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Beware of miracle cures from California

We’re old fashioned, my Loved One and I. Most days start with a sit down breakfast during which we don’t talk much. It’s newspaper time. We both like proper paper copies and we still have them delivered early in the morning exactly as our parents and grandparents did.

Well, so far, Ms Alzheimer’s doesn’t seem to have touched MLO’s reading ability or appetite for the printed word. One breakfast time recently there was suddenly an excited grunt from across the table as he pounced on something.  So I looked up. The strapline in The Times magazine, which I read upside down, was “Do [sic] this couple have the cure for the Alzheimer’s Time Bomb?” and then “They think so”.

I could also see a photograph of a very serious looking man and woman in white coats. “I bet they come from California” I said sceptically because most whacky ideas about health, medicine and cures fly sunnily across the Atlantic from The Golden State.  So he read on a bit before confirming that I was right. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, both neurologists, work at Loma Linda University Medical Centre. It’s sixty miles north of Los Angeles and the town is dominated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church whose vegetarian members don’t smoke, drink or use caffeine but they’re keen on exercise.

Later, when MLO had finished reading it, I read the piece myself. And all the time I was doing so I was thinking about the late, great John Diamond. He was a journalist married to Nigella Lawson who died of head and neck cancer, aged 47 in 2001. He wrote most movingly about his illness both in the Sunday Times and in two books. I remember him crossly telling readers to stop sending him cranky miracle cures. If, he wrote, drinking three litres of beetroot juice a day or sitting in a cold mud bath flavoured with turmeric  (or words to that effect) would see off cancer then the whole of the medical establishment would be seizing on these ideas and be busily curing everyone’s cancer. But they’re not.

Diamond was right and exactly the same thing applies to Alzheimer’s. If the Sherzais really had found a cure then it would be being applied worldwide – it wouldn’t be just a couple of thousand words in the Sunday Times magazine.  As journalist Ben Doyle who wrote the piece, reminds us bleakly, by 2050 an estimated 155.5 million people will have dementia. It is therefore urgent, to put it mildly, that we find a cure PDQ. No economy is going to be able to cope with it unless something gives.

The Sherzais have studied thriving Loma Lindans  (all that healthy Seventh Day Adventism pays off, apparently) and compared them with their chronically unhealthy neighbours in nearby poverty-stricken San Bernadino. Their conclusion is that lifestyle changes can prevent 90% of Alzheimer’s cases and even reverse its effects in some existing patients.

Well, that’s a pretty dramatic claim given that most doctors (including our consultant in south London) say that the condition is incurable. So what lifestyle changes are the Sherzais advocating?

It’s more or less the same formula that you read for just about every other illness – avoid processed foods, sugary drinks and cakes and biscuits, not to mention alcohol. The Sherzais also condemn processed meat, red meat, chicken and cheese so that means adopting a more or less vegan diet. At the same time they recommend an active lifestyle, getting a good night’s sleep, doing puzzles, having an active social life and practising some form of meditation such as yoga preferably in the open air.

All a bit disappointing really. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before as we have. Not particularly way out or “Californian”. It’s sensible advice for healthy living although many people would find the veganism a bit difficult. But are we really to believe that living like this could cure Alzheimer’s? I can almost hear John Diamond’s refuting voice of reason and commonsense.

And anyway, as I have described before in these blogs MLO has been doing most of this all his life. He became a vegetarian in 1977, has never smoked, walks quite a lot, drinks little and is quite keen on code words etc. Fat lot of difference it has made. Ms A is with us, anyway – with a vengeance. There are good days and bad days but her grip is gradually tightening.


Am I going to buy the The Sherzais’s book The Alzheimer’s Solution (Simon and Schuster, £14.99). No. Am I going to clutch straws by attempting to push MLO from vegetarianism to veganism and denying him his beloved cheese and scrape of butter on his toast? No. Do I have any faith at all in any miracle cure which is unacknowledged by almost every medical practitioner? No.


Would I like to see MLO in full health and Ms Alzheimer’s dead and rotting in the gutter outside? Oh yes … but it isn’t going to happen, whatever Californian neurologists may argue.


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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