many researchers refer to Alzheimer’s as Type 3 Diabetes, a “diabetes [insulin resistance] of the brain,” he explained. “We know how most cases of type 2 diabetes can be reversed, and this provides major clues [for] how to reverse a key driver and underlying cause of cognitive decline.”

Pointing to the shocking increase in cases of chronic kidney disease and how it promotes Alzheimer’s, Youngberg said he believes everything is connected. “But the good news is that the kidneys can regenerate, and so does the brain if we take the right approach and the steps to achieve it.”

According to Youngberg, other elements in a comprehensive health overhaul include making the most of sunlight health benefits, optimizing circulation and digestion, minding sleep patterns, managing stress, and working on emotions and attitudes.

Sleep, Inflammation, and Fructose

Sleep is of utmost importance, according to Youngberg. “Not solving your sleep problems is often a deal-breaker,” he said as he shared that late bedtime has been associated with loss of hippocampal brain volume even in healthy young adults. “So,” Youngberg added, “one of the worst things you can do for your brain is to skimp on sleep, because every night that you don’t get enough sleep you are destroying hundreds of memory cells in your hippocampus.”

Research also shows that inflammation is another one of the key factors that triggers Alzheimer’s, Youngberg reminded. According to Harvard University research, the four most inflammatory foods are processed meats; processed grains (such as refined flour); pastries, sweets, and candies; and sodas and diet sodas.

Youngberg also shared research on how consuming processed foods containing fructose (especially foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup) affects the brain. “Fructose has shown to be a factor in disease-related genetic changes in the brain,” he said. “At the same time, research has shown that increasing levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, can reverse the damage fructose does to genes, but cutting back on all types of refined sugars is high on the list if brain healing is to occur.”

A Word of Caution and Hope

In dealing specifically with Alzheimer’s, Youngberg’s sound scientific approach does not include false promises. “Alzheimer’s is a very complex disease, and can be triggered by a combination of 30-plus independent causal mechanisms. That is precisely why we must take a comprehensive approach if we are to experience improvements,” he explains. “I am not saying that if a person with cognitive decline does everything right, he or she will be cured. What I’m saying is that in most cases — up to 80 percent, to be exact — where patients properly address all the uncovered risk factors, I have seen the process stop and even revert to a point a person can recover at least part of his or her functionality.”

Youngberg also confessed that some physicians show disbelief in the results he and some colleagues are getting about cognitive decline. “They can’t believe it because they have never witnessed it following standard medical protocols. But more and more medical professionals are starting to see positive results by implementing these same strategies into their clinical practice. We have seen it time and again—chronic conditions can be stopped and often reversed, especially when addressed soon after the diagnosis,” he said.

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