Critter Corner: Can Alzheimer’s Symptoms Be Reversed? Sanjay Gupta Explains in Newest Documentary

Angel the catDear Angel,

I recently read about “The Last Alzheimer’s Patient,” starring Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The documentary describes Alzheimer’s patient Cici Zerbe, who claims that her early Alzheimer’s symptoms have been reversed. This was after she participated in Dr. Dean Ornish’s clinical trial on how intensive lifestyle changes can halt the progression of early Alzheimer’s. Do you know what this is all about, and how I can watch it?

Thanks for your help!

Rhee Verst

Dear Rhee,

Alzheimer’s is a devastating diagnosis, but there are signs of hope this disease can be prevented, treated, and maybe even reversed. As you mentioned, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, renowned neurosurgeon and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, describes in a new documentary what viewers can do in their everyday lives to lessen their risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Dr. Dean Ornish’s research is shared in “The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper: The Last Alzheimer’s Patient,” which will air this Sunday at 8 pm on CNN.

In a report spanning five years, Dr. Gupta followed Alzheimer’s patients through their courses of treatment and lifestyle changes they made, and explained why so many experts are calling this the “most hopeful” era for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Gupta evaluates the pros and cons of the latest research designed to measure an individual’s risk for dementia. He even undergoes the battery of tests himself, weighing his own risk for the disease.

The documentary also focuses on the findings of Dr. Dean Ornish, an internal medicine specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who made amazing strides by demonstrating that Alzheimer’s can be reversed through intensive lifestyle interventions. These include diet, exercise, stress reduction, and social support.

Dr. Ornish’s Findings May Help Stave Off or Even Reverse Alzheimer’s

At his nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in California, Dr. Ornish has been investigating whether aggressive lifestyle changes can slow, stop, or even reverse the decline associated with Alzheimer’s, all without drugs. Dr. Ornish believes that “(w)hat’s good for your heart is good for your brain and vice versa.” He believes that “it’s not one diet and lifestyle intervention for heart disease, another for diabetes or prostate cancer, and yet a different one for Alzheimer’s. It’s really the same for all these different conditions.” Here are some of the lifestyle changes he suggests:

  • The Ornish meal plan restricts daily fat intake to no more than 10 percent, emphasizing plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
    • All animal products besides egg whites and one cup of nonfat milk or yogurt each day are banned on the plan. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are the basis of the diet, along with a few nuts and seeds. Refined carbohydrates, oils, and excessive caffeine are avoided, but up to two cups a day of green tea are allowed.

Dr. Ornish’s program:

  • includes regular exercise, group support, yoga, or meditation.
    • The program includes an hour a day of yoga-based stress management using stretching, breathing, meditation, and relaxation techniques. Strength training and walking or other aerobic exercise are required for 30 minutes a day or an hour 3 times a week. Smoking is not allowed.
  • His plan includes support groups that are designed not just to help people stay on the diet but to create a safe environment where people can talk openly and authentically about what’s going on in their lives.

Dr. Ornish says, “(t)o reverse the disease, you need to follow the interventions nearly 100%. If you’re just trying to prevent disease, then the more you change, the more you improve. But what matters most is your overall way of eating, living and loving so that we can all die young as old as possible.”

Many Critics of the Ornish Diet

Despite the fact that Dr. Ornish’s program has been authorized as a cardiac rehabilitation program by Medicare, the American Heart Association and the US Department of Health have not endorsed the diet, and there are many critics of the program. Critics have stated that Ornish has not provided sufficient clinical evidence to support his claims and that his studies have not been replicated. Some nutritionists have described the Ornish diet as a fad diet high in carbohydrates and very low in fat. While the Ornish diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol, critics comment that it restricts fish, nuts, and olive oil, all of which may protect against heart disease.

In real life, the Ornish diet is too low in fat for most people to follow, and it may result in deficiencies of essential fatty acids. One prominent nutritionist has noted that although the diet has been shown to stop the progression of arterial blockage in persons with cardiac disease, the diet is unbalanced and too extreme for most people to stick with long-term. Because of the restricted nature of the Ornish diet, it has a high discontinuation rate.

Despite the Critics, Results Are Good So Far for Those on the Plan

After just three months on the Ornish lifestyle program, research found a number of genes that regulate or prevent disease are turned on, and genes that cause many of the mechanisms that cause all these different conditions are turned off.

Here’s a link to another success story on CNN about a different participant in this study, 55-year-old entrepreneur Simon Nicholls, that is discussed in the  documentary

To learn more about Dr. Ornish’s plan and how it has helped to reverse early Alzheimer’s symptoms in Cici Zerbe and others, be sure to tune in to “The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper: The Last Alzheimer’s Patient,” which airs this Sunday (5-19-2024) at 8 pm! Or catch it later on demand.

Hope this helps!




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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.