Still, Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and practicing neurosurgeon in Atlanta, is quick to tell readers that fear of dementia shouldn’t be a reason to read the book, which was published with the AARP. Instead, he writes, “it must be the knowledge that you can build a better brain at any age.”
Keep Sharp is largely a self-help book, but Gupta devotes the first 100 pages of science to the brain (“what makes you”, as he aptly puts it) and dementia.
Initially, he took care to distinguish between dementia, which is a widespread condition of functional impairment from cognitive decline, and the specific form of dementia known as Alzheimer̵
Gupta explores a number of explanations for “the ways in which the brain begins to break.” Genetics is a possible factor, as well as abnormalities in blood flow to the brain, neurotoxins and metabolic disorders. As for the “amyloid cascade hypothesis” for Alzheimer’s disease, which dates back to 1907, when Aloysius Alzheimer’s first identified “senile plaques” in a woman’s brain during an autopsy, Gupta wrote that scientists increasingly believed that plaques are not the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but a consequence of it.
Gupta makes some interesting myths. For example, he assures us that dementia is not necessarily an inevitable consequence of old age, that older people can actually learn new things, and that doing the daily crossword puzzle is good, but it only bends part of your brain.
The main direction of the book is prevention. Simply put, Gupta writes, “pure living can reduce the risk of developing a serious mind-destroying disorder, including Alzheimer’s disease, even if you have genetic risk factors.” Because dementia takes root decades before it is diagnosed, The earlier you start your prevention regimen, the better. To this end, Gupta publishes a 12-week “sharp brain” program consisting of exercise, healthy eating, bedtime routine, healthy sleep, relaxation, deliberate communication, yoga, and even a gratitude diary. Similar advice is spread in many other books, and its packaging as a 12-week program sounds appealing. Still, while all of Gupta’s recommendations are good general advice, the jury still doesn’t know if this thing will really sharpen your brain, much less prevent dementia.
Gupta presents himself as a model and as such asks many of his readers. Somehow he finds time to play sports every hour and meditate. He avoided red meat, rarely snacks, and engaged in starvation, which has been shown in animal models to enhance memory.
Still, the book’s instructions are hard to ignore. After reading Part 2 (“How not to lose your mind”), this reader went straight to the bathroom and threw all of Benadryl in the first aid kit, rubbed and threaded, googled “turmeric recipes” on Google, ordered a bottle of L-serine, then scale several hills of San Francisco.
Gupta’s writer is Christine Loberg, an experienced specialist in collaborating on health books, especially self-help books. The writing is largely clear and concise, but repeated in places. The reader is repeatedly reminded that the seeds of dementia were planted decades before the onset of symptoms. Read this frightening fact once and you are notified. The fifth time it feels like an unnecessary slaughter.
Rapid redundancies are a time-honored tradition in the self-help genre. But Gupta SHARP’s diet protocol is just stupid. The links between the letter and its element of action are less obvious – “A” means “Adding more omega-3” to your diet. (For protocol, a number of recent studies have questioned the benefits of omega-3s.) Then there is a “P” for “Plan your diet ahead.” Your grandmother could tell you that.
The latest scientific study cited in the book is from the end of 2019, long before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Although the latest studies on dementia may be too new to include, it is unfortunate that the book does not address the widespread concern about the lasting neurological effects on those who have contracted the coronavirus. Of those who recovered from covid-19, approximately 1 in 3 had long-term neurological problems, according to Stat, a publication covering health news. Gupta reports in detail about covid-19 for CNN, but the book does not mention the pandemic. This is bad because this signal event is unlikely to disappear from someone’s memory, in the short term or otherwise.
Beware of Sharp
at any age
Simon and Schuster.
318 pp. $ 28