Dr. Daniel G. Amen’s latest book, Unleash the Power of the Female Brain: Supercharging Yours for Better Health, Energy, Mood, Focus, and Sex, is a kind of homage to his wife, mother, and five sisters. In it he describes how women’s brains differ from men’s brains, and explains how women should take care of their gray matter for optimal physical and emotional well being. Dr. Amen says that many factors can affect brain health, including whether or not we get enough sleep, whether we smoke or are exposed to other environmental toxins, whether we get enough exercise, and our family history. He says, “For example, when you don’t get enough sleep, you have overall decreased blood flow to your brain, which disrupts thinking, memory, and concentration.”
Nutrition has a lot to do with the state of our brains, too. “If your food is not the best, you will never be your best,” he insists. Staying hydrated is important. Too much alcohol or caffeine can negatively impact our brains. So can food allergies. Keeping our blood sugar in check is also key. “When you eat a high-sugar or simple-carbohydrate diet, your blood sugar often becomes dysregulated, causing you to feel sluggish and foggy-headed,” he writes. “High blood sugar causes vascular problems throughout your whole body, including your brain. Over time, it causes blood vessels to become brittle and vulnerable to breakage. It leads not only to diabetes but also to heart disease, strokes, visual impairment, impaired wound healing, wrinkled skin, and cognitive problems.” Yikes!
Our weight can affect the state of our brains, too. “There are eighteen studies now that report that as your weight goes up, the actual physical size and function of your brain goes down. That should just scare the fat off all of us,” he jokes. It kinda does. But if you aren’t yet convinced, he gives more reasons for losing weight: “Obesity doubles the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and depression. There are probably several mechanisms that create this result, including the fact that fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals and store toxic materials in the body.”
Fortunately, he has some advice to give on how to eat better and what supplements we can take. He recommends that everyone take fish oil capsules, a multi-vitamin, and a vitamin D supplement. “Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with obesity, depression, cognitive impairment, heart disease, reduced immunity, cancer, psychosis, and all causes of mortality,” he writes. Later in the book he gives specific supplement advice for women with particular brain challenges like short attention spans or poor impulse control. All throughout this book he tells stories of his patients and how they overcame brain injuries and impaired brain function from years of eating a poor diet, being overly stressed, and/or a lack of exercise.
He devotes an entire chapter to eating well. Eating well is so important because, he says, “the intestinal tract is virtually a second brain. The gut makes more neurotransmitters than the brain. Neurotransmitters are key biochemicals that regulate mood and energy.” Fiber, we know, can pull toxins out of the body. Dr. Amen explains that it can also bind harmful estrogens and get rid of them so they can’t wreak havoc on your emotions. He warns against eating meats laced with hormones, and produce treated with pesticides. He says not to microwave food in plastic containers or drink from plastic bottles, especially those containing BPA.
After having changed his own eating habits many years ago, Dr. Amen now insists, “I don’t want fast or poor-quality food anymore because it makes me feel tired and stupid.” I can relate.
Dr. Amen also gives his 9 Rules for Eating Right.
1. Eat high-quality calories but not too many of them.
2. Drink plenty of water and avoid liquid calories.
3. Eat high-quality lean protein throughout the day.
4. Eat smart (low-glycemic, high-fiber) carbohydrates. Sugar is not your friend.
5. Focus your diet on healthy fats.
6. Eat natural foods of many different colors.
7. Cook with brain-healthy herbs and spices to boost your brain.
8. Make sure your food is as clean as possible. It is critical to know and understand what the foods you eat have eaten.
9. If you’re having trouble with your mood, energy, memory, weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, or skin, eliminate any foods that might be causing trouble, especially wheat and any other gluten-containing grain or food, dairy, soy, and corn.
I think this is great advice for not just brain health but also to achieve a younger, better you.
Here are his 52 best brain-healthy superfoods:
grape seed oil
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.