Full transcript of neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen’s TEDx Talk: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life @ TEDxOrangeCoast conference. Dr. Amen is the author of the popular book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised and Expanded): The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Daniel Amen – Change Your Brain, Change Your Life @TEDxOrangeCoast
Daniel Amen – Psychiatrist and Brain Specialist
Good afternoon. I am so excited to be here. I actually film all my shows here at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
So, innovation is a brain function. It is dependent on the physical health of your brain.
So, did you know obviously, your brain is involved in everything you do: how you think, how you feel, how you act, how you get along with other people.
At the Amen Clinics, we have looked at over 63,000 brain scans over the last 20 years, and it is very clear to me that your brain is the organ of judgment, personality, character, and innovation.
And when you brain works right, you work right. And when your brain is troubled, you are much more likely to have trouble in your life.
So what you see on the screen are two brain SPECT scans. SPECT is the study that we do in our clinic. It’s a very sophisticated brain imaging study that looks at blood flow and activity patterns. It looks at how your brain works.
And it basically shows us three things: areas of the brain that work well, areas of the brain that are low in activity, and areas of the brain that are high in activity. So good activity, too little, or too much. And then our job becomes balancing it.
The image on your left is a healthy scan. It shows full, even, symmetrical activity. The color doesn’t mean anything, it’s the shape.
The image on the right is an alcoholic scan. Alcohol is directly toxic to brain function. I know many of you believe you have to have your two glasses of red wine a day because it’s good for your heart. It’s not good for your brain.
With a healthy brain, it’s very clear to me you’re happier, healthier, wealthier, you’re wiser, you’re more creative, more innovative.
When your brain is not healthy, for whatever reason — you had a brain injury, you have a terrible diet, you live in a toxic environment, you’re sadder, sicker, poorer, not as smart. You’re more rigid, and you’re inflexible, which is the opposite of innovation.
I’ve said this, tens of thousands of times, and it always blows me away. Your brain is the most complicated organ in the universe. There is nothing as complex as the human brain, nothing.
It’s estimated we have 100 billion nerve cells. And each nerve cell is connected to other nerve cells, not in a one-to-one connection, but up to 10,000 individual connections between cells. Which means you have more connection in your skull than there are stars in the Universe.
Information in your brain travels at about 268 miles an hour. Unless, of course, you’re drunk. And even though your brain is only 2% of your body’s weight, it uses 20% to 30% of the calories that you consume.
So, of the breakfast you had this morning, or the lunch you had this afternoon, almost a third of it goes to feed 2% of your body’s weight. Your brain is the most expensive real estate in your body.
On average, you lose 85,000 brain cells a day. And what we’ve discovered at the Amen Clinics is you can accelerate the aging process with your behavior, or you can decelerate it. How exciting is that?
The health of your brain also decelerates innovation, or it accelerates it.
So what are the things that hurt your brain?
Brain injury should be obvious. I just finished the largest NFL study, brain imaging study on retired NFL players. The NFL is no longer lying about brain injuries. They’re taking it much more seriously. Do not let your kids play tackle football, or hit soccer balls with their head.
Come on, the brain is very soft, about the consistency of soft butter. And your skull is really hard, and it has many sharp, bony ridges. You have to protect it.
Drugs and alcohol should be obvious, but what our country has no clue yet, but is learning, is that obesity damages brain function.
There are now 10 studies. We just published a study in the Nature journal, “Obesity“, that says as your weight goes up, the actual physical size and function of your brain goes down. Whoa! That should scare the fat off anyone.
I read that study, the first one that came out about three years ago, I dropped 25 pounds. I was serious, when it comes to the brain, size matters. You do not want a smaller brain.
Smoking constricts blood flow to the brain. Like it prematurely ages your skin, it prematurely ages the brain.
High blood pressure, as your blood pressure goes up, the blood flow to your brain goes down. So you need to know your blood pressure on a regular basis, and if it’s high, take it seriously.
Diabetes, standard American diet (SAD), environmental toxins, lack of exercise, and something I call ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts, the thoughts that come into your mind automatically and ruin your day. They are the seeds of anxiety disorders and depression.
So if this is true, it is, what are the things you can do to help your brain?
Positive social connections. Unbelievable, the people you spend time with determine your longevity. Isn’t that interesting?
If you spend time with people who have healthy health habits, you pick those up, because people are contagious.
If you spend time with people who do not have healthy habits, you die early. Become very serious about who you spend your time with.
New learning, so TED is perfect for this. Whenever you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. When you stop learning, your brain actually starts to disconnect itself.
Diet is absolutely essential. You are consuming the nutrients that are helping you, or the toxins that hurt you.