Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for episode #128 with a review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More.[i]
Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, and every 14 minutes, someone in the country commits suicide, and it’s the 2nd leading cause of death for young people, I thought it was important to cover the one person, the leading expert on this topic, who has a goal to eliminate the stigma around mental illness with the understanding of brain health, and that’s with the world-renowned psychiatrist, brain disorder specialist, New York Times best-selling author and director of Amen Clinics, Dr. Daniel Amen.
We’ve had his daughter on the podcast, Chloe Amen, for episode #11[ii] with the book that she helped Dr. Amen to write, Change your Brain, Change Your Grades and we have definitely asked Dr. Amen and his wife Tana to join us on the podcast. We understand that his schedule is tight between running Amen Clinics[iii], The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast[iv], and making television appearances, like his recent episode with Dr. Oz[v], but we are still working with this with his staff and his schedule with the hope that we can get him on, to give my husband and I a quick overview of our brain scans, and hopefully shed some light on why a brain scan can change your life for those listening.
Visiting Dr. Amen’s Costa Mesa clinic was eye-opening, especially from the point of view of two people who didn’t have any obvious symptoms, just to gain more awareness into our health and well-being. It was a process that I think everyone could gain awareness from, whether you are having symptoms that you would like to dive deeper into, or not. If you haven’t yet seen the 3-part series on where I outline what exactly a spect image brain scans, and how it can change your life, you can listen to it here.[vi]
For those who are listening that might be interested like we were in visiting his offices, it’s a simple process. Just go to www.AmenClinics.com and schedule a call with their offices to help you to find the best location to visit (in the US) and the best solution for you.
There’s no doubt that Dr. Amen is disrupting psychiatry with his brain scans, and the evidence is there on the wall at his clinics. You will see in plain view as you walk to his office, the famous studies he’s conducted. Dr. Amen has published “more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles, including some of the largest brain imaging studies ever done…if you type in ‘brain spect’ in the National Library of Medicine’s website www.pubmed.gov it will return more than 14,000 scientific abstracts.”[vii]
Dr. Amen was the “principal investigator on the first and largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study on active and retired NFL players, showing high levels of damage, but also the possibility of recovery for many, using the principles in his book…Dr. Amen was also a consultant on the 2015 movie Concussion starring Will Smith”[viii]
Since this information is so valuable, I wanted to cover the highlights of his book, The End of Mental Illness that I know we could all benefit from reading. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who is impacted in some way with their mental health, and Dr. Amen says it pretty clearly that “most of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetime—and that “normal” is a myth..that 51% of us will have a mental health issue (post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, an eating disorder)”[ix] showing me that it’s more normal to have a problem, than not.
When you pick up your copy of this book, (even if you aren’t ready to buy a copy, you can get a free sample on Amazon using the Kindle version) and just scan through the leaders in the health and wellness industry in the beginning.
You’ll see Dr. David Perlmutter who we’ve mentioned often on this podcast, with his Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention Series,[x] Mark Hyman[xi], who appeared in Dr. Perlmutter’s series, Dr. Andrew Newberg[xii], director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University, who we had on the podcast for EPISODE #88[xiii] and many other well-known names from the sports industry, medicine, and education.
In the first few pages of this book, Dr. Amen poses the question, “What if mental health was brain health?” which brings us back to our goal with this podcast, to bridge the gap that exists in our schools and workplaces that begins with an understanding of our brain.
Part 1 of the book gives a history of mental health over the years, with some tips for brain health that can change your life. You will see some SPECT image scans and case studies and begin to see how some common brain health issues like depression, anxiety, TBI, substance abuse, or Alzheimer’s Disease show up in the brain vs a healthy brain scan image.
Part 2 of the book explains the BRIGHT MINDS acronym which is a guide for well-being with the brain in mind. We will cover the BRIGHT part on this episode.
Part 3 of the book offers strategies that can be used in schools and the workplace to end mental illness with a focus on brain health.
We believe that well-being is the key to achievement and that an understanding of our brain health is behind the success our students will experience in the classroom, and then take with them for future success in the workplace.
There’s no better place to learn about the brain, health, and well-being, than Dr. Amen. For this episode, if you would like to improve your mood, energy, focus and sleep, I’ll be using the acronym that Dr. Amen uses, (BRIGHT MINDS) with six tips to help us to improve brain health and function. This book also has an online class you can access for free on YouTube.[xiv]
You can learn more about the acronym BRIGHT MINDS in Part 2 of The End of Mental Illness with the idea that in order to have a healthy brain, you must have a healthy mind.
Dr. Amen mentions at the start of the book that we want to create as much “brain reserve” as we can as we age “since the more brain reserve you have, the more resilient you are and the better your brain can handle the aging process to keep mental health disorders at bay.”[xv]
Although we have all been exposed to stressors to our brain in our lifetime, whether we have had an injury or not, we all have had some of our brain reserve depleted from our day-to-day life experience. Here are six tips and strategies that are a good starting point when looking at our brain/mind health.
6 TIPS FOR IMPROVED BRAIN HEALTH
B- Blood Flow: “If your brain doesn't get enough blood flow its function will be compromised”[xvi] so Dr. Amen believes “the number one strategy to support your brain and mental health is to protect, nurture, and optimize your heart and blood vessels”[xvii] and exercise pumps blood to the brain.
DID YOU KNOW THAT “Blood vessels age, not your brain cells? Keep blood vessels healthy so blood flows to your brain.”[xviii]
Keep your blood vessels healthy with moderate exercise 5 days/week and weight training 3 times/week. I know we all have heard how important exercise is for our health, it’s one of the top 5 health staples we have been covering on the podcast, but have you thought about it from this point of view? Keeping our heart healthy, keeps our blood vessels healthy, and helps blood flow to our brain. When you follow Dr. Amen’s work, you will quickly learn how important blood flow is to the brain. When looking at a brain scan with holes, the hole you see represent a 45% drop in blood flow to that area and it’s important to understand ways to increase blood flow to your brain (like with exercise and diet) as well as what lowers blood flow in your brain (more than 2 cups of caffeine/day, smoking, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol use).[xix]
R: Retirement/Aging: “When your brain stops learning, your brain starts dying.”[xx]
DID YOU KNOW: “That negative thoughts release chemicals in your brain that make you feel bad?”[xxi] It’s important to always be learning something new to keep the brain active, growing, and healthy and that we hold a positive mindset.
It’s important to find activities that we enjoy keeping us learning and growing and staying positive as we age. What I think is interesting is that activities we might have enjoyed doing 10 years ago, might have changed, so be open to trying something new, since your brain loves novelty and novelty makes us happy.[xxii] The more connected we are to what makes us happy, the more we can continue to contribute to the world, helping others and continue our lives with a sense of purpose.
I: Inflammation: “Which is your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system.”[xxiii] Amen explains that the word inflammation comes from “the Latin word inflammare, meaning to set on fire”[xxiv]
DID YOU KNOW “That a poor, inflammatory diet leads to less energy production in the brain?” (Ari Whitten, The New Science of Energy)[xxv] Dr. Amen explains that “Just as it can ravage your body, it can also damage your brain and mind. It’s been associated with a wide range of neurological and psychiatric illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.”[xxvi]
BRAIN TIP: Keep your gut microbiome healthy, to maintain good brain health. We covered this topic on episode #93 with Dr. Vuyisich[xxvii] and it’s important to understand what creates an imbalance in our gut microbiome (stress, excessive alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and certain medications) while adding probiotics, being careful about taking antibiotics, and taking Omega-3 fatty acids[xxviii], can all reduce inflammation and improve brain health.
G: Genetics: “Your history is not your destiny.” (Dr. Amen). I loved the dedication to this book: To Alize and Amelie, Your history is not your destiny. Let’s end mental illness with your generation.” You will see this dedication after the reviews of this book in the beginning and if you don’t know the story, Alize and Amelie are Dr. Amen’s nieces (Alize co-wrote Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades with Chloe Amen) and they are the reason Dr. Amen wrote this book, with the goal in mind to show the world that we are not stuck with the brain we have. You can read the story on page 5 of the book and see how Dr. Amen used these brain strategies as a blueprint to change the brains of his nieces, but it’s such a moving story, that caught my attention for many different reasons, because it’s powerful to know that we can change our brain’s (structure and function) with these strategies.
DID YOU KNOW: “You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better.” (Dr. Amen)
BRAIN TIP: Just because certain things run in your family, like some people really are genetically inclined to be overweight (Dr. Amen says he has to be careful of what he eats and when) “don’t believe your genes are your destiny.”[xxix]
Do you know what your genetic vulnerabilities are? I’m fully aware that depression runs in my family, so years ago, I put certain habits like exercise and healthy eating as priority, and it’s not something I even think about anymore. It became a healthy habit. When you can focus on brain health first, everything else will fall into place, and family history, or genetics can be changed.
H: Head Trauma: “The silent epidemic that underlies many mental illnesses.”
(Dr. Amen). According to the CDC, “more than 2 million new head injuries occur in the US every year” ranging from falls, to motor vehicle collisions, to sports injuries and Dr. Amen treats many of these injuries at his clinics across the country, saying that his database of “tens of thousands of patients, 40% had a significant brain injury before they came to see us.”[xxx]
DID YOU KNOW: That your brain is soft like butter or tofu, and you don’t need to have lost consciousness to have injured it? Have you ever “fallen out of a tree, fallen off a horse, dove into a shallow pool, had a whiplash accident, hit your head on a ball, the ground, or someone else’s helmet in sports?”[xxxi] I didn’t think that the patten of a TBI would show up on my brain scan, but it did, and I’m sure it was from when I hit my head on a pool deck during a triathlon, over 20 years ago.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a simple, noninvasive treatment that many athletes have been using for years to help with the healing and reduce inflammation in the brain.[xxxii] This was suggested for me with the pattern of a TBI showing with my brain scan. I have not had a session yet, mostly because I don’t have symptoms that bother me but I would look into this if I did.
T: Toxins: “Toxins are one of the major causes of brain/mental health issues…and can increase the risk of depression, suicide, ADD/ADHD, learning problems, memory problems, brain fog, and temper outbursts.”[xxxiii]
I’M SURE YOU ALL KNOW: “That every day we are exposed to a host of chemicals, pesticides, fumes, and products that poison the human brain?”[xxxiv] Dr. Amen reminds us that we can’t avoid some of these toxins, but there’s a lot we can do to limit our exposure to them and help to detoxify our homes, workspaces and environment.
BRAIN TIP: If your think you could be sharper, improve your focus, or memory, the first place to look, is at what you are putting into your body that could be harming your brain. There’s the obvious drugs and alcohol category, but some other areas to consider looking at are mold exposure, cleaning supplies, and what you are putting on your body (lotion/makeup) that could contain harmful chemicals that can hurt your brain. Learn to read labels and identify chemicals and preservatives we should avoid like “potassium bromate (carcinogenic), BHA, BHT (linked to tumors), Sodium benzoate (may damage DNA), Sodium nitrate (linked to Cancer), Tartrazine dye (makes cheese yellow) linked to asthma, MSG (linked to seizures and heart issues), Red Dye #40, and artificial sweeteners (aspartame-blue packets) and saccharin (pink packets) both linked to obesity. I know that in the past 10 years, this area has improved with many people switching to green cleaning supplies, and I know that many students themselves know what foods have red dye #40 in them, as their parents tell them, and that some countries are far more advanced than others, but you can still look around and see toxins everywhere and just be mindful of what they do to our brain.
To close out the review of Dr. Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness, there’s a lot that we can all do, just by reviewing his BRIGHT MINDS Tips.
Improve blood flow to our brain with exercise.
Keep learning as we age and find strategies to hold a positive daily mindset.
Take supplements to keep our gut microbiome healthy as a poor diet can cause less energy production in our brain.
Your history is not your destiny. Know your genetic vulnerabilities but also that you are not stuck with the brain you have. You can change your brain with new habits that create new results.
Your brain is soft like butter or tofu. Protect it by wearing a helmet playing sports.
Toxins surround us every day. Do what we can to reduce exposure to chemicals we know harm our brains.
If we can start with these six steps to prioritizing our brain health, we will be miles ahead with our productivity and results. When we can get our brain health right, everything else in our life will improve. I highly suggest reading this book and taking the 6-week online course that goes with it, as there are many resources that can help guide you towards having a better brain and life. It really doesn’t take a lot to make small improvements that will yield huge results.
To close out this episode, I wanted to list the top brain tips I have learned from studying Dr. Amen to give some hope during Mental Health Awareness Month. If you want to learn more about Amen Clinics, go to their website www.amenclinics.com and you can click on the conditions tab to search for a list of the brain disorders they treat, with valuable information.
Hope you have a wonderful week! See you for Brain Fact Friday.