In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen continue their discussion with ‘One Year No Beer’ founder Andy Ramage. Andy discusses the effects of alcohol, particularly as they relate to such subjects as hangovers, sports injuries, anxiety, weight loss, and motivation.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome Back to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. We are here with Andy Ramage, we're having a great discussion on, One Year No Beer. And here at Amen Clinics, we have looked at people's brains for the last 26 years. We have scanned nearly a 130,000 brains on people from 111 countries. And one of the first things I learned from looking at all these brain scans is that alcohol is not a health food.
What I saw is over time, it significantly decreases blood flow to the brain. So you're not as happy, you're not as sharp, you're not optimized. And I went through this whole period in American culture where people would drink two glasses of red wine a day and they go, "It's a health food." And I'm like, "It's just the big lie."
And you came to a similar conclusion, not based on imaging, but based on scanning your body. So let's talk about-
Tana Amen: And taking an assessment of your life.
Dr Daniel Amen: The benefits to you when you stopped drinking alcohol and then went on a campaign, on a challenge really, to not drink for a year.
Andy Ramage : Yeah. They were huge really. And not from the obvious negation of those hangover feelings. It really started, I think, with ... Well, let's start, mentally. I would suffer with anxiety the day after which lots of people do, the beer fear, as it were. And I'd wake up that following morning, just not right, quite anxious and almost I feel quite lucky that I've never suffered with depression.
But the one time that I could describe something that was like a depression was after a very big drinking session. They say it was like a Saturday evening type [inaudible 00:02:16] that flowed into a late Sunday morning. It was like slipping into a hole and I could just climb my way out only to then completely undo that, bash myself over the head and knock myself back into the hole on Wednesday again by going out on a long lunch and an evening out.
So instantly, and I feel very fortunate that disappeared. And it's never come back since. Because that clearly was 100% down to the way I felt mentally after a big night out of drinking too much alcohol. That was a huge win, right there for me. A huge win out the trap.
And then followed by that, that flowed into my physical health. Because as we discussed in the first episode, what happened was, suddenly I was able to train a lot and harder because I wasn't calling off sick. I wasn't suddenly going out on a Wednesday or a Thursday on a big lunch or a big dinner and then so hungover on a Friday morning that I didn't have the energy to train or the motivation to train.
Suddenly I got this big streak of training hard. Mentally I felt so much [inaudible 00:03:17]. So much more motivated, more productive. And that then combined, I could completely address my diet. And this is again, it sounds extreme, but I was the stereotypical, meat eating, beer drinking, 50s broker. And then I looked at my diet and said, "Actually, I'm eating these big steaks, they're not really ... " I could actually feel what they were doing to me, because I couldn't blame it on a hangover or tiredness.
And then I refined my diet, became a vegetarian. I'm pretty much vegan today. So all these combination of things had a huge effect on me. I mentioned, previously, I lost a lot of weight. 42 pounds in weight. My body fat went from 35% down to 10%. I was back in the real shape at 40-years-old, or late 30s, that I was when I was playing football professionally in my 20s. And that was huge for me.
Tana Amen: That's amazing.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and there's a wild card in here that's really important to understand. People who play professional soccer, often have suffered concussions, and the scans I've done ... So here at Amen Clinics we did the world's largest study on active and retired NFL players. And the level of damage was just awful. Okay, that's not a big surprise now. Culturally it's accepted. But soccer's not that much different.
Tana Amen: No. In fact, without saying names, we're seeing a famous soccer player this week. And it's not uncommon for that to happen because of the headbutts and whatever you call it, headers. Whatever you call them, with the ball.
Andy Ramage : Yeah. And that's really significant because-
Dr Daniel Amen: And so, your brain was likely more vulnerable because of the repetitive trauma. And to heal it, that's the exciting. So the headline from our study is, "Those brains can often be healed if you put them in a healing environment." And having four, five, six, eight beers a week is not a healing environment, as you could just tell from how you felt.
Andy Ramage : Yeah, and it's a fantastic point. And I've actually looked at a lot of that type of research on the American footballers and concussions because in football, as you almost rightly said they're called, headers. That was perfectly said. We head the ball all the time, so although these are not knockout blows, we use our head as part of the game. And the position that I played in I used it a lot.
And I think it's probably not really been revealed or uncovered the damage that, that could potentially be doing. And then as you pointed out, if you're put in the wrong environment, which is three, four, five, six beers every day, the mental effect that, that has. The cumulative effect that has over time I think, is very damaging.
Tana Amen: Right. And now-
Andy Ramage : Actually, it's very interesting there's a very famous Cricketer. There's another strange game that we play over here, but it's called, Cricket. A guy called, Freddie Flintoff, it was really world-renowned as this stereotypical, larger-than-life, beer drinking, cricket player. Massive sportsmen, and ironically he was involved in a study on other players that suffered mental health issues and whilst he was involved in this study, he realized his own symptoms were starting to appear because he was drinking too much. And actually now, he's a complete teetotaler as well. Doesn't drink at all. And he's a fantastic ad for what we do.
Tana Amen: That's awesome. I want to talk about some of the practical things, because people are hearing this and they're saying, "Gosh, it sounds amazing. Not going to work for me", because they've got this list of reasons in their head. You're an LP guy, right. I do an LP, I love it. And so you've got this list of reasons that you have of reasons you can't do something or you can.
One of the things we hear a lot that we know of, especially one thing for women is anxiety. So you've got hormonal anxiety, you're got social anxiety, that's one of the things. Or, as you talked about, social lubricant. People are introverts. They want it, because it helps them relax so that they can talk to people.
There's a whole host of reasons that people drink besides just being alcoholics. In fact, that's probably not the number one reason. So, help us out. And the other question I have for you is, how long was it before you started noticing a pretty radical shift in feeling better?
Andy Ramage : Yeah, to answer your last question, first. It was probably within that first month really. Two-to-three weeks when actually my eyes felt bright again and the energy started to return. And just to dig a bit deeper on that one particular question, I think it's really interesting because most people start drinking, and I certainly did, in their teens. And they never really stop. So they never really get a break for long enough to actually realize what life was like before they felt a bit tired and a bit lethargic. And they just accept those things as just a natural part maybe of growing old, when actually, it's very, very often the alcohol that's having the cumulative, negative effect. That's why, our challenge is so important I think, to give people that look of, "Wow, this is 30 days without alcohol. I feel marvelous. This is what I've been missing out on."
And then to go back to those first questions, the challenge initially is all part of the habit change process. Come and do a challenge. There's never a perfect time to start. The first thing that most people do when they look at a challenge such as this is they look at their diary and they say, "Oh, I'd love to do it, but I've got the birthday." "No, I'd love to do it, but I've got the wedding." "But I've got the holiday."
There's always that excuse, and actually what we've found that some of the most powerful moments are when you go to the wedding, or the friend's birthday and you don't drink. And you actually prove to yourself that actually you can still go and be social and have a great time and skip those debilitating effects or those hangovers. And that's really, really powerful. And we see that all the time. People that go and they can do it. They do the wedding ... My biggest fear was how was I going to dance, sober at weddings. [crosstalk 00:09:31] fear.
Tana Amen: How were you going to dance sober at weddings. That's hilarious.
Andy Ramage : Yeah, and it's silly and it's laughable, but that's exactly what we're talking about. It puts people off trying these new things because they're scared by it. Again, the challenge process, we try and get people to do the shorter challenge, which is just 28 days, can you do it? Can you do it one month? [crosstalk 00:09:50]
Dr Daniel Amen: Can you do it? See, I love the challenge part. I just think that is-
Andy Ramage : Yes. And it's got a start-
Dr Daniel Amen: ... so brilliant.
Andy Ramage : ... and it's got an end. It's not daunting. It's not overwhelming. Can you come and do it and prove to yourself. And it's all about mindset, really. And we've seen it several times. If you have a mindset you're giving something up, you're missing out; or you have a mindset, I'm going to get all these amazing advantages, I'm going to feel great, my skin's going to look great, I'm going to be healthier. As soon as you can help people make that mindset shift, everything changes.
Dr Daniel Amen: We love that. So what did your wife say about all this?
Andy Ramage : Well, yeah. She's a good Irish lady. In fact, this story is really true. I fell in love with her because she drunk pints of beer, which is the big, big glasses of beer that women don't usually drink.
Tana Amen: So she could keep up, right?
Andy Ramage : Yeah. But in Ireland, it's culture's slightly different than here, they drink the big, big pints that essentially men would only drink. And I couldn't believe it when I first saw this pretty lady with this huge glass of beer effectively.
Tana Amen: That's hilarious.
Andy Ramage : No, she's been amazingly supportive. And anything that's good for me is good for her. And that's another key part of this. I'm not running around, we're not pointing fingers or telling anyone off. It's very much a case of leading by example.
Tana Amen: Yeah, agreed.
Andy Ramage : And I know that my example's likely having a positive influence on people. She still drinks. Way, way, less than she did before, for example.
Andy Ramage : No, she totally gets it. Totally supports me. And I can still just about dance at weddings so she's happy enough.
Tana Amen: That's so funny. Let's talk about the practical aspects. If someone wants to stop doing this, but they've got this list of reasons in their head, or, and some of those reasons are real. They're anxious. They're shy. They're uncomfortable in social situations. Whatever those reasons are, what are some practical things they can do. I'd love to hear from both of you. Medical and social. What you guys think that people can do.
Andy Ramage : If I can get off, a lot of what we do is again, it's that practical, social side of things. For example, a lot of people's fear is telling people that they want to start this challenge. That they're scared because again, if you walk into a room of, let's take my specific example, and you tell people that you want to stop drinking, it's the only drug in the world that people turn around and they berate you for it. They carry you off for wanting to take a break from alcohol, because they don't want to lose their drinking buddy.
[inaudible 00:12:20] tips are very practical for example, take out the ringleader. There's always that one person, that one friend that if you can get them onside he's going to make your life a whole lot easier, because if they support you on this challenge, then you just watch the rest follow. Again, that's just a very quick practical, practical tip.
Tana Amen: That's excellent.
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, so it's finding the lever person in your social circle.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: And my experience is, tell them what you're doing, tell them why you're doing it and then get a stiff backbone.
Andy Ramage : Exactly.
Tana Amen: What can they do for the anxiety aspect for that-
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, there's so many other things to do. As a psychiatrist, I love teaching people to meditate. I love using hypnosis, self-hypnosis. I like certain supplements. We make something called, Serotonin Mood Support, for people who are worried and they can't let go of negative thoughts or bad thoughts. It's got, Saffron, the world's most expensive spice. But it's been shown to really help with depression and anxiety. Also, 5-HTP, which is the amino acid building block for Serotonin.
We also make something called, Gaba Calming Support, that raises Gaba. And what Gaba does is sort of what alcohol does, without the hangover. Gaba raises a neurotransmitter called, Gaba, that calms down the over firing we see in the brain that often goes with anxiety. But no one's going to get addicted to the Gaba. It's not going to cause social problems for them.
Tana Amen: So one practical tip I have for people when I'm coaching them, sometimes people, it's a social thing where they just want something to hold and to sip because they just don't know what to do. So we'll have them get sparkling water and add some lemon or lime or whatever. Or fresh berries, make it pretty, and put a few drops of Stevia in it. That's just a practical solution. And then I like-
Dr Daniel Amen: So you have something to hold-
Tana Amen: To hold. And to sip, and to socialize.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... while you're in that environment.
Tana Amen: That's not full of sugar.
Dr Daniel Amen: There's a new study on the game, Tetris. It's an app, you can download it to your phone, it's free, most of us have played Tetris at some point in our life. You play for 20 minutes a day, decreases cravings for alcohol. How simple is that, you know? Just play Tetris on your phone.
Dr Daniel Amen: There's also an interesting supplement I like a lot called, N-Acetyl Cysteine, which is a super antioxidant that actually has been shown to decrease the cravings for alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
Dr Daniel Amen: And it's something we actually put in a number of our products, especially craving control, just as a way to get your chemistry better balanced.
Tana Amen: What else do you have to add to that, Andy?
Andy Ramage : Yeah, and all those points you've made are fantastic. We're big believers in Mindfulness. That's a big part of what we do. Again, we try to do all these things without putting labels on them. To [inaudible 00:15:35]scare people off. Especially lots of people that come to One Year No Beer may have never really heard of, Mindfulness before, or meditation. So we try and ease them, very much into this just by becoming more aware of their habits, becoming more aware of what they're actually doing and actually introducing Mindfulness without labels, which I think helps.
And also, if you get really practical. As you said, for example, if someone's socially anxious, give them all those tips and tricks. Yours is a great tip there, actually to maybe even use non-alcoholic lookalike. That's what we do lots of. So the no alcohol and non-alcohol beers, for example are fantastic ways to ease your way into social settings. You still feel part of the group, which is very important. And lots of people leave you alone, once you've got something that looks like alcohol. You don't get the constant barrage of questions, "Why are you not drinking?" "Why are you not drinking?" That's another really important tip I think.
And also, to always know what you're going to drink and have a back-up plan. Because what catches a lot of people out, they go into that bar setting and this is my experience on numerous occasions, and this is where we can look at social and psychological conditioning that surrounds us for years if you program yourself for 20 years to drink alcohol, you walk into a bar and you smell the crisps and you feel ambiance and the bar person says, "What do you want?" I can't tell you how many times I'd [inaudible 00:16:53] I'd get to the bar and I'd order a pint of lager.
Tana Amen: It's a habit.
Andy Ramage : It's happened so many times.
Tana Amen: It's those triggers.
Andy Ramage : Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk about habit change.
Tana Amen: Okay, because that's important.
Dr Daniel Amen: And what Andy has learned in One Year No Beer. And helping thousands of people change habits are actually ... They become burned into your brain. And so you actually end up saying, "Yes", before your frontal lobes say, "No." And so when we come back with Andy Ramage, One Year No Beer. You can actually go to: oneyearnobeer.com and learn more about Andy's journey, and how he's been helping people around the world. Stay with us.