One of the hazards of being in health care is learning about one’s risks of various diseases. While I am convinced that our beliefs and thoughts are most important – which means focusing on the positive is best – I know I have a gene that puts me at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

So lately one my favorite researchers to listen to is Daniel Amen. I’ve listened to him speak on interviews and talks and have found that he has concrete answers to my biggest fear. (We all have one of those, right?)

Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist who started his career as a radiologist in the military (purely to avoid the danger of the front lines during war). He became fascinated with images, having learned that we must look at anything we are treating, so would never medicate for a brain issue without looking at the brain through SPECT scans. He has looked at over 80,000 brain scans, finding patterns seen in various diseases and conditions. Dr. Amen told a story about a woman that was to be treated for Alzheimer’s, only to have a scan show depression and then successfully treated her with an antidepressant!

He uses a pneumonic, BRIGHT MINDS, to describe the 11 things we can address and avoid to keep our brains healthy:

Blood Flow: Brains have more vascular area than any other part of the body and depend on good circulation and oxygenation (as all parts do). When blood flow is compromised, results may include hypertension, erectile dysfunction, or other signs of poor circulation. We can support good circulation with exercise, testosterone, and foods like beets and rosemary.

Retirement and Aging: A common problem that results from aging, and particularly happens after retirement, is people don’t fully utilize or exercise their minds. Spend at least 15 minutes each day learning something new, like a language or musical instrument.

Inflammation: Dr. Amen refers to looking at our gum health and level of blood flow to reflect our level of inflammation. Labs would include CRP and an Omega 3 index among others we’ve discussed in previous posts.

Genetics: If we have the genes that increase risk for a disease, we just need to be more mindful of our health habits. For example, add antioxidants and supportive nutrients like blueberries, green tea, Vitamin D, and curcumin that can break up beta amyloid plaques believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Head Trauma: Blows to the head clearly show compromise to brain function and need to be avoided as much as possible. We can heal injury with huge doses of Omega 3 fats, antioxidants and testosterone.

Toxins: It is important to minimize the intake of alcohol, marijuana, and environmental toxins, which can decrease blood flow to every area of the brain.

Mental health challenges like PTSD, stress, and trauma need to be taken seriously and treated.

Infections and immune system compromise like herpes simplex virus, Lyme disease, and autoimmune diseases need detection and treatment.

Neurohormone deficiencies can be balanced with nutrition, herbs, and hormone supplementation.

Diabetes and obesity are huge risks to blood flow and inflammation status.

Sleep is critical for hormone balance and mental health.

Dr. Amen stresses the importance of fish oils, high fat in the diet, and avoidance of sugar and foods that quickly turn into sugar. He has found that what is good for our brain is also good for our heart — which is also good for our sex lives!  This is because our brain, heart, and sex organs all depend on circulation to work.

That’s an added benefit we can all hope to enjoy as we age!