How to Become a Brain Warrior

I recently listened to another good podcast featuring Dr. Daniel Amen, who is a double board-certified psychiatrist, best-selling author and founder of Amen Clinics. He is most known for his work on brain scans called SPECT that allows clinicians to see images of brain function and how it is impacted by habits, genetics, environment and other lifestyle factors. This blog highlights some of the key points and what he does to keep his 67-year old brain functioning at its peak:

Myths:

  • It’s not true that the brain does not regenerate. The brain CAN change and the part of the brain called the hippocampus creates 700 new stem cells every single day to improve and heal from physical injuries.
  • Psychiatric illnesses like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and PTSD are NOT single disorders. These diagnoses do not tell you anything about the underlying biology of the brain. He says that we have it backwards and that mild traumatic brain injuries are the MAJOR cause of psychiatric illness.
  • Mental health issues are brain health issues and they are not separate. If your brain deteriorates, your mind deteriorates. Also, if you don’t look, you won’t know. Dr. Amen found it unacceptable that psychiatry is the ONLY branch of medicine that doesn’t diagnose based on lab tests or imaging. So he developed the brain scanning technique to be able to visually detect what is impacting brain and mind function.  

What To Do:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function so it’s important to include this in the diet (oily fish and/or supplements).
  • A healthy gut biome is important so eat whole foods that are not processed, low in glycemic index, not sprayed with pesticides and non-GMO.
  • Three keys to brain health:
    • Develop brain envy habits – the longer you do it, the better your brain will be. Ask the question – is it good for my brain? If it’s not good, DON’T do it. That’s how you develop a brain that people will envy.
    • Avoid the bad (processed food, alcohol, marijuana, stress, unhealthy or lack of social relationships).
    • Do the good (i.e. clean food, healthy gut, exercise, optimal sleep, healthy relationships).
  • If you want to live to a 100 years old in good health, you have to make good decisions early on in life to get on the right path. You need to have a warrior’s mindset – be armed, prepared and aware of the factors that can divert you away from the goals of living a long, healthy life. Mental health requires the same discipline as physical health and you need to practice them daily.

What NOT To Do:

  • Stay away from processed and junk foods. Dr. Amen said that ISIS has nothing on our food industry as processed foods that make up the standard American diet ARE the weapons of mass destruction in this country.
  • Do not become overweight/obese. An interesting study showed that as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down. Fat cells produce inflammatory cytokines and also store toxins. With 72% of Americans overweight and 42% of us obese, it’s the biggest brain drain in the history of our country. In a large brain imaging study conducted by Dr. Amen, he found a direct correlation between weight and brain. As you gain weight, your executive functions decline which leads you to make poor decisions. Remember that what you do to your body, you do to your brain and vice versa.
  • Alcohol is not a health food no matter what the wine industry may lead you to think. Recently, the American Cancer Society came out with the position that any alcohol increases the risk of seven different kinds of cancer. Another reason to abstain from alcohol is that drinking leads to people making bad decisions.
  • Beware of physical toxins – we live in a toxic world surrounded by chemicals and pollution. Steer clear of plastics and avoid chemical additives in foods, cosmetics and personal products. Read the labels and download Think Dirty or the Redify app to look for cleaner options.
  • Beware of psychological toxins – turn off the news! The news industry is designed to make us think that the rare/uncommon events are actually common which creates anxiety and stress and have us glued to the TV.
  • Beware of mold as it can wreak havoc on the brain. If you have symptoms of mold toxicity, you should get yourself and your home/environment tested.
  • Reduce inflammation – gum disease is not only bad for heart health, it’s bad for the brain as it causes inflammation. So get your teeth cleaned and checked every six months. 

Dr. Amen’s new book Your brain is always listening is to alert the reader to get connected to the inputs coming into their brain and realize what can be controlled. He wants us to tame the ‘hidden dragons’ to control our happiness habits and not get hung up with what happened in the past. He offers a free quiz to determine what dragons are lurking within us. There are many different types of dragons but he pointed out several examples:

  • If you have the ‘death’ dragon (fear or denial of death), you should write 10 good things about dying such as (1. Never have to go to the dentist, 2. Never have to sit in traffic, etc.)  It’s the denial of death that makes people lead purposeless, empty lives. If you think you’re going to live forever, you have no purpose. He suggests we manage our life as a competent CEO would manage his/her company. Write down on one page what you want in your life: career, family, finances, health. And then plan your actions around it. If it’s something that you don’t want to do or it doesn’t meet your personal goals, DON’T do it. Also, deal with the death dragon by planning and taking responsibility for what you did during your life.  Do NOT leave a mess for other people (do you want your kids to change your diapers or have to support you when you are old?)
  • If you have the comparison dragon which stems from feeling insecure/inferior, don’t strive to be THE best, just strive to be YOUR best. Naomi Osaka and many other top athletes suffer from the comparison dragon and live in fear and unhappiness because they believe they are not the best.

Other interesting points Dr. Amen made:

  • ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is a lie.  Dr. Amen states that people who lives this way die the earliest from accidents or preventable illnesses. You need some level of anxiety to do the right thing.
  • People who thrived during the pandemic have TLC qualities:
    • T – they understand that this is temporary
    • L – they focus on how it impacts their home and community and not worry about the entire world
    • C– they learn to control what they can and let go of the rest
  • If you don’t live the message, you suck as a messenger. Change yourself and other people will see the message (this was definitely one of the best truisms from the podcast).

You can get his latest book, Your Brain Is Always Listening: Tame the Hidden Dragons That Control Your Happiness, Habits and Hang Ups here. 

Go to Amenclinics.com to find out more information on the clinical services available. 

Check out my earlier blogs:

Superfoods for a Super Brain

Dr. Amen’s podcast on stopping Alzheimer’s and Dementia

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