Introduction to Reboot Your Brain
I am a fervent believer in the brain–body
I am interested in anything related to the impact of ageing on
the brain and the alternative ways that this process can be
slowed or reversed. Since the millennium, scientists have made
huge leaps in their understanding of the brain. This explosion
of neuroscience research, and the introduction of advanced
imaging systems, has enabled us to actually see, for the first time, the
physically transformative impact that
therapeutic and health-boosting activities have had on the brain
itself. The brains of those who meditate, exercise, engage in
talking therapy, and eat healthily, actually look different to the
brains of those who don’t. Cynics who had previously dismissed
meditation and counselling as ‘fluffy’ and unscientific, often
ascribing any benefits to ‘the placebo effect’, have been forced
to revise their opinions. Meditation training has been widely
adopted by schools, some doctors’ surgeries, and even some
parts of the military. And the impact of nutrition on disease
prevention now has a groundswell of solid science behind it.
My greater urgency to look at the options
In tandem with this new credibility for alternative ways to boost
physical and mental health, I began to notice more and more
headlines about dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease,
but a general term used to describe a collection of symptoms
that cause a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere
with daily life, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
The picture here seemed far bleaker. Older friends and people
of my parents’ generation began to share news of symptoms
and diagnoses. Barely a month went by without word of another
family being touched by it. Then, a year ago, my own father was
diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. Although he was
otherwise fit and well, I had suspected for some time that his
memory slips and occasional forgetfulness were a more serious
concern than the brain fog that often comes with age.
At first, it felt hopeless – acceptance seems like the only
appropriate reaction. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s – at best
experts predict it is likely to be many decades off – so it’s
difficult not to receive the news of a diagnosis with sadness and
resignation. However, I wasn’t prepared to give in entirely, so I
resolved to support my father by doing what I do best: to meet
the challenge by researching and exploring what was going on
outside of conventional medicine.
My father’s brain had always been clear as a bell, and despite being
in his early 80's, people often remarked on his youthfulness. But,
he had begun to lose track of what he was saying mid-sentence,
or head off to do something and then retrace his steps a few
minutes later, having forgotten what the original task was. He also
began to forget the names of people he had known for years.
The confusion only lasted for a few minutes, but it was enough
to worry him considerably. Then the dread of what might be
happening to his mind began to overwhelm him, probably adding
considerably to his confusion.
When the doctor gave him the diagnosis, he didn’t really seem
to take it in. And in view of the fact that there is currently no
medical cure, we didn’t see the point of adding to his distress
by explaining that to him. I know from my years of working with
people with cancer, that it’s often the shock of the diagnosis
and the all-encompassing fear that the diagnosis triggers which
overwhelm the person almost more than the disease itself.
There has to be hope
Medical history is full of examples of diseases once deemed
incurable, from smallpox to diphtheria, which have been finally
conquered by science and are now either manageable or entirely
eradicated. The work of the Australian doctor Barry Marshall
springs to mind. His claim to have established a bacterial cause
of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer was rubbished when it was
first suggested in the 1980's. Fast forward to 2005 and he was
awarded the Nobel Prize for his research.
So, I know it is merely a question of timing – but will the Alzheimer’s
cure, the ‘holy grail’ longed for by sufferers and their families,
arrive in time for my father? The odds are against it. Having said
that, the exciting work in the USA by Dr Michael Fossel seems like
offering a serious possibility. Dr Fossel and his team are working on
telomerase gene therapy. Specifically, they are looking at extending
the length of your telomeres – the caps at the end of each strand
of DNA that protect your chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the
end of shoelaces – with a single injection, thereby rejuvenating the
age of the brain. They have had consistent success in tests with
animal models, showing that aged animals with poor memory,
poor learning ability and other poor behavioural measures, have
consistently improved in all areas. At the time of writing they are
waiting for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for
human trials and searching for funding.1
There are also exciting developments in the field of immunology.
Tests can now analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your
immune system, and highlight precisely which genes are working
less than optimally, then tailor treatment to repair any damage.
Boost this treatment with stem cells (see reference section, page
142) and the indications are that once your immune system is
optimised, diseases, including brain deficiencies, disappear.
What can be done in the meantime?
The best option for both those who already have a dementia
diagnosis, and anyone looking toward the future, who simply
wants to minimise mental deterioration whatever their age and
state of health, has to be to seek out interventions that already
exist. Many of these have been developed by small companies
with limited funds, and lots are in the early stages. Researchers
are often working under the radar, but still showing effective
results with those already struggling with their brain health.
My father and I decided to take our own steps – together – to
attempt to keep the onset of his disease in check and to search
the world for the latest research. From scouring scientific journals,
I have become aware that the medical profession’s pharmaceutical
options appear to be failing their trials, one by one, so I made the
decision to turn in a non-invasive complementary direction instead.
There are myriad research papers showing the efficacy of herbal
remedies and nutritional supplements as treatment for a wide
range of ills – mental and physical. Many show that natural
treatments can work just as well as pharmaceutical options.
Some even anecdotally ‘curing’ officially ‘incurable’ diseases –
although these are often attacked and shut down by corporate
interests that have no intention of letting the majority of us be
‘healed’. How much more profitable to keep ‘managing’ disease
by medicating it instead of ‘curing’ it once and for all.
There is a wealth of new evidence on the phenomenon of
‘epigenetics’ – an area of work that looks at the way the
expression of our DNA changes constantly depending on our
brain’s perception of, and response to, its environment, along
with our ever-increasing understanding of the brain’s plasticity.
Epigenetics is revealing the mechanisms that explain how
everything we do and are exposed to impacts on our brains.
A word of caution though, it’s important to be mindful of the
fact that a lack of research doesn’t mean something doesn’t
work. Scientific research may give you confidence, but it often
takes years, if not decades, to emerge into public view. If there
is little profit to be made, corporate agendas may block the
development, particularly of natural, non-invasive methods of
healing because they are often not patentable. If large corporate
funders can see no profit in such research, it is either unlikely to
be funded, or any successes are rapidly buried.
Back to my father
We came to the conclusion that doing something had to be
better than doing nothing but wait for the tide of forgetfulness
to overwhelm him. And he has been brilliant, solidly supported
by my stepmother every step of the way. First, we worked on
his nutrition. We cut out everything that science shows has a
negative effect on the brain. He stuck to his ‘brain diet’ (which
I share with you in Chapter 7) religiously, and it gave him both
hope and a structure. Each and every meal was scientifically
proven to be able to improve his neuronal and mitochondrial
strength and boost his mind.
Every therapy or supplement I researched that had substantial
evidence of a positive effect on the brain, whether scientific
or anecdotal, was added to his daily programme. He has
enthusiastically done whatever it took – whether it was for an
hour or a few minutes. He has taken part in trials in Canada
looking at the effects of light therapy on the brain. We imported
nutritional supplements from the US and silica-rich aluminium-removing
water from Malaysia. And we have tested his bloods
and urine before and after each new element was introduced.
Encouraged by every positive change, my father has become
more confident that he might improve. With every mouthful that
he eats, supplement he swallows, or potion that he drinks, he
feels he is playing a part in his own recovery and taking back
control of his health.
Looking at the wider audience
In the wake of my father’s diagnosis, I began talking to people
about dementia, and I noticed that much of the time a general
air of despair accompanied it. There was a worrying dismissal
from some quarters in response to my suggestions for what
might help. I would tell my friends about a fascinating study
on the effects of mindfulness on dementia, or the benefits of
upping their intake of oily fish, for example, but much of this
fell on stony ground. In most cases, my friends’ scepticism had
been stoked by their family doctor and other medical doctors’
lack of awareness of research or anecdotal positive evidence on
alternative treatments and lifestyle approaches.
I was struck, again and again, by an almost wilful rubbishing of
alternative approaches. They seemed to come from a position of
learned helplessness – drug treatments are too often presented
as the only credible option. What particularly saddened me was
that the dismissals mainly came from people who were already
dealing with the early stages of dementia – they were in the
trenches. But, even those whose brains seemed to be functioning
fairly normally (although ‘normal’ for many people includes lowlevel
anxiety, depression and brain fog), were, for the most part,
I was repeatedly told that declining brain function: ‘is just a
normal part of getting older’, ‘it happens to us all’, or ‘there’s
nothing you can do about it’. But none of these statements is
true. We have all met those vibrant, clear thinking 100-year olds,
whose minds seem as sharp now as they were decades ago.
I kept wondering: what makes some people keep their brains
and others lose theirs? Is it really just a question of genetics?
The answer, quite simply, is – no, it isn’t. Epigenetics has forced us
all to reassess that idea. Look to your family past – how many
of your great-grandparents succumbed to dementia – you
will probably find it was the exception rather than the rule. So,
what has changed? Granted, we are, for the most part, living for
longer. But I believe it is in an analysis of the environment rather
than the genes alone where you may find the answer. Today we
live extremely sedentary lives, eat an unbalanced diet high in
processed foods, sugars and animal products. We exist in a soup
of electromagnetic frequencies, and drink and bathe in chemically
treated water. Dangerously high levels of pollutants from transport
and farming fill the air we breathe. The brain is a sensitive organ,
and of course all of these environmental factors influence it.
How to start your journey of change
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of engagement
most of us have about thinking outside the box when it comes
to the brain. The science behind our understanding of the brain’s
remarkable responsiveness to lifestyle and behavioural change
is still relatively new. Most of us just haven’t seen the memo yet.
If you’re nodding your head with ‘that’s true of me’ recognition,
read on as I’d like to explore the importance of the latest
scientific discoveries with you, and set them in context of our
understanding of how our brains work. I’m hoping it might nudge
you to shake up your thinking on what’s possible.
I’ll explain why current advances in neuroscience are so
significant for anyone wanting to take a proactive approach to
their brain health and function. I’m not talking specifically here
about staving off dementia. I’m talking about improving your
cognitive edge and enhancing your ability to harness the full
power of your brainpower: memory, executive function (high
level, complex and analytical thinking), as well as your emotional
regulation, mood and energy. But everyone is different and so
are the issues that affect them.
I have written this book to help you to take a more hopeful,
empowering approach to your own mental health and brainpower.
Most of the readily available approaches – drug therapies and
long-term psychotherapy – are inadequate. The former is risky,
and in many cases treats the symptoms rather than the causes of
problems, and the latter is costly, very time-consuming and can
be somewhat hit-and-miss in terms of its efficacy and availability.
I am going to show you how to take back control of your brain in
three simple stages: first, unburden your brain, then repair it, and
finally, boost it. Everything in this book is focused and evidencebased.
I look at a range of possible interventions, many of which
are lifestyle changes entirely within your control.
My research takes full advantage of the advances in neuroscience
and the wide range of complementary health approaches
that can help you. In writing it I have drawn on my 30 years’
experience as a health advocate, from setting up Breast Cancer
Haven all those years ago, to my health blog, www.reboothealth.
co.uk. The more I’ve learned, the more passionate I’ve become
about the potential we all have to take every aspect of our health
into our own hands. This is nowhere truer than it is of the brain.
And you can start on your journey today. Your reward will be
to boost your brain function, improve your mental health and
combat age-related cognitive decline.
Good luck with your journey, and let me know how you get on.