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Book Review: The Brain Trust Program: A Scientifically Based Three-Part Plan… by Larry McCleary

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The Brain Trust Program by Larry McCleary, M.D., purports to be a revolutionary method of insulating your brain against the ravages of age and disease, promising to strengthen memory, sharpen focus, lift brain fog and more. Hardly radical, some of its tenants are not new but rather are well-known, and some are questionable, leading me to believe maybe this brain program is not to be trusted in its entirety.

Much of the book sticks pretty closely to well-known claims for improved health, such as exercising, eating leafy green vegetables, avoiding foods with trans fats, and keeping mentally active. It has an index and a fairly extensive bibliography, which stand in its favor. There are no bibliographic footnotes, however, and the references are collected into broad categories that do not match the topics in the book very well. If you want to find out the source of the claims, you have to be pretty tenacious.

I tried to do just that regarding a section in chapter three, "Are You at Risk?" about the effects of some common medications on memory. Here it states in no  uncertain terms that statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that includes Lipitor and Crestor, deplete "the brain's critical antioxidant protectors" (p. 60) and therefore threaten memory. With such a scary claim (for the millions taking these drugs), I wanted to see the supporting evidence for myself. I looked for a part of the bibliography that might deal with statins in particular or prescription drugs in general, but there is none; my guess is that they are to be found in a six-page section on cognitive decline. By this point my patience was in decline, so I did a Google search and found the very question posed on the website of the Mayo Clinic, a high-quality medical center that is likely a reliable source of information. There it says the literature is mixed on the subject. So much for certainty of these drugs' effects on the brain. The Mayo Clinic also says that "any potential risk of memory loss from statins is very low compared with the proven benefits of statins in preventing heart attack and stroke," something Dr. McCleary does not mention let alone consider.

Another troubling issue, stated in the introduction, is the contention that the brain cells we are born with are the ones we die with. This claim is not true. The idea that we make no new brain cells is no longer accepted and has not been for at least a decade… plenty of time for it to be included in the 2007 publication of The Brain Trust Program (see overview). Not all of Dr. McCleary's claims are outdated, but that a basic tenet of the book is old dogma is a major issue to me.

Yet another issue is that Dr. McCleary advocates taking supplements to prevent memory loss. Supplements are not regulated and notoriously difficult to study because the doses and quality vary widely, but he makes it sound like the evidence is clear. In addition, Dr. McCleary no longer practices medicine but is currently head of research for a company that produces dietary supplements claiming to improve brain function or assist in weight loss. He does not recommend his company's supplements by name, but he can hardly be called an impartial judge.

Therefore, I suggest the reader take The Brain Trust Program with a grain of salt and double-check with a reputable nutritionist or other health-care provider before taking supplements. While it might help you get started on the topics of brain health and mental exercise, don't rely on it as your only source, given its drawbacks.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.
  • http://www.brain-smart.net/pages/Blog.html Dr Sarah Thornton-Miller

    Your review of The Brain Trust Programme was very informed, however i would like to take contention with your statement that because Dr Mcleary is head of research for a supplement company that his view is not valid.I have been in this area of research for over 20 years and Dr Mcleary has been a highly respected cognitive practioner for all of this time.

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