This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Daniel Amen. Dr. Amen is the author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, the founder of the Amen Clinics, and is here to tell us about how diet and exercise can benefit everyone’s brains.
Unleash the Power of the Female Brain: Supercharging Yours for Better Health, Energy, Mood, Focus, and Sex
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast and we definitely have an exciting, potentially provocative and who knows controversial/fun show for sure, I don’t know how controversial it’ll be. [indiscernible 00:41] science will be sharing but we’re here with a multi, multi time New York Times bestselling author, a wonderful man changing lives all across the country. His new book called Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, so it will resonate with a large number of our audience members. We have none other than Dr. Daniel Amen with us today. Dr. Amen, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Dr. Amen: Jonathan, thank you so much for having me.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. Amen, just to back up before we get into your new work, can you tell us in general your area of expertise, your unique take on mental health, physical health because this is quite unique…
Dr. Amen: Well, I am a psychiatrist by training and for the last 22 years, I have been looking at people’s brains, so the expertise we have at the Amen Clinic is helping people with ADD, anxiety, depression, addictions, and weight issues; manage their health but we let the brain guide us and most people think if they’re overweight that it’s a will power issue or if they get their stomach stapled.
I think stapling your stomach is working on the wrong organ because it is the brain that pushes you away from the table, telling you that you’ve had enough. It’s your brain. It gives you permission to have the third bowl of ice cream that make you look and feel like a blob. Our sort of unique take on the world is change your brain and when you do you change your life.
Jonathan: Doctor it’s interesting very, very interesting about your work is in many ways and this is very different from a lot of the people out there. You have a wonderful website, amenclinics.com but there are many website and there a lot of people saying a lot of stuff, but in fact you get proof through various tests; your brain image scanning. You’re not just making up theories right, you are saying we have done this and we can prove it, look at these tests.
Dr. Amen: So that’s the exciting thing. I often say we can make your brain better and I can prove it and we actually have the world’s largest database of brain scans related to behavior. We’ve done more than 80,000 over the last 22 years and it’s so exciting because it teaches you some very important things to do to optimize your life. For example alcohol is really not a health food and avoiding things that hurt your brain really has to be part of the life of someone who wants to have a better brain and a better life. I basically have been able to boil it down to three things that if people did these three things would dramatically be healthier and the first one is brain envy. You have to care, nobody cares about their brain. We let little kids hit soccer balls with their heads. We cheer at football games or at mixed martial art matches and it’s like “Come on, that’s so stupid.”
The brain is soft, the skull is hard. Your brain runs everything in your life, why would you ever subject it to repeated injuries? This is just not smart and I live in Southern California and I often say people care more about their faces, their boobs, their bellies, and their butts, than they do their brain. Which is really crazy because it’s your brain that helps you be happy. It’s your brain that helps you behave right, so your spouse doesn’t leave you. It’s your brain that gets you a promotion at work, it’s the brain.
That’s the first thing, brain envy, you have to care. The second one is avoid things that hurt it like drugs should be obvious and head injuries should be obvious but some of the things that are not obvious are hypertension hurts your brain, diabetes hurts your brain, obesity hurts your brain, all of those things have been associated with brain atrophy and so, avoiding things that hurt it is absolutely critical.
The last one is doing things that help it, I mean really developing brain healthy habits from the right diet for your brain, physical exercise but not too much, the right nutrients. There’s a whole plan that we have on how to put brain healthy habits into your life that make a radical positive difference for you.
Jonathan: Doctor [inaudible 0:05:49 – 06:12].
Dr. Amen: Well, a lot of people think that alcohol is actually good for your heart and there are some studies that suggest that that’s true but it’s really not good for your brain, especially if people who drink every day. People who drink every day have smaller brains and I always say when it comes to the brain, size matters. There are some evidence that intense aerobic exercise can be really helpful except over exercise in our experience is just toxic for brain function. Too much stress, so think a marathon, is associated with higher cortisol levels, which damages cells in an area of the brain called the Hippocampus, which is where long-term memories are formed.
Jonathan: When you feel delusional after your two hour cardio, [indiscernible 07:28] it’s not just that you have low blood sugar and that you’re out of energy, you may actually have done some damage to your brain.
Dr. Amen: Right. [crosstalk 07:39] Smart exercise, which in my mind, weightlifting actually is really important because the stronger you are as you age, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer’s disease and then I like things like walking with burst. It just seems to make the most sense to me on the research that I’ve seen is and people do this massive exercise for weight loss and it has never been shown to be very effective. What’s really effective for weight loss is getting your mind right and your food right. Exercise is good for a lot of things, including treating depression, helping your bones, helping your vascular tone, but to be over exercising for weight is generally not a good idea.
Jonathan: Oh absolutely, I often use an analogy, for example [Inaudible 08:41] eating is wonderful, but if you’re eating with the hopes of losing weight, you’re not going to be very happy, so I think the same thing, sometimes applies to these more traditional forms of exercise and I’m so delighted to hear that you are decades and decades of clinical research [Inaudible 08:59]. What we spend a lot of time talking about on the show which is [inaudible 09:02] exercise as well resistance base exercise. That’s excellent, talking about food, Dr. Amen, have you found that there are [inaudible 09:14], which are often like a medicine for the brain that [inaudible 09:20].
Dr. Amen: Well, in my new book Unleash the Power of the Female Brain there is a whole chapter on food and the longer I do this, the more important it becomes and women tend to go for carbs and I totally get why they do because simple carbohydrates boosts serotonin to the brain and in a study from Canada, women are actually found that 52 percent less serotonin than in males. That’s very important.
My whole new book in some ways is based around that thought, that serotonin is the chemical that keeps you happy, and relaxed, and not worry and if serotonin levels are low, there is a higher incidence of things like anxiety and depression which women have twice as much as men and so simple carbohydrates go…they raise serotonin levels. We understand why they go after bread, candy, cake, pasta but in the long run they are making them sick. So short-term benefit you feel better, long-term problem, it increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
What are the natural ways to boost serotonin and food just happens to be one of the natural ways to do it. For example having garbanzo beans boost serotonin, having smart carbs like sweet potatoes boost serotonin and I love the fact that you can actually use food to manipulate your mind, so think about with me what do we usually feed kids in the morning?
Jonathan: Simple carbs.
Dr. Amen: Simple carbs, sugar right? Whether it’s bread, paste…not pasta but waffles, pancakes with liquid sugar, muffins, pop tarts, donuts, and then we tell them to go to school and focus.
Jonathan: Pay attention, exactly.
Dr. Amen: What happens when you give someone a slug of sugar, is it boosts serotonin levels in the brain and make them happy and less worried but also less able to focus and so we have all these children diagnosed with ADD, when in fact, if we put them on the right diet, and there is actually research that bears this out that being on a high protein diet decreases the need for medication. Children who are put on an elimination diet basically got rid of all the crap in their diet. Three months later had a 73 percent of them had more than a 50 percent reduction in symptoms.
It’s the same response as if we had given them Ritalin and so you can manage your mind with food and it’s like how exciting is that because the right food has no bad side effects. It only has good side effects and isn’t that really the smart thing to do? Where I went to medical school they taught us first, do no harm and the treatment should always be the least toxic, most effective treatment. Well, I am totally on board because being a psychiatrist for 30 years, I have made plenty of people worse and I don’t want to do that anymore. Our method at the Amen Clinics is actually very clear, we take very detailed histories.
We really get to know our patients and then we look at their brains and we also do some lab tests because if your thyroid is off your depression is not getting better and so we have very targeted diagnosis based on how your brain looks and how your labs are and what’s your concerned about but the other thing that we do…so our treatment plans are targeted, the other thing we do, is we want to go even farther and boost the reserve in your brain so you’re even better than when you were the last time you were well, so that if you go through things like stress, hormonal changes, and aging that your brain is even better than before and it takes by planting brain healthy habits in your life.
Jonathan: [Unintelligible 0:15:10] our children were constantly drunk, and people were like, you’re constantly drunk child really seems to be uninhibited and well because you’re constant being an alcohol. Well, we do something similar with the substance such as sugar or refined starches, which are just one step away from sugar. How are we not realizing how damaging this is…like why is it even legal?
Dr. Amen: Well, they’re whole industries that are built on making new fat, depressed, and feeble-minded and they have powerful lobbyist, so even as something as simple as putting calories on the menu, it has been part of the law but no one’s implementing it and it’s like how do they get away with that? Their powerful lobbys are protecting the corporations, but not the individual. Our goal is really to create warriors for your health, that we want to create a revolution around brain health and physical health and they’re really not different because ultimately, what’s good for your brain is good for your body when you really think about it.
Jonathan: Well, I love that, it changes your brain, actually physically change your brain because I think that concept of changing the brain/changing the way your body works is very distinct from the traditional approach to wellness, which is often like take your existing body and just starve it or via deprivation of food or via an excessive energy but we all know intuitively that you can never change a system just by putting less things into it. You’re just slowing the system down or depriving the system.
Real change doesn’t come from depriving the system, it comes from changing the system in and of itself, so you already mentioned some techniques we could use to change our system. What have you found, I am sure different on an individual basis but what are some things we could start doing today? Obviously, there is avoiding sugars, things like that and there is the higher intensity smarter exercise. There are other techniques you can use to actually change our brain and then change our body.
Dr. Amen: Well, the first thing, I mean if people want to live well and live long, the first part of that is learning how to make good decisions, so it’s actually the quality of the decisions that you make that make the biggest difference in your life and so that comes from a healthier brain. If I can get people to start thinking about their brain and planting brain-healthy habits, that would be really good. One simple thing I talk about in the new book Unleash the Power of the Female Brain is planting these two words in your head, “then what?” If I do these then what happens.
If I say this, then what happens, so getting out of the power of now and into the of what do I want and does my behavior get me what I want so being well is as much a thinking exercise as it is needing exercise or physical exercise and too many people have undisciplined minds. They have what I talk about in the book, monkey minds, where their mind’s just all over the place, as opposed to being a sharp, disciplined tool that helps you really get what you want and so the first thing is gray decision making and the second there is a chapter in the new book on getting control of the female brain.
Now, that’s not a handbook for men. How do you deal with cravings, obesity, and addictions. The first thing you do is you always protect the blood flow in your brain because when blood flow to the brain goes low, your decisions go to hell and so what protects that, you have to eat these 500 calorie a day diets, I hate them. They’re terrible. When you do not give your brain enough nutrients, your brain actually starts to eat itself and so protecting your blood sugar at all cost, that means protein at each meal. It means eating enough so that your blood sugar does not go low, at which point you then become ravenous and have no control over yourself. It also means you have to really work on your sleep. People who get less than seven hours of sleep at night have lower overall blood flow to their brain and that means more bad decisions. So sleep and eating right…and I am never about deprivation, I am about abundance.
It’s just abundance of the smart things. Think about it, if you had a million dollar race horse, would you ever feed it junk food? Only if you were an idiot and you are worth so much more. Everybody that’s listening to this, they are worth so much more but we don’t act as if we’re valuable, that we can just put any piece of garbage down our throat and then be upset that our brain and our body doesn’t work properly. It’s like no this is serious, and if I loved myself I would not think of giving up cookies and cake and donuts as deprivation. I would think of eating those things as deprivation of what I really wanted, which is my health and so as much as anything it’s mindset, the right habit and then to know what your type is.
It’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned from our imaging work, is that all people who were overweight or anxious or depressed or addicted, they’re not all one thing. We’ve learned that from our imaging work, there are impulse over-eaters, compulsive over-eaters and radically different brains they need radically different strategies.
They’re anxious over-eaters and sad over-eaters. Knowing your type of brain allows you to target treatments specifically to you and the whole industry is based on do this one program and everybody will get this positive result but the reason that there are 8,000 programs is because no one tailors it to an individual person’s need and that’s one of the things we’ve done very successfully and we’re very excited to share.
Jonathan: Oh absolutely. Dr. Amen [inaudible 23:26 – 24:07] something else. And so there’s no avoiding [inaudible 24:13 – 24:21]
Dr. Amen: And getting that right is so important, getting your mind right is just so important to living the life that you deserve because ultimately, it starts between your ears.
Jonathan: It sounds like based on the title of you new book which is, Unleash The Power of The Female Brain and [inaudible 24:47] and in my work, I heard that often you will have men “accidentally burn fat” but they don’t really mean to, it almost kind of just happens but I have yet to really ever come across a woman, especially a woman who is potentially pre or postmenopausal who has ever accidentally achieved success here and also there are significant difference in brain functions. What is it about the female brain that can make this issue of health and wellness, particularly leanness more challenging?
Dr. Amen: Well, so this book is based on a study I did of 46,000 brain scan, so, again we have the world’s largest database of scans and we took a group of them and we compared male and female brains. One of the reasons I did that is I have five sisters, three daughters, fourteen nieces, and two granddaughters. I am surrounded by the female brain.
Jonathan: So, it was for your own survival more than anything…
Dr. Amen: Absolutely was but what we found was that the female brain is actually more active in about 85 percent of the brain. It was just amazing what we saw and it goes with the study I mentioned earlier about females have less serotonin so they also have better frontal lobe function. So, our study really helped explain the strengths and vulnerabilities of the female brain. So the strengths are empathy, intuition, collaboration, self control which is why women go to jail fourteen times less than males and appropriate worry.
Now, what does that mean? Appropriate worry means they’re concerned enough to do something about the problems they have and a lot of people don’t see worry as a strength that the ‘don’t worry be happy’ people more often men on motorcycles die the earliest from accidents or preventable illness. Little worry is a good thing but this low level of serotonin makes women also unfortunately more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, eating disorders, body image distortions, and being unable to turn off their thoughts and so women are wired for leadership.
It’s just really clear from the imaging work that I do, that the front part of the brain which is called the executive part of the brain is more active in women but they don’t unleash their power often because the issues they struggle with of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and so on and so learning how to overcome those and their very specific plans in the book from diet, exercise, hormones, simple supplements, correcting the automatic negative thoughts they have to take care of the vulnerability so they can truly unleash their power.
I am so excited about this because I know it is women who will change the world, that women are the health leaders in their families. They’re typically the leaders of their families when it comes to their home and to their children and if momma’s habits are healthy, the kids tend to be healthy. If her habits are not healthy, the kids and her husband tend not to be healthy. Some women get after man and saying, “Oh I am making them guilty.” Well, I am just speaking the truth. We did a health program at Saddle Back Church, one of the largest churches in the world [indiscernible 29:12] and I designed it for them and 15,000 people signed up and over the first year, they lost a quarter of a million pounds and 85 percent of the people who signed up were women. When they got it right, everybody in their family followed and so they are leaders but did you know there are 660 counties in the United States where for over the last 20 years their life expectancy stayed the same or went down?
Women’s life expectancy has not kept up with men’s life expectancy and that’s crazy and the reason for it is, they’re not taking their health seriously and too often will looking for the quick fix, you know ‘what can I do in seven days’ rather than let’s get…the first three letters of diet is die. I am not a big fan of diets. I am a really big fan of getting a life program together and what I often find…people get radical changes on our health programs and often they’ll lose like 12 or 14 pounds the first two weeks but I am like that’s not the point.
The point is developing habits you can keep the rest of your life and that take a while. We have an online community where we actually have a 52 week program to get people to get control of their brains and their bodies for the rest of their lives. Habits just don’t happen. They have to be planted and then refined and then solidified and it takes some time to do it.
We’re excited about though is we have so many cool stories and one of my favorite stories is Steve, he was 640 pounds and whenever he fell, one or two people could never get him up and he fell this one day, so he called 911 and went to the hospital and at the time he was suicidal but he could not get upstairs to get to his gun and his sister, so I told you [Inaudible 0:31:52] health leaders saw me on public television in North Carolina and bought my program Change Your Brain, Change Your Body for him.
When he got home he had made the decision, I am either going to kill myself or I am going to get well, so let me read this book and if it’s still a bad book I’ll kill myself tomorrow. When he told me that, I am thinking of all the pressure I really have when I write these books but he just did everything I said. Too many people want to do what’s the one thing I should to do, it’s stop being stupid.
Do the program, so he just did everything and in four months he’d lost 160 pounds and I love that part but what I really loved is now he was [indiscernible 32:41] and over the next two years he lost 400 pounds but in the process, lost his addiction to alcohol and nicotine, lost his diabetes, lost his hypertension, went from ten medications to two and that’s really the message.
It’s how can you develop a program that’s not about deprivation, but it’s about abundance of the right things and it’s not thinking “I’m going to lose 10 pounds to be on this dress for the wedding.” I’m going to be basically healthy today, tomorrow, five years from now, 10 years from now, 30 years from now, because Alzheimer’s disease starts in the brain 30 to 50 years before you have any symptoms and as people really get to know this work and fall in love with their brains, they are realizing their habits are not just about them, their habits really are about generations of them.
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