Oprah said, “Breathe, let go, and remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” And Debbie Hampton said, “Take care of your mind, and your body will thank you. Take care of your body, and your mind will thank you.”
Today’s episode is part two of my chat with Dr. Daniel Amen, who has helped millions of people transform their lives and brains through Amen Clinics and best-selling books and public television programs. The Washington Post has called Dr. Amen “the most popular psychiatrist in America” because of his work and his media appearances and clinics, which have over 7,000 visits a month. If you haven’t already listened to part one — I highly recommend listening before part two.
In part two, we discuss the biggest challenges Dr. Amen thinks the world is facing around brain health, how to optimize brain and heart health at the same time, how our brain health can affect the quality of our relationships, how constant overwhelm of dopamine is affecting our brains functionality, why working on improving our memory is necessary and practical ways to start working on it, and so much more.
Dr. Amen is one of America’s leading psychiatrists and brain health experts. He has authored or coauthored 9 professional book chapters, 85 scientific articles, and more than 40 books, including New York Times mega-bestseller Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He has appeared on numerous television shows including Dr. Phil, Larry King, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, and The View.
His breakthrough public television programs on brain and mental health have aired more than 125,000 times across North America and have made him well-loved by millions of viewers seeking guidance on memory, attention, mood, nutrition, and more.
Dr. Amen has appeared in movies including Quiet Explosions, After the Last Round, and The Crash Reel, and he was a consultant for the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith. He has also appeared on the Emmy-winning show The Truth About Drinking.
His work has been featured in Newsweek, Time, Huffington Post, ABC World News, 20/20, BBC, London Telegraph, Parade Magazine, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, LA Times, Men’s Health, Bottom Line, and Cosmopolitan.
It’s time to jump right in!
After doing this work for 30 years and taking 183,000 scans of data, Dr. Amen has all this information he shares through speaking, in his books, and on talks shows and television about how to heal the brain, so I asked what he thinks the biggest challenge is moving forward.
“I hate the fact that all psychiatrists don’t do [the scans], the fact that I’m still an outlier in my profession. Masses of psychiatrists are making diagnoses based on symptom clusters with no biological data exactly like they did in 1840 when Lincoln was depressed and suicidal. How did his doctor diagnose him? He talked to him, he looked at him, and then he treated him. That’s exactly what’s happening in 2021. It irritates me that they [say] there’s no science behind what [I do] — even though I’ve published 80 studies and there’s 14,000 scientific references on Brain SPECT. It frustrates me because most people aren’t getting the help they need. These psychiatric problems are not mental illnesses — they’re brain illnesses.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
I can feel the passion Dr. Amen has and his desire to arm other psychiatrists with the necessary tools to change people’s lives. That one idea to change our focus from mental illness to a brain illness changes everything, it decreases stigma, it increases compliance because everybody wants a better brain. Think about it — nobody wants to struggle with mental illness.
Imagine if we worked on getting the physical functioning of our brain right and optimized our mind? That’s how we’re going to end mental illness — which is actually the title of one of his books (The End Of Mental Illness), a title Dr. Amen received a lot of grief over.
“We need to stop calling these things mental illnesses and use these BRIGHT MINDS strategies. The second I in bright minds is immunity and infections. There’s a study I put in the book of a graph of the map of the United States of the highest incidents of schizophrenia. It’s the Northwest, the north Midwest, and the west coast, and right below it is a graph of the highest incidents of Lyme disease — they’re virtually identical. Could schizophrenia, in some cases, be an infection that’s attacking the brain? I think the answer is, ‘Yes’ — not in all cases, but it’s something we should be screening for.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
Dr. Amen believes this for all infectious diseases, and it completely shifts our way of thinking about how diseases can affect the brain.
Let’s hear what the final three letters are for us to improve our brain health.
“The N is neurohormone deficiency — testosterone’s really important for brain health too. You don’t want too much because then your libido will go up and your empathy will go down, but low testosterone goes with depression, anxiety, and low energy. Thyroid, DHA, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and so on [are all] hormone tests [you should get]. D is diabesity, which is a combination of [being] overweight and high blood sugar. Either one is a mental health/brain health risk factor, and 50% of the population is either diabetic (14%) or pre-diabetic (36%.) That’s a disaster.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
Obesity and diabetes are bad for us because they atrophy our brain, making it smaller and killing the new stem cells being made in the hippocampus — that’s 700 cells a day simply being born and dying right away as opposed to connecting and multiplying functionality neurons in the brain to help your mood and memory.
“What’s interesting [is] I’m 66, my youngest is 17 getting ready to go off to college, and we produce the same number of stem cells every day. Hers are more likely to stay than an older person’s because the blood flow to most 66-year-olds is not healthy. That’s why aging is progressive. [Unfortunately —] this will horrify you — 50% of people will have dementia if fortunate enough to live to 85 or beyond. [That’s] a one in two chance of losing my mind — that’s why I’m serious about this.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
Finally, we come to the 11th area to focus on in BRIGHT MINDS — the S.
“Sleep [is] absolutely essential. Autophagy is what happens when you sleep [and] your brain cleans itself. It’s a system called the glymphatic system. When you’re asleep, [it’s] literally cleaning the synapses in your brain. If you’re not sleeping six and a half, seven, eight hours a night — trash is building up in your brain and making you more likely to be depressed, have brain fog, [or even be] overweight. Sleep integrates what we learn during the day and it compares it to our experience from the past and then decides what to keep and what to let go of. If you’re not sleeping well, or you’re drinking to put yourself to sleep, it damages REM sleep, which is the most restorative sleep.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
It’s great to learn all the tools with BRIGHT MINDS as a guide on how to evaluate how we’re treating our brains. This is important because our brain uses 30% of the calories we consume and 20% of the blood flow, and 20% of the oxygen we breathe goes to our brain too.
We’ve spoken about how alcohol damages the brain in the previous post, now Dr. Amen addresses the effects of marijuana.
Research on Marijuana and the Brain
With so many people talking about the positive impact marijuana has had on them, I’d like to understand what Dr. Amen’s research says — even at the risk of upsetting some of you!
“I knew it was trouble right after I started looking at scans. It makes your brain look older than you are. If you smoke once a week, the problem is it’s fat-soluble, which means it stays in your body for 30 days, and so one decision can impact your brain for 30 days. I published a study with my colleagues from USC on a thousand pot smokers. We compared them to a group that never smoked. Every area of their brain [had] lower blood flow.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
It’s not just this study; Dr. Amen also conducted the world’s largest imaging study on 62,454 scans looking just at how the brain ages. The purpose was to look at the trajectory of aging from young kids to twenty-somethings up to 60-year-olds.
“We looked at what accelerated aging in our database and schizophrenia was actually the worst. Their brains were 10 years older than the next worst, [which] was marijuana. It shocked us because we looked at alcohol, smoking, depression, and ADHD [and yet] it was marijuana. I’m very concerned. I’m a fan of legalizing marijuana because please don’t put people who smoke pot in jail, but let’s not say it’s healthy for us because it’s not. Kids who smoke, teenagers who smoke or do use edibles have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and suicide.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
There are medical examples where marijuana helps people, and this is why Dr. Amen doesn’t condemn the use of it for medical purposes or in small doses. Again, as Dr. Amen has discussed using BRIGHT MINDS — the question should always be “Are my thoughts, activities, food, behaviors loving, or hurting my brain?”
One way to find out is to get a scan of your brain. Another way is to think about how good your memory is.
Improve Your Memory
Before we finish today, I want to talk about memory, especially now that we have everything and all information at our fingertips available without needing to remember anything anymore. We used to remember phone numbers, but now everything is programmed at one click of a button. How important is memory training for us as humans in a world of memory lack, and what are a few things we could do to increase the ability to remember?
“If you use it, you get to keep it. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. It’s really important. Now, we’re probably not going to be remembering phone numbers because we have our auxiliary brains, but our auxiliary brain is causing Alzheimer’s to be diagnosed three or four years later when it’s actually harder to get help. I would diagnose people when I first started in practice 30 years ago because their family would call me up and they say, ‘He’s getting lost in a place he’s lived in 30 years,’ but now you just have to go, ‘Hey, Siri, take me home,’ These auxiliary memories are actually causing people to be diagnosed later. We should always be working on brains. New learning is just absolutely essential, so Spanish is great, learning a musical instrument, and you should be doing things that are new and different.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
The best form of defense is prevention — and our brain health is no different. What new thing can you start to learn that will help your brain health? One place to start is getting the details on how to implement what Dr. Amen is spoken about with us.
Dr. Amen’s new book Your Brain Is Always Listening: Tame the Hidden Dragons That Control Your Happiness, Habits, and Hangups has so many incredible exercises on how to deal with any type of struggle or stress that you might have in your life right now, whether it be an addiction, negative thoughts, dealing with past traumas, or the reasoning behind them. The book’s exercises on how to overcome them are extremely powerful yet simple strategies you can start implementing in your life.
Guys, this is part two in a two-part series with Dr. Daniel Amen, and even by splitting our interview up, I wasn’t able to include all the information in this post. I highly recommend listening to the full episode to get all the wisdom, and don’t forget to share it with your friends and family!
You can head over to part one now, where we talked about the secrets to better brain health and how to boost your moods and so much more. If you’d like to continue your brain-boosting journey, for supplements you can visit brainmd.com. Amen University has online courses to help you improve your mood, memory, behavior, attention, and emotional health. Amen Clinics have nine locations around the USA transforming the way mental health is being treated, and Dr. Amen has a podcast he does with his wife called The Brain Warrior’s Way, a 10-minute little inspirational piece to get people excited about a brain health revolution.
If you enjoyed this conversation, please make sure to spread the message of greatness and inspire someone else in your life. Tag Dr. Amen, @doc_amen, and me, @lewis howes, on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways from it.
It’s become customary to ask my guest each week what their definition of greatness is:
“It’s pushing to do what you know you can do, despite what other people say.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
I want to leave you with this quote from RuPaul who said, “True wealth is having a healthy mind, body, and spirit. True wealth is having the knowledge to maneuver and navigate the mental obstacles that inhibit your ability to soar.”
Now is your time to soar in this life. I hope this episode and this interview with Dr. Daniel Amen gave you some tools to support you in your growth so that you can soar and move forward.