My Notes From an Interview with Dr. Daniel Amen
Add is rampant in our society and most people have no idea what to do for it, should I take medicine, I shouldn’t take medicine. Your brain matters and you need to learn how to be a brain warrior, it’s the most important organ in the history of the universe and virtually nobody cares about it because you can’t see it. We care more about our faces and our looks than we care about our brain which is nuts if you think about it, it runs everything. We have to get our brain straightened out and were just going the wrong way, there are 200 studies that say as your weight goes up the size and function of your brain goes down. With two thirds of us overweight it’s the biggest brain drain in the history of the United States, Alzheimer’s is expected to triple in the next twenty five years and there is no cure on the horizon. It starts in your brain decades before you have any symptoms and both ADD and depression increase your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. When you really fall in love with your brain what you ultimately wind up attacking is obesity, ADD, Alzheimer’s Disease and depression, it’s the same program. The thing that really gets me excited is there is many ways to get sick there is only one way to get better.
I wrote my first book on ADD twenty years ago, I have an adopted son he has it, it runs in families it’s biological. One of my daughter’s had it, hyperactive from birth. Thirty percent of three year olds look hyperactive, only about five to ten percent of four year olds, the first time you can really diagnose it in kids thoughtfully is about four years old. When we understood about ADD in my wife and my daughter and my son I thought no wonder my life is crazy because when you live in an ADD household whether you have ADD or not it’s chronic stress. People are late, their emotional, they don’t follow through, it was hard it gave me great empathy as a psychiatrist dealing with my ADD patients. I understood more than most people that it’s not the flavor of the month illness, it’s not a fad, left untreated it devastates peoples lives. A study just came out saying if left untreated people die about ten years earlier than people who don’t have it.
There are five hallmark symptoms, short attention span for regular routine everyday things, for things that are new or novel, highly interesting, stimulating or frightening, things that have their own intrinsic stimulation people with ADD can pay attention to fine. When you talk to their teachers, spouses or employers they say this person is easily distracted their attention span is short they tend not to be very organized, their space mess seems to follow them. They tend to procrastinate they don’t do something until somebody is mad at them, issues with impulse control which means they don’t think it all the way through. They tend to get arrested more, they tend to have more affairs, they have more bankruptcies and they don’t follow through on the health things you want them to do. They will come and say I want help with this and you will give them a plan but if you don’t hold their hand and harass them a little bit they won’t do this. That can be problematic in their life, they often make great sales people because they can juggle many balls at once. They can be a great CEO if they have a great COO so they can be wonderful executives with lots of wonderful ideas and really bright but they need somebody to follow through on things otherwise it doesn’t get done.
I started doing the brain imaging work that we do at Amen clinics that we started in 1991, I’ve been obsessed with it because if you think about it an image is worth a thousand words and a map is worth a thousand images, the map tells you where you are and where you want to go. The brain imaging or the brain mapping that we do literally revolutionized everything in my life, until I saw my own brain and developed this concept called brain envy I didn’t like it, I wanted it better so I developed a lot of the process and protocols we use at Amen clinics. In the process of looking at peoples brains initially because I didn’t know better I’m like oh ADD what’s that it’s probably low brain function and we saw that it’s sort of the hallmark symptom of it but not everybody was the same. Some people had low frontal lobe function and some had high frontal lobe function and thought these are the people who don’t get better on stimulants. The more people I did the more we were able to tease apart that ADD is not one thing, stop giving everybody ritalin it makes some people better some people worse and I went on to describe different types.
Type one is classic ADD those symptoms are short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, impulse control problems but their also restless, they can’t sit still. The second type is what we call inattentive ADD it’s more common in girls and their not hyperactive and their not terribly impulsive but short attention span, distractibility, disorganized, they often get missed and people think of them as not that smart. Type three I described early on because I had a personal connection with children and grandchildren of alcoholics was that over focused. ADD is the problem it’s not that they can’t pay attention it’s they can’t shift their attention, both of them ultimately can’t pay attention. But the over focused people they just get stuck on worries and grudges and when things don’t go their way they get upset and tend to be argumentative and oppositional. They often get diagnosed with ADD but stimulants make them more anxious and more obsessive. Another type is the ring of fire their whole brain is working too hard, could be an allergy, could be some sort of inflammation like from Lyme disease, they don’t do well on traditional ADD medicine even though they have the worst ADD symptoms. If you know the type then you can target the medicine, supplement or behavioral intervention to their specific type.
It’s really helped us we do an outcome study on every patient we see I have six clinics around the country soon to be seven and I have the best outcomes of anyone I know in psychiatry. It’s because we look, I don’t make a diagnosis just based on symptoms we make a diagnosis based on symptoms and how the brain is working or not working.
There are things everybody should do, multivitamins, a really high quality multivitamin because people with ADD eat terribly as they don’t plan their meals. The basic nutrition with B vitamins, fish oil not just any kind you want EPA it tends to be helpful for most types with ADD as opposed to DHA. It tends to calm the brain and is really helpful for anxiety and memory EPA is much better for mood and for focus. Exercise is head to head against stimulants in some studies that exercise is equally effective. If you have a hyperactive, rambunctious child get rid of the gadgets because they just make them more ADD, make sure they get sunshine so they get enough vitamin D and their out their running, walking, playing sports but not sports that put them at risk for brain injury. Who gets more injuries playing sports the kids with ADD because they don’t have the appropriate anxiety.
When I first became a psychiatrist I thought it was my job to help lower anxiety but I found I have to raise anxiety in a lot of my patients to stop them from making bone head decisions and doing stupid things. Exercise is critical but not in the form where thy could have a head injury, oh my kid gets exercise by playing hitting soccer balls not a good idea. Or he wants to play football, really bad idea, a big NFL study says football is bad for your brain. Track is great, tennis is great, dancing is awesome, not cheerleading they throw them up in the air if they don’t land on their elbows they land on their heads. You have to be careful, coordination exercises are the best which is why I like table tennis and dancing.
People forget about the part of the brain called the cerebellum, the back part of the brain it has ten percent of the brains volume and fifty percent of the brains neurons. It’s involved in coordination but also thought coordination how quickly you integrate new information and it turns off in people who have ADD and it turns off in people who have head injuries. Activating it, keeping it fired up is really important if your going to lift weights do it on a balance ball always try to be firing up the coordination part of the brain and diet is critical. There is a study from Holland that took several hundred kids who had ADD and put them on an elimination diet, they removed all the crap. They were allowed to eat vegetables, fruit, lamb, turkey, rice, pear juice, at the end of three months 72% of them lost their symptoms. Yes it can be challenging but that’s the same effectiveness as a stimulant medicine and it’s cheaper and there are no side effects to just eating the right things. My wife really knows how to take healthy food and make it awesome so one of our mantras at the Amen Clinic is there is no suffering required, getting well is always about abundance it’s never about depravation it’s just that you have to loose the crap.
You want to get the food right I have a program healing ADD in thirty days, we filmed thirty short videos and it’s so simple it’s today do this tomorrow do that. One of the things I think is critical is going on an elimination diet, do it quickly and put everybody in the family on it. Once you wrap your mind around it it’s really simple, I ask kids one question is this good for my brain or bad for my brain. We get the list out and ask the question, a little education is absolutely essential. Kids are so open to doing the right thing if someone would just tell them what the right thing is and not talk down to them. We have a high school course that’s in 42 states and 7 countries and I was blown away at how open the ninth graders are saying oh I’ll think better, I’ll get my homework done faster, I won’t be a jerk and my girlfriend won’t break up with me. People don’t connect that regular pasta makes you stupid or that white bread and jelly is upsetting your blood sugar that I won’t be healthy later on, they don’t know you should have protein at each meal.
A study took 107 couples and they measured their blood sugar right before bedtime and then they gave them all voodoo dolls and they said we want you to express your feelings about your partner by the pins in the dolls, who thinks of this. They found the people with the lowest blood sugar had double the amount of pins in the dolls when it came to their partner and a lot of people who have ADD they don’t have enough protein. When I was growing up people had bacon and eggs for breakfast and it went to pop tarts, donuts, waffles, sugar cereals. What happens is if you don’t have protein in the morning or protein throughout the day it spikes your blood sugar and it makes you feel good and people don’t know that sugar slams serotonin into your brain, it makes you happier but it also makes you sicker, you can’t focus your brain. Protein and healthy fat it’s another thing in the early eighties we were made afraid of fat, fats killing your heart, the FDA just came out and said we were wrong it’s not fat it’s sugar. When they took the fat out in the early eighties they replaced it with sugar and obesity skyrocketed. As did ADD, why, because if your blood sugar is going up and then it’s dropping you get a sugar load it goes up and the pancreas spits out more insulin to drop your blood sugar. When it drops it you can’t think you can’t focus your irritable your putting pins in dolls. Let’s just think this through we went from protein breakfast in the fifties and sixties to a carbohydrate load in the eighties and nineties. You give a kid sugared cereals and right away the blood sugar goes up about a half an hour later it begins to drop you become hungry, foggy, a little dumb, they actually did this study on rats and they became dumb. Forty five minutes after breakfast the kids are starting school and somebody says focus, I can’t, they go you have ADD so lets take ritalin. It begins a cycle that’s maybe not the best, I’m always thinking in my head first do no harm what can I do naturally first. Food, supplements, exercise, if this doesn’t work then we can talk about what our options are. Over the last twenty five years I have seen 30,000 patients with ADD and I teach the natural ways to heal it. At my web page you can learn about what we do and watch my Ted Talk called the most important lesson on 83,000 brain scans. Our work is much more than that it’s about preventing, aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. There’s a brand new study just released from UCLA where they took people with Alzheimer’s and put them on a program similar to what I do and nine of the people in six months were significantly better in fact six of them went back to work. There’s a new movement that your not stuck with the brain you have you can make it better you just have to do the right things, you change your brain you change your life.
Dr. Amen web page danielamenmd.com
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
M. Scherker medical researcher