Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
“The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies” with Andrea Samadi

“The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies” with Andrea Samadi

September 24, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #87 on “5 Important Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies That Everyone Should Know”

My name is Andrea Samadi,  and if you are new here, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field, with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are an educator, or in the corporate space, to take your results to the next level. If we want to improve our social, emotional and cognitive abilities, it all starts with an understanding of our brain. 

If you have been following this podcast, you will know that my husband and I had a SPECT image brain scan completed at Dr. Amen’s Clinics, to see if there was anything that we needed to be aware of, to make targeted improvements to our brain health and life, with the idea of preventing cognitive decline, and looking to see if we showed signs of Alzheimer’s that can be seen in the brain years before signs and symptoms show up. If you missed episode #84[i] where I revealed my results of the brain scan, go back and listen to this episode before you listen to this one.

If we want to take our results the next level, the best way to do this is by getting a clear picture of what is going on with the organ, your brain, that controls pretty much everything that you do. You might be like me and don’t have any signs or symptoms that you notice, that are giving you problems, but you want to be as healthy as you can to tackle life’s everyday challenges, with more ease. Or, you might be like my friend Doug Sutton, who shared on episode #82[ii] that he was experiencing brain fog and low energy.  You can do what we did and get a SPECT image brain scan and follow the treatment plan based on what your scans show. Our plan begins with taking brain health supplements, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, improving our sleep and looking closer at our current health with blood tests. We are working closely with Dr. Creado, from Dr. Amen’s Chicago Clinic as we implement these new strategies for improvement. Many people begin to feel better subjectively and can feel mentally sharper from these strategies. I can say that some of the supplements that we began taking from Dr. Amen’s Brain  MD[iii], like their Brain and Body Power Max, I felt an immediate difference with clarity and the ability to focus. After a year or more, many people choose to rescan their brain to see what changes occur physically from their treatment plan.

There is also another option for looking at your brain that I have recently learned about. I was contacted on LinkedIn, by one of my connections, another podcaster, Luke DePron,[iv] a former actor, turned lifestyle and fitness entrepreneur who told me that I needed to take a look at the WaveNeuro[v] Science Team.   He sent me a link to the podcast he did with Dr. Erik Won and Navy Seal Ned Mason[vi], and when I listened to it, I was blown away with what they are doing. If you have been interested in our past few episodes where we talk about the importance of looking at the brain, to improve performance, you will know that this is not just something that is for those involved in Special Operations in the military, elite athletes, or for people who are struggling with a brain disorder. The WaveNeuro team is dealing more and more with mainstream people, like you and me, who are looking to improve their performance. Stay tuned, as I have on the radar, to interview Dr. Erik Won and Ned Mason, to dive deeper into how they are measuring the brain with EEG (electroencephalogram) that is designed to measure the electrical activity of the brain) to see what parts of the brain are cycling too fast or too slow, and then optimizing these parts from this data. To put it plain and simple, I was speaking with WaveNeuro’s Head of PR, Sean Bartlett, and he reminded me that “what gets measured, gets managed” or you may have heard it another way with measuring data “what we measure, we improve.” Before getting a SPECT scan, and looking at my brain, I had no idea what I was doing for my brain health. I was eating well, exercising, taking supplements, but still when I had my scan evaluation, Dr. Creado, from Amen’s Clinics, told me that “for someone doing a lot of things right, I don’t like how your brain looks” and now we can target certain areas to improve. But I wouldn’t know what to do, if I didn’t look.  After speaking with Sean, over at WaveNeuro, I now have another angle or solution, for how we can look at and measure our brain health. I can’t wait to share what they are doing over there with their groundbreaking technology.

The case is clear that in order to move the needle the most with our health, there are some important areas that we can come to a consensus that are crucial to pay attention to. I decided to write this episode on the TOP 5 brain health strategies that we should all know, and why they are important for Alzheimer’s prevention after I watched Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention[vii]” program last week that dove deep into the strategies involved in preventing Alzheimer’s. I am working on getting Dr. Perlmutter on as a guest here, to dive deeper into these strategies, because I think this topic is of high importance for everyone to understand. We know that Alzheimer’s disease now affects “more than 5 million Americans and is the most common form of dementia, a term that describes a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally.”[viii]

I was interested in learning more on this topic, since it was one of the reasons, we did scan our brain in the first place. The pattern of Alzheimer’s can be seen in the brain years before signs and symptoms show up, so when I saw Dr. Perlmutter’s Alzheimer’s Prevention series, I watched every episode to learn what brain experts across the country are saying about the top ways to prevent this disease, that currently has no know or meaningful treatment but I was given some hope when I learned that “you can change the direction of your cognitive destiny” (From Max Lugavere,[ix] Health and Science Journalist and NYT Bestselling Author, Genius Foods). Here is how we can take control of our health and future, with the TOP 5 health staples that I think we should all know and how they play a role in Alzheimer’s prevention.


Health Staple 1: Daily Exercise: This seems to be the solution for every single brain problem, so I think that this is the most important strategy, and the reason why I block out exercise time on my schedule as non-negotiable. If we can incorporate 30 minutes of brisk walking every day, we will be miles ahead with our brain health. It wasn’t until I started to measure my activity, that I started to see that 30 minutes of walking really did make a difference. I didn’t need to be running or working really hard (like I used to think I had to do) to notice a difference, but I did need to put in some effort to move the needle.  The benefits  of daily, consistent exercise “come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”[x]  If for some reason, this whole idea of exercising still doesn’t sound the least bit interesting to you, you might be surprised like I was, that household activities like vacuuming, or raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart rate up, like shoveling snow (something I haven’t done in years since I moved from Toronto)—but these activities can also fall into the category of moderate exercise. The idea is whatever you choose, that it remains consistent, so it eventually becomes something you do habitually.



If exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation, it would make sense that it also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Studies show that “people who are physically active, have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly have improved thinking.”[xi]


Health Staple 2: Getting Good Quality Sleep: Making sure we are getting at least 7- 8 hours each night. I think that we have seen the importance of sleep with our interview with sleep expert Dr. Shane Creado, on episode #72[xii] and with Dr. Sarah McKay on episode #85.[xiii] It is clear that sleep deprivation causes poor health and performance because it’s not allowing enough time for the brain to wash and clean itself. With less than 7 hours of sleep each night, the “trash”[xiv] builds up in our brain, that leads us farther away from health.  I learned from health expert Darin Olien from the Darin Olien Show[xv] --he’s the one who did the Netflix Docuseries with Zac Efron called “Down to Earth with Zac Efron[xvi]” that studies show that “almost all neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, are created when protein waste accumulates in the brain, which in turn slowly suffocates and kills the brain’s neurons.”[xvii]  We also know that the brain shows lower functioning to important areas when it’s sleep deprived.


Dr. David Perlmutter, on his Alzheimer’s Science of Prevention Series, made a clear case for the fact that “sleep deprivation is directly linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease” and that “sleep plays an important role…impacting our risk for developing this condition.” He went on to remind us that “from a medical perspective, we cannot afford a bad night’s sleep” and that “sleep is essential if we want to retain optimal function of our body and our brains.”[xviii]

Health Staple 3: Eating a Healthy Diet: Eliminating sugar and processed foods. We hear this all the time and know intuitively what feels good when we eat it, and what makes our body feel tired, lethargic and just plain bad. The goal is to eliminate “the brain robbers that steal our energy and do what helps it, not hurts it.”[xix]  There are two specific moments that I remember were life-changing when it came to my diet.

The first was around 2005 when I was seeing a foot doctor, Dr. Richard Jacoby, for foot numbness after exercise, and he asked me to eliminate sugar completely from my diet.  I was looking for solutions to why I couldn’t feel the top of my foot during exercise, and I didn’t show any signs of diabetes, but this doctor was writing a book, that is now released called Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage and Reclaim Good Health[xx]  and he was convinced that sugar intake was at the root of most health problems. He suggested that I take fish oil, and learn to avoid higher glycemic foods, and the results that occurred were so impactful, that I wished I had done this sooner. The benefits of cutting out sugar from my diet only snowballed my health for the better down the road. When I was ready to have children, I was a bit worried that I would have some challenges here, as I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in my late 20s and told that I might need to take fertility drugs to conceive,  but surprisingly, after some tests, my doctor told me that I no longer had this condition, that it appears to have reversed, and she asked me what I had done. The only thing I did was exercise, take fish oil and cut out sugar.

The second life-changing Aha Moment around diet was focused around intermittent fasting, that I talk about in point #5, but it was also eye opening when I started to follow Dave Asprey, the author of the NYT bestseller The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Focus, Upgrade Your Life[xxi] and creator of Bulletproof Coffee[xxii].  Who would ever have thought that putting butter, coconut oil or MCT oil in your coffee would help you to increase your energy and stay lean? I heard this idea first from bodybuilder and fitness expert Jason Wittrock[xxiii] from watching his YouTube channel where he explains exactly what goes into a keto coffee, and why it’s good for your energy levels. He explains the science behind the keto diet and was a great resource for me when I was learning that eating fats, won’t make me fat. Thomas DeLauer[xxiv] is also a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about intermittent fasting, or the ketogenic diet.


Did you know that sugar in the brain “looks like Alzheimer’s” in the brain,  and that “60% of cognitive decline is related to how you handle blood sugar?”[xxv] There was a study that followed “5,189 people over 10 years and found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar—whether or not their blood-sugar level technically made them diabetic. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline.”[xxvi]

Did you know that with Type 2 Diabetes, you have almost double the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, that has no known treatment? If you have type 2 diabetes, your goal would be to do everything that you can to manage your blood sugar, by eating good carbs[xxvii] (complex carbs with fiber),  eat lower glycemic foods[xxviii] that balance your blood sugar levels, instead of throwing them off balance with high levels of sugar.




Above is an image of a healthy brain, from Dr. Amen’s Clinics, showing even, symmetrical and smooth blood flow to all areas in the healthy brain, and the Alzheimer’s brain shows a drop of blood flow to the important parts of the brain

Health Staple 4: Optimizing our Microbiome: Did you know that your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. This microbiome plays an important role in your health by helping to control digestion and benefitting your immune system. Taking a probiotic daily, remaining active, eating a healthy diet and avoiding foods that disrupt our microbiome[xxix] (processed fried foods, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners, are important for our gut/brain health.


There does appear to be a hidden relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and the microbiome in our gut and that “an imbalanced gut microbiome (dysbiosis) could lead to Alzheimer’s disease and wider neuroinflammation through the gut-brain-axis. Promoting ‘good bacteria’ relative to ‘bad bacteria’ in the gut may be important in maintaining good digestive, immune and neurological health.”[xxx] This is still a developing field but taking prebiotics and probiotics[xxxi] are the best way to promote a healthy gut/brain balance.

Health Staple 5: Intermittent Fasting: Has many health benefits[xxxii] that you might have heard of, like the fact it reduces belly fat. I started intermittent fasting around 3 years ago when I was looking to take my health to the next level, and was following some of the well-known body builders, to see what they were doing for their health and fitness. I started the 16-8 program where you fast for 16 hours, and only eat foods in an 8-hour window. I just picked 4 days a week (Sunday to Wednesday) to do this, to see what happened, and the results were obvious. I was able to quickly get down to my goal weight, where I was stuck, and not able to move the needle with exercise alone.


Intermittent fasting has so many other health benefits tied to this practice, like the fact it “fights insulin resistance, lowering your risk of type-2 diabetes, reduces inflammation in the body, is beneficial for heart health, and may prevent cancer.”[xxxiii] If it is fighting insulin resistance, then it is also fighting your risk of Alzheimer’s.


Health Staple 1: Daily Exercise

Health Staple 2: Getting Good Quality Sleep

Health Staple 3: Eating a Healthy Diet

Health Staple 4: Optimizing our Microbiome

Health Staple 5: Intermittent Fasting

Wherever you are with your current health, there is always a way to take your results to the next level. You also don’t need to get bogged down with implementing these ideas in a rush and stressing yourself out in the process.

To get started, pick one area that you want to improve, and work on that one area for the next 90 days.


If you want to improve your daily exercise, but have no idea where to begin, I would start with walking.

Beginners: I remember after a surgery I had that I could barely walk to the bottom of my driveway and remember thinking how frustrating that was. Listen to your body and start with short distances.  I would wake up early, at 4am (since I didn’t want the whole world watching me struggle to walk short distances) and I could walk from the bottom of my driveway to the end of the street. I did that every day for a week and then added a longer distance that lasted 15 minutes. After a few weeks, I was walking longer distances and longer amounts of time, showing me that progress is possible, with regular, consistent activity.

Moderate to Advanced: If you have plateaued with your current exercise routine, have you tried working with a trainer? Many are available for zoom/video calls during this time if your gym is still closed, or if you don’t have one. The key is to do something that you have not done before, to get new and different results.


  1. Have you watched our interview with sleep expert Dr. Shane Creado, on episode #72[xxxiv] and with Dr. Sarah McKay on episode #85?[xxxv]
  2. If you are waking up and feel tired, or not rested, have you considered getting a sleep study to test the quality and quantity of your sleep?
  3. Take inventory of your sleep. Are you getting at least 7-8.5 hours/each night?
  4. Have you ever used an app to measure your sleep?


  1. Do you avoid processed foods?
  2. Have you ever thought about cutting out sugar?
  3. Do you choose healthy carbs and fats?
  4. Do you choose whole foods vs processed foods?


  1. Do you take a probiotic?
  2. Do you know what foods help/hurt or damage your microbiome?


  1. If fasting for 16 hours with an 8 hour eating window seems too much, try 12 hours fasting and 12 hours eating to begin. Try it for a few days a week, and just see if you feel better fasting than when you eat like you normally would. If you feel better, you can always experiment with different fasting methods, and see where you feel best.


I hope you have found this episode helpful, and I that you did learn something new. Please do send me a message on social media and let me know what you think.  I really do believe that if we want to improve our social, emotional and cognitive abilities, it all starts with an understanding of our brain, and these TOP 5 strategies seem to move the needle the most, especially when it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s and other diseases that I know we all want to avoid.

See you next week.



How Dallas Stars Executive. Tom Holy, used COVID-19 to Lose 100 pounds.



[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #84 “How a SPECT Image Brain Scan Can Change Your Life” PART 3 with Andrea Samadi


[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #82 “How a SPECT Image Brain Scan Can Change Your Brain and Life” PART 1 with Doug Sutton


[iii] Dr. Amen’s Brain M.D.


[iv] Luc Depron, former actor, turned lifestyle and fitness expert and host of The Live Great Lifestyle Podcast


[v] Team Understanding and Improving Your Cognitive Health


[vi] Luc Depron, host of Live Great Lifestyle on Understanding Your Brain Function and Performance


[vii] Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention”


[viii] 10 Early Alzheimer’s Symptoms That You Should Know



[ix] Max Lugavere, Health and Science Journalist and NYT Bestselling Author, Genius Foods.


[x] Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills by Heidi Goodman, April 2014


[xi] Alzheimer’s Disease: Can Exercise Prevent Memory Loss April 2019


[xii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #72 with Shane Creado on “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes”


[xiii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #85 with Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies That We Should All Know About.”


[xiv] Darin Olien “The Sleep Position to Detoxify Your Brain”


[xv] The Darin Olien Show


[xvi] Down to Earth with Zac Efron (co-host Darin Olien)


[xvii] Darin Olien “The Sleep Position to Detoxify Your Brain”


[xviii] Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention” EPISODE 10 on Sleep


[xix] Dr. Daniel Amen “7 Simple Brain-Promoting Nutritonal Tips”


[xx] Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage and Reclaim Good Health by Dr. Richard Jacoby (April 2014)


[xxi] Dave Asprey The Bulletproof Diet


[xxii] Bulletproof Coffee


[xxiii] Fitness expert Jason Wittrock on “What goes into Keto Coffee”


[xxiv] Fitness and Health Expert Thomas DeLauer


[xxv] Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention” EPISODE 5

[xxvi] The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer’s by Olga Khazan Jan. 26, 2018


[xxvii] Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs


[xxviii] Lower Glycemic Foods


[xxix] 11 Ways Your Life Can Disrupt the Gut Microbiome


[xxx] Alzheimer’s Disease and the Microbiome by Oman Shabir


[xxxi] What is the Difference Between a Prebiotic and a Probiotic


[xxxii] 11 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting


[xxxiii] 11 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting


[xxxiv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #72 with Shane Creado on “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes”


[xxxv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #85 with Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies That We Should All Know About.”


University of Phoenix President Peter Cohen on “A Positive Vision for K-12 and Higher Ed Campuses”

University of Phoenix President Peter Cohen on “A Positive Vision for K-12 and Higher Ed Campuses”

September 16, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #86 with Peter Cohen, who was appointed the eighth president of University of Phoenix in April, 2017[i], bringing more than 20 years of leadership in the education and learning science sectors. Watch the YouTube interview here. 

My name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field, with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are an educator, or is the corporate space, to take your results to the next level.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Peter Cohen today.

As the 8th President of the University of Phoenix, Peter has been focused on further accelerating the University-wide transformation in service of its vision to be recognized as the most trusted provider of career-relevant higher education for working adults. After 20 years of leadership in the field of education, he brings a deep understanding of the potential for technology to improve the quality of education—an understanding he has developed through a career focused on innovation in service of students and improved learning outcomes.

Prior to his work at the University of Phoenix, many of us from the Educational Publishing world, would know Peter when he was the CEO of Pearson Education’s School Group, (where I first met him) or Group President of U.S. Education at McGraw-Hill, overseeing the company's U.S. K-12 and higher education businesses where he helped the organization reimagine learning in the digital world. Peter was on the forefront of change in the education industry, driving the both company’s roll out of multiple technology tools, which is why I reached out to him, at a time when technology has never been so important in our lives.

Welcome Peter!


 Thank you so much for being available with your time to share your knowledge and vision for the state of education, at a time where we really need a positive angle. Just to give our listeners some background, I first met you when you came on board as the CEO of Pearson Education’s School Group, when I was working for Pearson Digital Learning, (for the K-12 School Market) in the Chandler, Arizona offices. This was back in 2008, and I can still remember your introductory speech to our group, like it was yesterday. We were all packed into a tiny room, full of sales reps, and our managers, all with the hopes of making an impact on student learning in the classroom.  I remember as you stool at the front, that your passion for education and making a difference with student learning was evident back then.

Q1: Can you give us a snapshot of your background, and why you have always been so passionate about education, specifically with the power of technology, making education accessible and engaging for everyone?

Q2: Fast forward 12 years, from that day we first met at Pearson, I don’t think any of us in that room would have predicted the surge and importance of online learning, as we see it today. I say this with some disappointment with the group that you spoke to back then, Pearson’s Digital Division, that no longer exists.  From your point of view, what is the state of education as you see it today with the power of bringing online learning to the forefront in our K-12 schools as well as your vision for higher ed campuses?

Q3: I saw an article you shared on social media that highlighted a positive point of view of the power of connection that higher ed plays an important role with[ii]. I thoroughly enjoyed my University years, and then had the opportunity to work with Higher Ed campuses in the southwest here, with Pearson’s Longman division before I was with the Digital Team, and I know you have a birds-eye view of what’s happening in Higher Education across the country. I wonder what you are seeing with the first few weeks back to school on many campuses. Can you share what you think can help students to stay connected so they don’t feel so isolated these days?

Q4: Peter, the whole reason I launched this podcast a year ago, was to bring awareness to the fact that “Success in life, and in college and career specifically, relies on student’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.” I wanted to not only focus on the importance of these skills in our K-12 schools, but with the fact that students must continue this learning after high school, into college and then take these skills into their career. What skills do you think are important for students to learn immediately that they can take into the workplace, to guarantee future success?

Q5: I didn’t mention that I did work at University of Phoenix prior to Pearson, in the International Division, and my husband got his MBA from U of P so we are a U of P family. I remember that back then, the biggest hurdle students had to overcome with their decision to study online was whether an online degree held the same weight as an in-person degree. I saw how quickly students could transfer credits they had already earned from other institutions and put them towards their degree to save time and money. What initiatives has U of P been focused on, knowing that many students may consider traditional online learning to earn their degree?

Q6: Is there anything that is important, that you think we have missed?

Thank you so much for your time today, Peter. It’s been wonderful to see you again and connect in person. It really is a testament that none of us know who we are impacting in the room, when we are standing at the front, as a leader, paving the path. Thanks for all you do for your employees and for the future of eduction.

If anyone is considering an online degree at U o P[iii], is the best way to go to and search for their degree of interest for traditional campuses across the US and online courses available for students around the world? I did also see you have COVID-19 response initiatives that I’ve posted in the show notes, for students and staff at U of P, in addition to your Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages.  Thanks so much Peter.


Peter Cohen’s Response to COVID-19 YouTube Uploaded March 27,2020

University of Phoenix’s COVID-19 Response Initiatives

University of Phoenix YouTube Channel

University of Phoenix Twitter

University of Phoenix Facebook

Awarding up to $1 million in scholarships

Social and Racial Inequities Webinar:

October 1-8th University of Phoenix is co-hosting a webinar series with the National Diversity Council called “Conversations in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” REGISTER.


[i] University of Phoenix hires new President (April 26, 2017)

[ii] Believing in our Students by Austin Sarat (Posted Sept. 3, 2020)


Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay on “High-Performing Brain Health Strategies That We Should All Know About and Implement”

Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay on “High-Performing Brain Health Strategies That We Should All Know About and Implement”

September 12, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #85 with Dr. Sarah McKay, an Australian neuroscientist, speaker, author, media personality and founder and director of Think Brain and the Neuroscience Academy suite of training programs whose purpose is to explain the brain so you can apply neurobiology to your life and work, which is exactly what we are focused on with this podcast. You can watch the YouTube interview here. 

My name is Andrea Samadi, and if you are new here, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, to take your results to the next level.

I encourage everyone who wants to learn more about the brain to go to Dr. McKay’s website[i] and learn more about her books, online courses, workshops, writing, teaching and online training programs that she has created so you can easily access, understand and implement evidence-based neuroscience strategies into your everyday life and work. 

But here is where things get exciting. You’ve GOT to watch Dr. Sarah McKay’s TEDx on “Indulging Your Neurobiology[ii]” that has over 27,000 views. I’ve seen Sarah speak many times over the years, and most recently just last week, as she was a speaker in Helen Maffini’s Preschool Neuroscience Summit[iii] where I also spoke, so I watched her session to get some ideas for how I would connect her knowledge, to the topics of the podcast, to help those listening understand her knowledge and insight as she is an expert on “explaining the brain” and then applying brain strategies to your life. You’ll learn more about Dr. McKay’s TEDx, her most recent book, The Women’s Brain Book, and some important brain strategies that I have picked out that I think we all should be aware of.

Welcome Sarah, it’s wonderful to speak with you in person after following your work since I first heard you speak on John Assaraf’s Brain-a-Thon in 2017. I just had no idea until I was preparing my questions for you, that your work would tie directly into what I am working on right now.

Before we get to the questions, I’ve got to tell you that the first minute of your TEDx Talk, I almost dropped my pen as I was taking notes, as it is all about the importance of sleep, or taking naps, and our brain health. The last 3 podcast episodes I’ve done, were about the importance of getting a spect image brain scan, if you want to optimize your results by looking at your brain, and in EPISODE #84, I share the results of my brain scan from Dr. Amen’s Clinics that revealed my brain might be showing areas of cognitive weakness due to not enough sleep. We can hear strategies to improve our brain over and over again, but unless we actually begin to implement them, we will not have the opportunities that comes along with enhancing the brain.

Intro question: I know we’ve heard it over and over again, but coming from an expert on explaining the brain, can you explain, why is sleep so important for our neurobiology?

Q1: Sarah, I just love your work, but I also love the story behind you that you can see on your website “about[iv]” section.  I relate to it, partly because I would love to live on the beaches of Australia, but also, it was a book that changed the direction of my life. How exactly did Oliver Sack’s book impact you so profoundly that you became fascinated with the human brain that launched you into the work you do today “explaining the brain” with your books, presentations and courses?

Q2: I was reading your book this weekend, The Women’s Brain Book: The Neuroscience of Health, Hormones, and Happiness[v] and it caught my eye in chapter 2 on childhood, the question “Are resilient children born or made?” especially since resiliency was a part of my spect image brain scan results (Dr Amen measures resiliency as a part of brain-health) and t’s a topic we have covered on a few different episodes, specifically with resiliency expert Horatio Sanchez on episode 74[vi] who talks about the risks facts that predict resiliency. I know that we all want to raise resilient children who can bounce back after challenge and adversity, and we want it for ourselves as well. So what is the secret to raising adaptable, resilient children, who don’t get easily stressed who you say “are like dandelions: (where) they’ll grow and thrive anywhere.”  (Page 56 of The Women’s Brain Book).

Q3: Since depression and anxiety are at an all-time high these days, with a rise in cases since the coronavirus pandemic, I wonder if you can share what you know about this topic. Can depression be seen in the brain? What does it look like, and how does the depressed brain work? How is it different from an otherwise healthy brain?


Q4: The whole reason why my husband and I went to Dr. Amen’s Clinics and got our brains scanned was to optimize our health by looking at our brain. What do you think are some of the most important things we should ALL be doing to optimize our brain health? What are some practices that you are focused on to keep your brain healthy? I know you are going to talk about the staple strategies like eat healthy, exercise, and getting more sleep, but I wonder specifically as an expert on “explaining the brain” what are you doing?

Q5: Is there anything I have missed that you think is important?

Thank you so much Sarah, for your time today. If someone wants to learn more about you, they can go to (to apply Ns to your life)  and learn  how they can access your TEDx, books, and online courses.



The Orchid and the Dandelion | Thomas Boyce | TEDxPaloAlto YouTube uploaded May 24, 2019

ENIGMA: Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics Through Meta Analysis

FREE TOOL KIT  to gain access to the FREE applied brain science tool kit where you can discover how to use neuroscience wisely.



[ii] Dr. Sarah McKay “Indulging Your Neurobiology” YouTube uploaded May 29, 2015

[iii] Helen Maffini’s Preschool Neuroscience Summit


[v] The Women’s Brain Book by Dr. Sarah McKay (March 2018)

[vi] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast episode #74 with Horatio Sanchez


BRAIN SCAN RESULTS “How a Spect Scan Can Change Your Life” with Andrea Samadi PART 3

BRAIN SCAN RESULTS “How a Spect Scan Can Change Your Life” with Andrea Samadi PART 3

September 4, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #84. This is PART 3 of our past 2 episodes on “How Looking at Your Brain Can Change Your Life” with a deeper dive into What We Learned from Getting a SPECT Image Brain Scan at Dr. Amen’s Clinic in Costa Mesa, CA. The results are in (or at least mine are). My husband’s results won’t be in until next week. The reason I’m sharing my findings is so that you can see how important it is to look at your brain. It’s not important to know my results specifically, but  how someone can be doing all the right things, and still have the ability to take their results to the next level with what they learn from looking at their brain. I hope that you can take away some new insights that open your eyes to why brain-health is so important, and consider looking at your brain, if you can.

Read this episode here for larger images:

Just a quick update for those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring awareness, ideas and strategies to our most pressing issues facing educators in their workplace, or parents working from home or in the corporate space, to keep us all working at our highest levels of productivity. The goal is to bring the most current brain research and practical neuroscience, connected to our social and emotional skills, to take our results to the next level. We can do this when we do everything with our brain in mind, since our brain controls pretty much everything that we do.

This episode, we are looking at How a Brain Scan can change your life. I mentioned the results of my brain scan are here, but first, just to review, PART 1 of this Brain Scan Series, we spoke with my friend Doug Sutton[i], who had a SPECT image brain scan a few years ago when he was noticing low energy and brain fog. He went to Dr. Amen’s Clinics, one of the most respected psychiatrists in the country, who began looking at the brain, taking his practice to a whole new level. Dr. Amen believes that “when your brain works right, you work right” and his work is focused on helping people improve their lives by improving their brains. The decision to get a brain scan completely changed Doug’s life and gave him an entirely new perspective of this organ that controls pretty much everything that he does. His scan showed him that he had been exposed to toxic mold that might have been contributing to some of the health issues he was having, and he learned about things that could have harmed his brain (competitive kickboxing that he did in his early 20s) that gave him a new perspective of this organ he had not thought twice about in the past. He kept up with his treatment plan and has never been happier, and sharper, mentioning the experience to be life changing.

PART 2, was about my husband and I’s visit to Amen Clinics[ii] in CA. We made the decision to get a brain scan after interviewing Dr. Shane Creado from EPISODE #72[iii] on sleep strategies. It was Dr. Creado who suggested “why don’t you just go and get your brain scanned” when I asked him specific questions to help optimize my brain after our interview. In PART 2, I did review what a SPECT image brain scan is, what it can detect, and the main thing that we are looking for, is to see what type of brain we have based on the amount of blood flow going to the Prefrontal Cortex that controls our Executive Functions, as well as anything that he could see that would be important for us to know now, (Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be seen years before symptoms show up) so we could work on optimizing our brain for improved results.

The scan could tell us that we have the perfect amount of blood flow to our brain (which I don’t think is the case or we probably wouldn’t have gone), too little—that Dr. Amen calls hypofrontality) since “hypo” is a prefix that means “less” like hypothermia means being too cold, and frontality meaning the frontal lobes of our brain (the prefrontal cortex where all of our thinking and planning takes place) or too much blood flow, that he would say is hyperfrontality. I made a prediction that I think my husband has a lower blood flow, or a sleepier brain, and that I have more blood flow activity to the PFC, or what he calls a busy brain. I made this guess by following Dr. Amen’s courses, Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast and from reading his most recent books.  I’m curious to see how accurate my prediction is.

If you remember from the last episode, I mentioned actress Laura Clery getting a SPECT scan, and she had cameras follow her from start to finish. Her results are also in[iv], and you can watch her meeting with Dr. Amen to see what she learned.  There were some incredible Aha! Moments for me watching Laura’s results prior to hearing mine, starting with the fact that the X test we had to take was designed to identify whether someone has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or not. If you watched Laura’s test, she swore a lot and found it very difficult. My husband said the exact same thing—that the test drove him crazy.  Another interesting fact—this test that drove my husband and Laura crazy, is sold by Pearson Assessments[v], the sister company where my husband and I both worked, 15 years ago. Back then we didn’t know anything about the importance of looking at our brain, and it never crossed our minds to take an assessment ourselves to test our own cognitive abilities.

Dr. Amen also went over with Laura a second test that was designed to measure attention span, and he does think from her results that she has ADD and Laura agrees that it makes sense to her, so they created a treatment plan that can take her results to a whole new level once her brain is working at it’s best.  

Here are my results:

BRAIN HEALTH SCORES: Thinking (3.3/10), Emotion (7.3/10) Feeling (6.7/10) and Self-Regulation (9.3/10)



If I didn’t score so high on the emotional part of my brain, (emotion, feeling and self-regulation) I probably would have cried when I saw the results. I’m fully aware of the fact that a brain with holes shows an increase of at least 45% drop in blood flow and I saw a bunch of holes at first glance.  But my overall score showed I can control my emotions, so I didn’t, especially not in front of Dr. Creado.  He said my resilience levels were higher than many of the elite athletes that he’s tested, explaining to me that backbone of persistence I know I have of never giving up and pushing forward when things are difficult.  I can handle pretty stressful situations and can bounce back. We did cover resilience with brain-science and resiliency expert Horatio Sanchez on episode 74[vi] where he dove really deep into what exactly resilience is, how we can develop it in ourselves and our children and why it’s such an important life skill. This was a powerful episode to revisit because resiliency is one of those life skills we want for ourselves and our children. 

What Needs Help:

The difficult part to see was my thinking brain, where all my executive functions occur. These scores were low, specifically recall memory (we were asked to recall a list of words, and after remembering 5 or 6 words, I just gave up). I think I did this because I know that the brain can only hold a certain amount of information. Dr. Creado reminded me that my belief is important here and I agree. Where does this skill show up in my life? There have been times my husband has asked me to pick him up somewhere, and instead of just telling me the address, he’s given me a list of directions and I know I’ve lost what he’s saying after the 7th turn and stop listening, saying “just send me the address.” So we have all learned life hacks to compensate for areas of cognitive weakness, but now that I am aware of it, I can strengthen this skill. I am reminded again, how would I have known, if I didn’t look.

Processing speed (the amount of times I could hit a key on the keyboard) was also low. I’m still learning about where this skill shows up in my life but will take Dr. Creado’s suggestions seriously. Motor Coordination, controlled attention, flexibility, inhibition, and working memory were all at the expected range.

He could see a lot about my personality and how I work by looking at these scores. Doug Sutton mentioned in his interview #82 that he thinks getting a SPECT image brain scan should be a mandatory part of the hiring process in the corporate world since it reveals so much about a person. There’s no way you can hide with this snapshot of your brain. Dr. Creado saw that “I like things done my way, and that I don’t like a sudden change of plans” and having a high degree of structure in my life (which is what I need) helps me to achieve what I’m doing and is indicative of the high scores of the emotional brain. I wouldn’t operate at the level I am without these high scores.

The X Test

For the X test or the Connor’s Continuous Performance Test scores, a lower score is better and Dr. Creado let me know that my scores showed that when I wanted to perform on this test, I had the ability to focus and do well. After doing many of these brain scans, he has noticed that people who have weaker executive functions in their brain can develop life hacks to help them to focus and concentrate when they need to. But the problem is, that with time, and not working on brain health, it will just be more difficult to keep up with these life hacks. Eventually, the brain will not be able to keep up with the hack which is why it’s so important to look and see what’s happening in your brain. You won’t know any of this, without looking.


Surface Area of My Brain

Now let’s go to the surface area of the brain. Dr. Creado is looking for smoothness, symmetry and shape.


There are a lot of areas that are functioning well, and other areas that are not. The holes show at least 45% drop in blood flow to that area, not meaning there are physical holes, but that neurons are not firing in those areas. The temporal lobes, frontal lobes, top part and bottom part all show a hole, or reduced blood flow to that area.


Traumatic Brain Injury, Toxic Chemicals and Sleep

I do have the pattern of a traumatic brain injury and I described that I hit my head on a pool deck in the late 1990s while competing in a triathlon.  Head injuries typically have this pattern, but other things (my brain looks similar to my friend Doug’s who had toxic mold exposure which got me thinking about the cleaning products I use to clean my house with) can also affect these areas. This area can be affected by lack of regular exercise (not an issue for me), lack of meditation (not an issue for me), or inadequate sleep or sleep apnea (aha—not sure if this is it, but we will do a sleep study and see if I am getting enough oxygen to the brain at night). Dr. Creado thinks I am doing a lot of things right, but he doesn’t like how my brain looks, so we will be doing a bit more investigation around what is happening to this part of the brain.


He also suggests sleeping longer than 6.5 hours, that I might need 7.5 hours (to get 5 sleep cycles), so I will take his advice and work on a change in schedule to see if I notice any improvements. With someone doing a lot of things right, he didn’t expect to see this pattern in my PFC.  The good news is that he didn’t see the pattern of Alzheimer’s or dementia that can show up years before symptoms occur.

Dr. Creado showed me that this is the typical pattern of a traumatic brain injury.


The Emotional Brain

My emotional brain showed to be really underactive. He wonders if it’s from the TBI, or from chronic neck pain I’ve always had, or sleep apnea (that we will check). He wants me to do balance exercises to stimulate activity in the cerebellum. I do hike and jump often from rock to rock without any difficulty, so have not noticed any issue with balance or coordination. He sees a lack of dopamine to the frontal lobes, and would prescribe medicine for this, but I prefer going the natural route, which makes sense why I know I need daily intensive exercise before I can sit at my desk and work.  It’s like I know the neurotransmitter that my body needs (dopamine) and I’ve learned to find ways to create it naturally.


The deep limbic system is the brightest part of my emotional brain, which explains why I can easily control my mood. He sees this area overactive in people who hold themselves to high standards and can see the work I am doing that I need this area to work this way, or be a bit of a perfectionist, so this area is working as it should. He just cautions me to watch that if this area is too overactive, that I could go down the path of self-doubt, shame and guilt. There are great supplements that I had started taking about a year ago that can help balance this area of the brain (5HTP that boosts serotonin) can help with this, so I will see if he recommends me taking more than I was taking before.

Brain Scan Conclusion:

Dr.Creado thought that this evaluation was going to be smooth sailing for him when he saw the work I am doing, and the fact that I am doing a lot of things right, but he thinks that my brain still needs some work. I will get to work now on what he suggests I do to optimize my brain health to improve blood flow to the executive functions of my brain. After thinking about some of Dr. Creado’s questions and comments (that my brain looks similar to someone with a sleep deprived brain) I’ll take his advice seriously and work on an extra hour of sleep. I also thought about how much my brain looks like my friend Doug’s, (with toxic mold/chemical exposure)  and I do spend a lot of time cleaning my house, so I will re-think how I am cleaning and the products I am using.

If you want to learn more about your own brain type, or want to optimize your brain like we did, just look up the number and call Amen Clinics. If a SPECT scan is not for you, you can take Dr. Amen’s Thrive by 25 Course[vii] that dives deeper into different parts of the brain where you can see if you recognize yourself and your own behaviors, which is what I did before we actually looked at our brain. I was accurate with the fact that I have a busy brain, and my we will find out my husband’s results next week. You can also read Dr. Amen’s most recent book The End of Mental Illness[viii] where he takes a deeper dive into different brain types, along with their SPECT scans, with strategies he recommends for each type.

Why is Optimizing the Prefrontal Cortex So Important?

I learned that there are strategies that create more brain reserve, or energy, and the more brain reserve we have, the more resilient we are and the better our brain can handle the aging process to keep “mental health” disorders at bay. There are many different factors for how one person can have more brain reserve than another, but it stems from family history, or what types of injuries or trauma you’ve experienced in your past. After looking at my results, you can see there were many different factors that contributed to what Dr. Creado saw, and we still have some work to do on pinpointing ways to further optimize my prefrontal cortex or thinking brain.

The decisions we make and the habits we engage in on a daily basis are either boosting or stealing our brain’s reserve and are either accelerating the aging process or rejuvenating our brain. When we can grasp this concept, we realize that we have a lot of influence on the health and age of our brain, as well as on our own mental and physical health.

Especially during this time where we don’t yet know exactly how the coronavirus can impact the brain, and our future, I think it is important to learn more about our brain, protect it better, and take our seriousness towards our health to a new level.

Improving the Prefrontal Cortex or Executive Functions of the Brain:

Keep in mind that we want to protect the most important part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, since it is that part of the brain that controls our focus, forethought, judgement, impulse control, organization, planning, and empathy.  It’s this part of our brain that we want to strengthen to improve our future and the part of my brain that I know I need to work on.

Dr. Amen was the principal investigator on the first and largest brain imaging study on active and retired NFL players who showed high levels of damage but who also had a high chance of recovery using the strategies he suggests after a brain scan. He did notice that many football players had a similar pattern on their brain after years of damage. Their brains were all flattened on the top, right where their executive functions were housed due to the consistent and repetitive motion of hitting the athletes head in a forward motion. We did cover tips to strengthen your brain and cognition in EPISODE #23 on “Understanding the Difference Between our Mind and Our Brain”[ix] but here’s a review.

Let’s say you are ready to make some changes with your brain health. When you are curious and interested, you will be ready to put in the effort needed to work hard and concentrate on new information. You must also be relaxed in order to consolidate this new information that you will be learning. In his book Words Can Change Your Brain[x]  Mark Robert Waldman outlines his brain-scan research suggesting that “the strategies incorporated in mindfulness could strengthen the neural circuits associated with empathy, compassion and moral decision making.” This demonstrates just how powerful it can be to stop and think and incorporate a daily meditation practice. Exercise and meditation did help my emotional response scores. Take some time to stop and think about these tips of how to improve your brain and life.

We all want to have a better brain and life and getting a SPECT scan was a first step towards this. After the results, I was able to look at the what Dr. Amen calls the 4 Circles of Brain Health[xi] where he reminds us that 51% of the population will struggle with a mental health challenge at some point in their life. He suggests you think about these four areas when looking at making changes to improve our life.

  1. Biological: How your brain and body works. Are you eating right, exercising and taking the right supplements? What genetic vulnerabilities do you have? Do you know what they are?
  2. Spiritual: Why are you here? Do you know your purpose and vision beyond yourself, how can you can contribute to the community or world?
  3. Psychological: How Your Mind Works. What makes you who you are (self-talk, body image, sense of self-worth, hope, and power over your own life).
  4. Social: Who Else is in Your Life? What is the quality of your life, relationships, and how do you give back to the world with your talents/skills?

This experience really did open my eyes to what Dr. Amen says all the time.  “We don’t know know, unless we look” and I’m glad I looked at my brain. I wasn’t expecting to see it looking like it did, but it did answer some questions for me. I know now why meditation and exercise are so important, because my brain works best with this boost in dopamine. I can either create it myself, and also find other natural, healthy ways to keep my dopamine levels higher, including working on sleep, taking the right balance of supplements, and keeping up with the activities that have been working for me in the past. I will keep you posted as how the work begins when I receive some strategies to improve and optimize my brain. I know they will involve some sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, (many of NHL and NFL players have been treated successfully for head injuries at Amen Clinics with this type of therapy), supplements, a sleep study, and interactive metronome activities to increase blood flow to my cerebellum.

The older we get, the more serious we need to be about the health of our brain. This experience showed me the reality of looking at this organ that controls everything that I do, and in order to optimize it, I need to know exactly what is happening with it.


I hope you found this 3-part brain scan series helpful, and that it has lit a fire for you to take your brain health to the next level. I know it lit a fire under me to make some changes, and scared me enough to be grateful that we did take the time to look at our brains, so that we can focus on brain optimization and health with true understanding of what’s really happening at the brain level. How would you ever know, unless you look.

See you next week!


[i] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #82 with Doug Sutton on “How a Brain Scan Changed my Life.” PART 1

[ii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPSIODE #83 with Andrea Samadi on “What is a SPECT Brain Scan and How Can it Change Your Life?”

[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #72 with Dr. Shane Creado on “Sleep Strategies that Will Guarantee a Competitive Advantage.”

[iv] Actress Laura Clery SPECT Scan Results with Dr. Amen (start video at 4 minutes where she arrives at Dr. Amen’s Clinic).

[v] Conners Continuous Performance Test

[vi] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #74 with brain-science and resiliency expert Horatio Sanchez

[vii] Thrive by 25 Online Course

[viii] Dr. Daniel Amen, The End of Mental Illness (March 2020)

[ix] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #23 “Understanding the Difference Between Your Mind and Brain”

[x] Andrew Newburg M .D and Mark Robert Waldman, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” (The Penguin Group, New York, New York) Page 12

[xi] Dr. Daniel Amen, The End of Mental Illness (March 2020)


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