[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.9] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the Internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries. In this episode, we discuss how to build a rockstar brain. We get into the neurochemical compositions that create moods from happiness to depression and look at how you can change the building blocks of the neurochemicals by changing your diet and your habits.
In a world where people are more stressed than ever, sleeping less and trying to do more, we look at the causes of brain drain and what we can do to have physically happier and more productive brains, with Dr. Michael Dow.
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in our previous episode, We explored luck. Does luck exist? Is there a science behind luck? What does the research reveal about lucky people and unlucky people? Is it possible to manufacture your own luck?
We spoke with the research psychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, and learned the truth about luck and how you just might be able to create a little bit more in your own life. If you want to be luckier, listen to that episode.
Now, for the show today.
[0:02:31.3] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. Mike Dow. Mike is a psychotherapist, neurotherapist and New York Times best-selling author. He's been a host of several television series examining relationships, brain health, addiction and mental illness. He's frequently a guest or a cohost on The Doctors and his work has been features in Today, Good Morning America, Nightline and much more.
Mike, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:54.0] MD: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
[0:02:56.1] MB: We’re very excited to have you here. So I’d love to start out with when — And I think this is a more common phenomenon, more and more common phenomenon. When we feel kind of cloudy or we don't feel like ourselves, we feel like kind of sluggish, what is that and what’s going on? Is that just a natural part of aging? Is that a natural part of life or is there something deeper there?
[0:03:15.1] MD: To some degree, 1% of it is a natural part of aging. Our brains tend to shrink a little bit as we age, but most, 99% of it, I would say no. What's really going on is our brains are becoming drained. Of course, the title of my book is Heal Your Drained Brain, and I was inspired to write this book, because I was looking at the statistics and I was looking a brain scans, I was looking at what I was countering in my clinic, in my private practice. Just to be honest, a lot of my fellow authors, my colleagues, my friends, what they were experiencing in everyday life and how hard it is to be a high achieving human being these days if you want it all.
So if you've ever seen like a madman, you look at these old days when you could kind of go to work and you had somebody taken care of your calls and you sat a quiet desk and you focused and then you came home and work rarely bothered you. Those days are over, but I guess the question remains; what is happening? What is all that chronic stress do to your brain, especially if you are somebody who is trying to juggle your romantic life, your personal life, your friends, your families, your career where our brains are becoming drained.
I'm sure we can jump in to some of the neuroscience and the neurochemicals involved, but that feeling is what I call brain drain, and if you look at the stats, more and more Americans and, by the way, people around the world are now experiencing this condition of brain drain and chances are — It was funny, I just got back from New York and Rachael Ray and I were talking about this and she said she started up the segment by saying, “I don't know what a drained brain is, but I think I have it,” and if you're like her, you probably are in her shoes. If you have this drained brain, you're going to feel it. You're not can have the energy. You're not going to have the resiliency that you need to get through everything you need to do in your daily life.
[0:05:14.1] MB: Tell me a little bit more about that, kind of what's going on at sort of a neurological level, neurochemical level when we’re experiencing this brain drain.
[0:05:22.1] MD: Yeah, a couple of things. So neurochemicaly, if you have a drained brain — I've created these names for the subtypes of drained brain. There are three stress hormones that I call your three brain drainers. They are adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. So in a healthy brain you encounter a stress. So let's say you're creating a new app and maybe you're in a new relationship and you got those texts flowing in, rapid fire on your phone and that stress. Every time you get that new text of, “Hey! We have a new deadline approaching.”
In a healthy balance brain, you have two waves. The primary wave is adrenaline and norepinephrine secreted from your adrenal glands, and then you have this secondary wave of cortisol. Ideally, of course, it’s a little bit easier in the book because you have — I have these nice X-Y graphs, but if you could kind of just visualize two waves.
Imagine the ocean, you have the primary wave, that's adrenaline and norepinephrine, and then you have that second wave, and that's cortisol. Now what happens in drained brains is a couple of different things can happen. So in what I call the sort of the garden-variety, sort of light drain, all three stress hormones go a little bit too high. In what I call skyrocket drain what happens is they sort of — As the name implies, they skyrocket and then you have panic attacks, you have like feelings of absolute dread. The anxiety becomes almost paralyzing in that case.
Then you have what I call drop drain. So we've seen in research that some people when you have that stressor, you have that initial response. So if you look at those two waves, you will see the waves of these stress hormones going up, but then it's like imagine two waves hitting a brick wall just as they're cresting. Instead of being able to rise and gently fall, they sort of rise and then they drop.
Now, while generally speaking, we want to decrease the brain drainers. We also want this normal healthy response, because remember that stress hormones are designed to help you charge through that presentation, get through all the stressors, because a little bit of these brain drainers can be helpful. Then you have this fourth subtype of a drained brain, which is what I call X-treme drain, and I spell X-treme, X-treme, because if you look in an X-Y graph, it really does form an X, meaning the adrenaline and norepinephrine are going up, but cortisol sort of paradoxically stays low.
So if you stress yourself out for too long and that is left untreated, or we also saw this and scientists and researchers were actually surprised, if you’re a vet, if you are somebody who’s been through a trauma, if you're the survivor of abuse, people who are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, and if you’re left untreated and you don't take some of my advice in the book, then you're going to have this extreme drain. So you're going to have low levels of cortisol that sort of remain too low and adrenaline and norepinephrine run too high, which creates the state that sort of this you're going to feel wired but also tired.
Cortisol actually helps to wake us up in the morning. In the wee hours, our cortisol starts to rise and that sort of helps to wake us up. So in these brains, the cortisol just stays too low and the other brain drainers are high. So it sort of forms this X, right? So that's sort of — In terms of the neurochemicals, those three brains drainers are at play, and then what I call the brain balancers, which sort of are the antidotes to these stress hormones, so that acetylcholine, GABA, serotonin, melatonin, endorphins, all of these feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters, they're basically running too low. What’s incredible is that through everyday lifestyle change, this is how you exercise, this is how you eat, you could make more of the brain balancers, you can make more GABA, more serotonin naturally, and of course later the show I’d love to tell you how, and then you can also manage the stress hormone spikes, which is really incredible, because we want to sort of regulate the brain drainers, and this is important overall.
I'm talking about the chemicals now, but now, if we just shift to brain structure, what happens is in drained brains, you are literally shrinking your brain. Unresolved chronic stress we know shrinks the prefrontal cortex. That's a part of the brain that separates you from animals. It is the part of the brain that makes you a human being. It is the most advanced part of the brain. It helps you to put the brakes on urges. It's been said that if a soul, if you're soul lived in a part of the brain, it would be in the prefrontal cortex, right? So that part of the brain shrinks if you don't do anything about this drained brain. Also, if you are eating the wrong foods, we know that, for example, spiking your blood sugar too often shrinks another part of the brain, and hippocampus, and then some solutions, some of the foods in my 14-day program are really designed to help prevent sort of this shrunken drained brain by restoring the brain balancers, making sure your brain doesn't shrink.
Our brains do, again, shrink a little bit as we age, but if you're getting the omega-3 super foods, especially the EPA, the DHA that's found in seafood. I can talk a little bit about vegan sources of omega-3's if you'd like and getting these B vitamins, especially B12 and B6, all of these vitamins and minerals that act as cofactors that help your brain and body to naturally manufacture the feel-good neurotransmitters that you need to balance this brain drain.
[0:11:20.3] MB: I want to dig into the strategies we can implement and lifestyle interventions to create kind of a happier, healthier brain. But before we do, I want to look a little bit more at sort of what kind of the inverse side of that coin, which is what are people doing that's causing so much brain drain and kind of brain fog today?
[0:11:40.2] MD: Yeah. That's a great question. So some of it is — I've a chapter in this book, in Heal You Drained Brain called wired for worry. There is some genetic loading, of course, and then people who are — If you have this family history of any sort of anxiety disorder, you're more likely to think in ways. For example, if you're anxious maybe you get caught in what I call paralysis analysis, which is another way of saying rumination or stewing in anxious thoughts. That drains your brain. It can be a little bit of genetics. It can be what you went through if you're the survivor of trauma, if you didn't have the kind of healthy parenting that you wish you had, but it can also be the result of our everyday lives.
Even if you don't have a family history, even if you had great parents, it seems like everything in the modern world, Matt, is set up to drain us. So if you look at the stats, the American Psychological Association has been doing this landmark study for over a decade now, and 2017, last year, was the highest reported average stress level Americans had ever reported. So we really are more stressed out than ever. We sleep an hour less than we did a generation ago. We’re working more. This is especially true for Americans compared to other countries. We just — We work all the time. Our commutes have gotten longer as — it's great that our economy is doing so well, but that is also forced people to live further away from their jobs and further away from city centers. So our commutes have actually got longer, and then we’re on the rapid fire text, email, Instagram. It's almost as if the very technology — I always make a joke that it's funny isn't it that social media tends to make some people antisocial, because they're so glued to their social media accounts that they don't have any real friends. Remember that these technologies were invented to supplement or to help us in our lives not take the place of them.
I think the danger for so many people these days is we are using our phones, our social media accounts as replacements for things like five minutes in nature, a walk with our dog, a sit down dinner without a phone for like 30 minutes. Our phones are great. I love social media. I love texting my friends. I love texting my mom. I don't like long phone calls. I'm not that kind of person. Thank goodness for texts. It’s how I stay in communication with the world mostly, but we have to also remember that dividing our attention — We know that in brain scans, what's happening. If you think you're multitasking, you're kidding yourself, because in brain scans, what you are doing is you are rapidly switching tasks. So what you're doing is you are rapidly single tasking so that it feels like you're multitasking, but in reality you're probably not.
If you're multitasking between two things that are simple, that's fine, but what happens is as the complexity of the tasks will grow, you start to lose efficiency by switching from task to task in your brain. Even if it feels like you're doing two things at once, you're actually switching really quickly. And then your brain starts to slow down, and then if you are what researchers deem as a heavy media multiuser, so if you're sitting watching Netflix while you're completing a spreadsheet and then you have your phone in your lap and your checking on your Instagram account and you do that 24 hours a day, you lose the ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli. That means when you're at a meeting and you're at a job interview or you’re trying to land a client and somebody is talking to you, you're going to lose your train of thought. They're going to say something and you're going to say, “What? What did you just say?” and that's not going to look good, right?
So it's important to be — It's great — I'm guilty of it to. I love sometimes at the end of a long day sitting with my laptop in my lap and sort of perusing emails as I have something mindless on TV, but we should also know that we can't do that all the time, because it really is fogging our brain. It drains our brain. It increases our level of stress hormones.
The subtitle of my book talks about how my program not only relieves anxiety and stress, but also insomnia. I also want to talk about the 24-hour relationship between cortisol and melatonin. So I think I mentioned before that cortisol spikes in the morning to help wake you up as melatonin dips, and then throughout the course of a day, your cortisol level should go down as melatonin rises.
Think about that. At night when you go to bed, your cortisol levels should be at the lowest point they’ve been all day. One of those brain drainers, that stress hormone cortisol, and your melatonin levels should be at their highest, but if you are sitting at 11 PM in bed checking emails from your phone, number one, the stressful email from your boss is going to shoot up your cortisol levels when your cortisol levels should be going down, and then the blue light from all electronics screens — And by the way, if you have one of the newer iPhones, you should use the night filter, because it is the most [inaudible 0:16:46.7] production, but is not perfect. So it's still going to suppress a little bit of melatonin production. Television, phones, it's really taking the melatonin production in your brain. It's suppressing it at the very time when you want melatonin high and cortisol low. Basically everything we’re doing is in some way draining our brain and there's just so much we can do to naturally reverse that process.
[0:17:09.2] MB: It's fascinating, and I love hearing kind of the sort of interplay between all these different neurochemicals, and something we talk a lot about on the show and I spent a lot of time thinking about, especially kind of how to cultivate things like GABA, serotonin and even dopamine. Is this kind of a good point to segue into and look at some of the positive interventions and ways that we can make lifestyle changes that can actually start to rebalance the neurochemicals within our brains?
[0:17:35.8] MD: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important for people to realize that what we do every single day has a far more profound effect on our neurochemicals on the state of our brain than we think. I want to give you an example. We mentioned serotonin. Serotonin is really our main feel-good downer. Dopamine is really our main feel-good upper, and then it I would say that GABA is also sort of a — Serotonin and GABA sort of are a little bit different, but they're both sort of feel-good downers. If you take a Xanax or releasing a lot of GABA, serotonin — People like the street drug molly, because that releases a lot of serotonin. It tends to make people very feel really good, but very calm, versus dopamine.
So let's look at, for example, serotonin. First of all, we want to shift away from foods that spike our blood sugar, foods with a high glycemic index or glycemic load. All of those foods that you already know are bad for you, but they're probably worse for you than you think when it comes to your brain. We now know from recent research that your brain will shrink, that spiking your blood sugar with anything that contains sugar or flour, that is going to drain and shrink the hippocampus in your brain. That's a really important part of the brain that you don't want to shrink. It’s the main source, the main site of neurogenesis or the birth of new brain cells and connections, and sugar is basically undoing that and it's shrinking that part of your brain.
We want your brain to get bigger and better. If you want to have it all in this world, if you want to have a life where you can have a healthy relationship, a rockstar career, you really do want a big beautiful brains to manage all of that stress and juggle all of those things. Let's say you're going to have a rich diet and you're going to eat — A lot of people, when they think of amino acids, they think of muscle growth in bodybuilder, and that's one of the — A variety of fruits, vegetables, and amino acids, but the other reason is for these brain chemicals.
For example, tryptophan, which is an amino acid that’s found in, for example, quinoa. So if you’re shifting from pasta or pizza and the sugar and flour that's going to shrink your brain to healthy quinoa, you're also going to get this amino acid. Now, your body and your brain converts tryptophan into 5-HTP, which is then converted into serotonin, which is then later converted from serotonin into melatonin, but your body needs cofactors to make this conversion.
To convert tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin, i needs folate, it needs vitamin B6, it needs vitamin C it needs zinc, it needs magnesium. So that's why you want these healthy food. So for example, you’re going to get some — Let's say you have the salad. So you have the quinoa, which is a great source of tryptophan. You have spinach, which is a great source of folate, a.k.a. vitamin B9. By the way, I like leafy greens, because folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, not nearly as good as folate, the authentic nature’s form of folate found in things like spinach, and then your body is going to convert that to 5-HTP, and then with the help of vitamin B6 from bananas, maybe some vitamin C from raspberries, maybe some think from chickpeas, maybe someone magnesium from Swiss Chard, your brain is going to convert that into serotonin.
Now, the same thing — Let's talk about GABA, right? Something that also helps you to relieve anxiety. Same thing here, glutamine is an amino acid found in spinach with the help of vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc. That is converted into feel-good GABA. Then the same thing for your main feel-good upper. Tyrosine, with the help of these the same cofactors, these vitamins and minerals, it converts that into dopamine, right? This is why I recommend in my 14-day program that you eat seven servings of whole fruits and vegetables every single day to ensure that you're getting all these vitamins, these minerals that are going to help your brain to make the feel-good neurotransmitters that you need to start to keep
Feeling good and relieve that drain brain.
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Back to the show.
[0:23:41.9] MB: I want to want to dig in to some of these solutions a little bit more, but for something like vitamins, for example, what are the effects or is it beneficial to take, for example, a vitamin B supplement or fish oil supplement, the kind of supplement your diet if you maybe are not getting enough of these foods naturally or is it not as bioavailable or is not as effective. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:24:02.8] MD: Listen. I think it's a great safety net for a lot of people. Nature has a way — I will say this. Nature has a way of putting things in combinations that increases our bioavailability. It’s just fascinating the way nature just knows how to put things together.
In many ways, yes, when you do get in a natural form, I like to see the synergistic effects — Something else that heals your brain, probiotics, which I call the new Prozac. If you're eating a diet rich in probiotics, there are prebiotic, but then there are probiotic boosters. If you're eating natural healthy foods, that actually enhances the effect of other feel-good neurotransmitters. There is something to be said about synergy and synergistic effects of foods, but I will say that for a lot of people, supplements can be a really great safety net.
What I don't want people to do is to supplement and then think that taking a B vitamin supplement means that you can skip all the other great sources of vitamin B6, B12 and folate, because those three B vitamins, 6, 12 and 9, a.k.a. folate, are just so vital. I have to say that I love supplementing, especially when I'm traveling and I’m not getting a healthy well-rounded diet. I can actually feel the difference when I get a little supplement of those B vitamins. So they are really helpful.
It is also very difficult for a lot of people, unfortunately our world is polluted and it is polluted a lot of our seafood. In my book; Heal Your Drained Brain, I have what's called the omega-3 super food list, which is the list of fish that have, number one, high levels of omega threes, but number two, low levels of toxins, like mercury, and a lot of people just think, “Oh! I just should eat wild caught all the time,” but that’s actually a myth, because for salmon, that's true. Wild salmon, you want to stay away from farm raised salmon, but there are some farm raised varieties of fish, for example, farm raised rainbow trout that are actually very high in omega threes, but actually quite low in mercury. So it's safe to eat all the time, just about as safe as it is to eat wild caught salmon. Of course the same is not true for farm raised salmons. So you want to stay away from that.
But supplementing with an omega-3 can be fantastic. In this book, in Brain Fog Fix, I call the two omega threes, the two usable forms of omega threes, EPA and DHA. In my book the Brain Fog Fix, because that book is really talking about brain fog, depression, dementia. EPA is your feel — I called it your feel-good omega-3, because it's been shown to relieve anxiety and boost mood, and I called DHA your think better omega-3, because it's also been shown to improve cognition and prevent dementia.
Now, in this book; Heal Your Drained Brain, because I'm talking more about stress and insomnia, I call EPA your stress less omega-3. We know that supplementing with high levels of an EPA supplement with very low levels of a DHA can reduce your anxiety by 20%, but the ratio of EPA to DHA in a supplement needs to be 7 to 1 or higher for you to get that effect, and that’s because EPA and DHA compete for space in your cells.
Now, in this book, I called DHA your sleep soundly omega-3, because it's also been shown to promote restful sleep. So even though I eat a lot of clean seafood and omega-3 super food, I do tend to also take on most days, not all days, I do really like taking an omega-3 supplements. I have a family history of heart disease. I'm always on planes. I’ve been to New York and back, been to LA , New York, LA in the past — What is that? Five or six days. So sometimes that's a little stressful packing and unpacking, waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning. A high EPA supplement can really help to relieve that anxiety, and if you're a vegan or vegetarian, I think what a lot of people don't understand — So number one, if you’re man, or number two, if you're an aging woman, what's interesting about the vegan sources of omega-3's, the ALA that you're going to find in walnuts and flaxseed, people don't understand that when they see a thousand milligrams of omega-3's that's like fortified and added to a food or maybe it's found in walnuts, your body has to convert that into the two usable forms that I just talked about, EPA and DHA, and it's not really good at this conversion, and men are not as good at this conversion when compared to women.
We think that it has something to do with hormones. Theoretically, we know that younger women are probably better at this than older women. We also know that there is a difference between racial, people with different racial and ethnic background. So really, the best way to ensure you're getting the EPA and DHAs going straight to either the omega-3 super food sea foods or supplement. I'll tell you, if you are a vegan or a man and you're eating a lot of the vegan omega-3's, like walnuts, flaxseed, your body is okay at converting ALA found in walnuts into EPA, and it's a great food. Don't get me wrong. It's fantastic. I recommend everyone eat a lot of walnuts and all the other sources of ALAs that omega-3, the plant-based omega-3. But your body is terrible and men are especially terrible at converting ALAs into DHA, which, remember, is the omega-3 that helps you to think better and sleep soundly.
If you are a vegan, you can supplement with a plant-based DHA supplement. For all those vegetarians out there who don't eat fish, that may be something, and especially the male vegans out there or vegetarian, you may want to pick up that supplement. I think people, when they think about in this way, it’s now, “Well, do I eat healthy or do I supplement?” It's sort of looking at who you are, your lifestyle and seeing which one works best for you and always using supplements hopefully as something to either augment, enhance or as a safety net for those times, like those busy travel periods where you just can't find. You’re at some chain hotel in the Midwest and in the suburbs and you know that all there is fast food around your hotel. That's a great time to get a great supplement to make sure you're getting all of these vitamin and mineral cofactors to heal a drained brain.
[0:30:42.3] MB: It’s fascinating. I never knew that I can learn so much about just omega-3s. It’s really interesting.
[0:30:48.7] MD: I love them. Omega-3s are probably one of the best things for your brain. Part of my 14-day program is you have to eat one omega-3 super food each and every day. It’s the best thing you can do for your brain in terms of food, that is. It's the building block of your brain. It’s why pregnant women need DHA to give their developing infant’s brain the building block that the human body needs to construct a brain, and if you're building new brain cells — And by the way, of course, I always talk about use it or lose it, and for a lot of people who are trying to enhance their productivity, it's use it and improve it, and if you're trying to improve your brain and you’re trying to boost neurogenesis and have a better brain, a faster brain, a bigger brain that is going to be able to handle more and be the best in your field, you really want those omega-3s, because it is the building block of your brain. It is important, and you can't go wrong if you supplement, if you supplement as a safety guard. Again, I do both. I supplement and I eat a lot of the omega-3 super foods.
[0:31:52.6] MB: When you say that they are the building blocks of your brain, you mean sort of litearlly at a cellular level. It's one of the cornerstones of building healthy cells, correct?
[0:32:01.4] MD: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I really compare — When people don't understand what DHA is, that omega-3, I say imagine DHAs like play doh. It's your brains play doh that is actually constructing, or Tinker Toys is may visually is actually a little bit more accurate in terms of what neurons look like in the synapses and dendrites and all that. It really is literally the brain’s building block. People who had — If you have had a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, if your brain is healing from anything, high DHA supplement — My brother has a rare brain disease and had a massive stroke when he was 10 years old, and the first thing my brother, we started — I was 15 at the time and not an expert on brain health, but my father was a physician and did a lot of research and the first thing we did was we got my brother on a high DHA omega-3 and it really helps the brain to rewire. So even if you haven't had a stroke, if you are trying to make your brain better, DHA is probably one of the best things you can take.
[0:33:04.3] MB: Really, really interesting. What about kind of — We touched on this a little bit, but macronutrients more broadly, sort of each of the different macros, so carbs, fat, etc., and protein, how do each of those kind of play into brain health?
[0:33:18.6] MD: That's a great question and a really large question in terms of what we could talk about. So let me just say that a couple of really interesting things when it comes to sort of that breakdown. I think it's really interesting. I think as Americans we are sort of all or nothing thinkers, right? Remember, a fat-free craze and then it was sort of the carb free craze. One day, everyone in America was eating bagels, fat-free bagels, and then everyone was on the Atkins diet and they’re eating no bagels, but they are eating bacon all day long, and I think what I recommend is the healthiest by far when it comes to having a rockstar brain is what I call a modified Mediterranean diet. That is a diet that is looking at sort of a nice healthy balance. So it's not going carb free. It's not going fat-free, but you’re shifting away from the high omega six fats. So you have this balance, and I call it modified, because in my program, it's a pretty — I would say it's a lower, but not carb free. It's a lower carbohydrate, Mediterranean diet. If you really want to lean body and a lean brain, you want a modified Mediterranean diet filled with the lean proteins, the nuts, olive oil. Those are your best fats.
Olive oil, there's a lot of — People are insane for coconut oil these days. I think coconut oil, if it's a high quality extra-virgin expeller-pressed organic, I think that can be a great treat, but in my opinion, extra-virgin olive oil is still the winner if those two were to be a wrestling match, coconut oil versus EV oil. I think extra-virgin olive oil is still the winner there.
So you really want this balance. You want this modified Mediterranean diet that can really help your brain to become its best self or you to become your best self and your brain to become bigger and better. We know that shifting away from all of these oils that you will find in almost every food. One of my pet peeves is when I'm in an airport store and I see natural, some sort of a nut and it’ll say like, “All natural almonds,” or something, and I'll look on the back and it's nuts with some terrible oil. All of these oils, especially the worst oil, which is soybean oil, these oils are just terrible for you. If it's not extra-virgin olive oil, all of these disgusting oils, they’re just crap, because they put your brain in a state, something I don't think we've touched on yet.
The other thing is it put your brain in a state of chronic inflammation. We know that the inflammatory response in the brain is just terrible for the brain. We want to shift to the brain from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory, and if you take out all the crap oils in the standard American diet and you shift to oils found in nuts, nuts with no added oils, extra-virgin olive oil for cold preparations, and then extra-virgin olive oil isn't as stable at high temperatures. So if you're cooking, you can use just regular, sometimes it’s labeled light olive oil or just olive oil, if you're heating it, shifting you from high omega-6s, a.k.a. inflammation, to higher omega-3s anti-inflammatory response in the brain and the body. This used to be just a few years ago. We thought that this was sort of a preventative approach, but in the past, I believe it was just about one year ago, there was a human clinical study published that show that even for patients diagnosed. So this is not prevention. This is now treatment. Patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder who followed a what I call this modified Mediterranean diet. Some of them actually went into remission. So that's kind of huge for any of us. Even if you're not facing major depressive disorder, we know just how powerful this modified Mediterranean diet is for your brain. It's just fantastic. So it's a lot of fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish, and then if you are eating animal products, I tend to try to limit mine. I think a lot of people eat too much.
When you eat a lot of meat, by the way, your body and brain to get a little boost in stress hormones by eating a lot of meat, so you are going to get a little bit of that brain drainer. So you do want healthier meats, and research also shows that when you favor organic, grass-fed, pastured, humanely raised, all of these words aren't just great for the animals. They're great for you, because you are what you eat ate.
If animal is humanely raised, grass-fed, free-roaming, organic, and they are actually outside and they are actually eating grass — Food companies can get away with some of these labels and trick you and feed them industrial grains, but if they’re organic, still get away with some of these. So you want as many — I try to go for as many of these words as you can find, and they're becoming less and less expensive these days. We know that animal products that have these words have more omega-3s, which again are great for the brain and less omega-6s when compared to conventionally factory-farmed animal products. Whether you're drinking milk, eating cheese, chicken, beef, no matter what it is. If you favor the organic, you're going to get more omega-3s and less omega-6s. You're still not going to get as many omega-3s when compared to eating like an on omega-3 superfood, but you're definitely going to get more than the conventionally raised crap meat that a lot of Americans are eating all day long. That's sort of a good overview, I think, may be of proteins and fats and sort of the macro approach.
[0:39:16.5] MB: Just to give some examples. You touched a little bit on soybean oil, but what are some other kind of common sources of omega-6 fats?
[0:39:23.9] MD: I would say the most offensive villain here is the factory-farmed meat. If you go anywhere in the country, it’s pretty much anything you find in processed foods is going to have soybean oil and then it's going to have a factory-farmed meat product. So those two are the most egregious offenders of this high omega-6, a.k.a. a pro-inflammatory diet for your brain, and you just really want to shift away from that, if at all possible.
[0:39:51.3] MB: I'm curious. Are there other kind of strategies that you recommend or have we missed anything in terms of kind of digging into the various interventions that we can implement to kind of get away from brain drain and build a really smart, healthy, vibrant brain?
[0:40:06.3] MD: Yeah. So I have a lot of practices. The second week of my 14-day program is all about these practices that help to shift your brain from a sympathetic nervous system dominant state, a.k.a. fight or flight, into a parasympathetic dominant one, a.k.a. rest and digest.
If you kind of look at these two sides, I always use the analogy, this visual of a seesaw, your brain is always going to be tilted towards one or the other. If you're not stressed out and you’re nice and balanced, the seesaw will be tilted towards parasympathetic, rest and digest. If you're drained, it's going to be tilted towards sympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. fight or flight, and it's going to stay there, right?
We basically need to find a practice, and hopefully it's going to be a practice that's natural. I think the other thing that we’re relearning is the less people can rely on prescription medication, the better. So if you don't need to take a Klonopin or a Xanax or an Ativan to shift your brain away from fight or flight into rest and digest, the better.
I have a lot of clinically proven practices, like progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, self- hypnosis, mindfulness meditation. I think this these things used to be sort of very hippie, airy fairy, but I think they've come into the mainstream and I'm so glad, because they really do work, and I think —I have a script of all of these practices in the book and sort of mantra meditation in the book, and it's sort of finding that tool that works for you.
I've done a lot of mindfulness meditation and a lot of self-hypnosis. My brain, I prefer self-hypnosis in terms of how deep I can go how quickly, and if I'm feeling really stressed, that's a little practice that I can use in my own mind if I'm — No matter where I am, that works for me. Having that toolbox of what is that little practice, that 30-second practice that works for you. Also, exercise, right?
In the chapter in Heal Your Drained Brain called jog for joy, it's fascinating. People are just loving — They're going nuts over this chapter, the people that have read and reviewed this book, because I've really broken down exercise into these brain chemicals. For example, overall, we want to be more fit, because during the course of the day, fit people release over 40% less cortisol, that stress hormone, that brain drainer, compared to people who are out of shape. You want to get in shape, but you also want to be really careful and you want to use the right exercise at the right time.
So let me tell you what I mean by that. If you get on that treadmill and you're having a really bad day and you carry around a lot of anger and you're just having the worst day you’ve ever had, and then you do intense interval training. Recent research shows that you may increase your risk of a heart attack. It's kind of interesting that that would, for example, be a great day to do yoga or something, maybe something that's not interval training.
Interval training, by the way, is one of the best ways to get in shape fast, and if you need to lose some belly fat, interval training is fantastic, and we do want to get in shape rapidly, because as I said, it's one of the best ways to sort of globally reduce your stress hormone levels, because fit people release less cortisol throughout the day compared to people who are not in shape, but interval training actually spikes your cortisol levels, your stress hormone levels in the short term, but then you get this long-term benefit.
Another thing that I have in the book that people love is this new form of interval training, and it's a 10- minute interval training protocol that's been clinically proven in research. In this research, they found that cardiovascular health improved in these two groups in equal amounts. One group was doing standard interval training, about an hour class. The other group was doing 10-minute, these high intensity, let’s call it sprint interval training, where it’s sort of warm-up, jog, all out for 30 seconds, jog, all out for 30 seconds, jog, all out for 30 seconds, jog, cool down, a little 10-minute. Over the course of — I forget what the timeframe was, but I think it was about a month. These two groups had similar improvements.
So this is not to take away from an hour long interval training class. You should absolutely do that. I do a lot of those classes myself, but it proves that 10 minutes — This is a little trick that I use. When I'm in a hotel gym that's disgusting and — It's like basically in this little room and it's hard to motivate yourself when you're tired and jetlagged and you're in this little hotel gym with like one treadmill. You can do this little 10-minute workout if you only have a little bit of time, and it's certainly better than nothing. If in fact, we think that if you follow this format that's in my book, that it may be just as effective in many ways as a longer class, because you're just pushing your body and then pulling back, but you also want to make sure that you're, again, choosing the right exercise for you on the right day at the right time, because it really does have a profound effect on your brain health.
[0:45:28.8] MB: So many good strategies and kind of practical tips. For somebody who’s listening to this interview, what would be kind of one starting point that you would give them as kind of a piece of homework or an action item that they could use to implement the ideas that we’ve talked about today?
[0:45:44.5] MD: I would say just starts slowly. Remember that when it comes to brain health and healing your drained brain, my 14-day program is certainly a great jumpstart and most people start to feel a lot better, but at the end of the day, your brain health, it's not a sprint, it's actually a marathon, and a lot of the choices are choices that you're going to make for the rest your life.
That being said, if it is a marathon, the biggest change — The pyramids started with one brick or the Empire State building or whatever that visual is that you love. Just do one healthy thing that you didn't do yesterday and do it today and gradually you’ll start to feel better, and a lot of times when people make one change, they start to feel a little better, and that provides them with the momentum and the positive feedback that makes two changes easier to do tomorrow. If you're somebody who maybe does need a little bit of a boot camp, my 14-day program is great, but what I don't want people to do is go all out and then feel hopeless and then say, “Oh! I can't do it. It was too hard.”
If you’re in that boat where you’re just feeling, “Oh, gosh! There’s so much I have to do differently.” All you have to do — I would say today, do one thing that you've heard today that is going to be better for your brain. The positive feedback will carry through and hopefully tomorrow you'll do two.
[0:47:03.7] MB: And where can listeners find you and your books and all these information online?
[0:47:07.8] MD: Yeah, you can go to my website, drmikedow, like Dow Jones, .com, drmikedow. I’m on social media, Dr. Mike Dow on all my accounts, and my new book; Heal Your Drained Brain, is available in all major bookstores; Amazon, hayhouse.com, all indie bookstores. It goes on sale February 6th, 2018.
[0:47:32.4] MB: Mike, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all these information. I learned a tremendous amount about brain health, omega-3s and much, much more. So thank you so much for being a guest and sharing all these wisdom.
[0:47:42.6] MD: Thank for having me, Matt.
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