Are Food Sensitivities to Blame for Anxiety or Depression?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Did you know that food sensitivities can also trigger psychological responses, such as anxiety, depression, or ADD? Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss food sensitivities and the brain, the efficiency of testing, and what you can do at home to get help fast.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back, everybody. Today we're going to talk about something I talk about with virtually all of my patients, and that is, do you have food sensitivities that are causing issues with anxiety, depression, attentional problems, hyperactivity, behavior problems.

Tana: It's amazing food can do that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Food is medicine.

Tana: Or it's poison.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Or it's poison. It can devastate your intestinal tract, it can devastate your skin, and it can devastate your mind.

Tana: One of the things we need to clarify before we get too far, because I get this question all the time on Facebook.

Dr. Daniel Amen: How often?

Tana: All the time. It's a common question. Is, "What if I'm sensitive to this food," or more commonly, "I did the food sensitivity test, and I'm allergic to like, 26 or 34 foods. So I can't eat half of what's in the recipes that I'm supposed to, that I'm given for what I'm supposed to be eating. I can't eat those foods. What can I replace them?"

Dr. Daniel Amen: [crosstalk 00:01:08] the food sensitivity testing, you know, for a number of years, and getting rid of the foods that people said they were ... It just didn't seem to make a big difference.

Tana: Well, there's a couple reasons. First of all, if you're allergic, well, that's another thing we have to do. We have to clarify food allergies from food sensitivities. There's a big difference between food allergies and food sensitivities, and the second thing is, if you are sensitive, you get a list that shows up with 30 foods or 20-something plus foods, and you eliminate all of those foods, when in fact you don't necessarily need to be, and those tests haven't been shown to be valid or fully accurate yet, what you could be doing is creating nutritional deficiencies where there might not have been one, and what you really need is a gut healing program, so not necessarily to eliminate all of those foods.

You need to do a food journal, you need to get a real assessment done, and-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, so let's make this really simple.

Tana: First, understand food allergies. Let's start there.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you get hives, if you can't breathe, so people have shellfish allergies.

Tana: And that's an IGE test. That's a-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then it's critical to stay away from those foods.

Tana: And that's called an IGE test, or immunoglobulin E. That is, you can get a skin prick test or a blood test. That's serious. It means you need to stay away from them. So you get rashes, you get hives, your throat swells, stay away from those foods. That's not kidding. But if you get some sort of vague symptoms you're not sure about, and you go to someone that does a food sensitivity test on you, they're pretty expensive. They're not covered by insurance. It's called an IGG test. They are used for autoimmune disorders, a lot of times. What that's going to indicate is, are those proteins from those foods, are there proteins from certain foods, undigested proteins, crossing your intestinal lining? Are they in your bloodstream somehow?

That's where this idea of "I'm sensitive to foods," what it really is showing, where it is useful, is okay, you've got intestinal permeability or a leaky gut. Problem is, when those companies have been tested ... When, say, samples from the same person, we send two samples from the same person to two different labs, or we send the same sample, like we divide the same sample, and we send it to the same lab, label it with different names. They get two different results. Sometimes someone has a serious food allergy, and it doesn't even show up.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So the test, re-test reliability is not there?

Tana: And it's expensive.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We are generally not a fan of food sensitivity tests.

Tana: And neither are most of our friends.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But we're a huge fan of the issue of food sensitivities, and we believe that there are certain foods that you should eliminate, at least on a trial basis.

Tana: And journal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Neither one of us are a fan, we're not a fan of gluten. We're not a fan of dairy. We're not a fan of corn, and we're not a fan of sugar or soy. We're just not a fan because we don't see enough nutritional benefit for the potential risks.

Tana: And we write a lot about that in our book, The Brain Warrior's Way. We're not alone on this concept, so most of our friends in the functional medicine field, even Dr. Weil is not a fan of these tests. Dr. Houston, Dr. Filidei. They would really prefer that you do what we do. Dr. Filidei works for us at our clinics. Get a thorough assessment, do your food journal if you really think something, you suspect something's not working for you. Then challenge it. In other words, eliminate it. We explain how to do a food elimination diet or challenge, if you will, very thoroughly and in detail in The Brain Warrior's Way. Or you can call the clinic and get an assessment.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I'll just tell you, it's really simple.

Tana: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's eliminate from your diet for about a month gluten, so wheat and the other things that have gluten, barley-

Tana: Dairy. Are you talking about the gluten?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Gluten, yeah. What else?

Tana: We actually would recommend you eliminate most grains, and if you don't want to eliminate them all, then the ones that are non-gluten, sort of like oatmeal. If you don't want to do everything all at once, then don't worry about oatmeal to start.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Or eat quinoa, even though it's not a grain-

Tana: Quinoa, it's a seed.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... It's a seed, but people use it like a grain. Or rice. There's not very many allergies to rice. If you can eliminate gluten and things that contain gluten. Even cosmetics will have gluten in it, so it's important to read labels, so gluten, dairy, soy, corn, sugar, along with that, artificial dyes and sweeteners. This is not hard. It's really, it's a mindset thing, and in The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook, virtually all of Tana's cookbooks-

Tana: 130 recipes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Are not made with any of those ingredients. People go, "Oh, well, there's nothing to eat," and I'm like, "No, there's 10,000 things to what. No one's ever taught you how to do that."

Tana: Like coconut wraps and-

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you do that for a month, and you don't notice any change in your symptoms, and you're serious about it. You're not cheating about it. Then maybe that's not the cause of the issues you're struggling with, maybe it's something else. But I have to tell you, half, 50% of the patients we see who go on an eliminate diet have a significant reduction in their symptoms. One study from Holland with 300 kids who had ADD, 72% of them lost their ADD symptom.

Tana: Just with diet.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Just with diet alone. So this is a very important topic. People go, "What do you eat?" I made you eggs this morning.

Tana: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then I had a cup of frozen blueberries. I think of them almost like God's candy.

Tana: I had a big salad with salmon on it. We've got 125, 130 recipes in The Brain Warrior's Way, 125 recipes in The Omni Diet that follow exactly ... This isn't even-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And they taste amazing.

Tana: Let me just clarify one thing. We have people do this as a quote-unquote eliminate or challenge initially. Most people end up feeling so much better they never go back.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Talk about Angie, because this was-

Tana: Hold on, I will.

Dr. Daniel Amen: This was really helpful.

Tana: Let me finish. But the truth is, this is how we live. Once in a while, we may engage, we may have a little bite of bread or something like that. But that's not where we live normally. We eat that way all the time, and that's why there's so many recipes for you to find and use that we've created, that I've created for you to be able to do this. Angie lost 103 pounds over 14 months. She lost 11 pounds in the first two weeks, she was amazing. But it wasn't just the weight.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's often what happens when people have food sensitivities that are causing inflammation and water retention. The first two weeks are often amazing.

Tana: If you are inflamed, think about inflammation causing ... Inflammation causes problems with just about every organ in your body. It's inflammation, it's like a flame. It's like this chronic problem you've got going on in your body. Swollen joints. She had female problems, she had skin problems. It was anxiety and depression that were ruling her life. After doing this program, 103 pounds later, 14 months, and now it's been several years and she hasn't gained it back. She can't imagine ever going back.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But she's a warrior.

Tana: She's a warrior. She can't imagine going backwards. If she even starts to gain a few pounds, she gets really uncomfortable because in her mind, it means, "Uh-oh, I have to be serious." She'll write to me and she's like, "Okay, I gained"-

Dr. Daniel Amen: You know, I'm the same way.

Tana: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If I gain a few pounds, I'm not happy about that. That's okay. With two thirds of Americans overweight-

Tana: And she's been miserable.

Dr. Daniel Amen: 40% obese, and as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down. It's the biggest brain drain in the history of the United States. It's okay to be anxious.

Tana: Angie, it wasn't even the weight that was the best part for her, although it was. Obviously, because along with that, she had been ridiculed most of her life. Now she got her confidence back. Socially, she was so much happier. But the skin cleared up. Her female problems cleared up. Her joint pain was gone. That inflammation goes away. Your gut heals. Her gut healed. Your gut bacteria gets better. And you know, you're the one who talks all the time about the importance of gut bacteria for brain health. Her anxiety and depression were gone. She said, once in a while, she'll notice it creeps in, but it no longer rules her life, and she knows how to get rid of it. She can get it under control. That's really exciting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, food is helping you or it's hurting you. If you haven't read The Brain Warrior's Way, we just encourage you to do it. We worked really hard to make it easy to read, full of great, actionable ideas, and then The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook's the perfect companion to it. The thing I love about it is the recipes taste awesome, and they're good for you. You can do this. None of this is hard. It just takes the right mindset. You're a warrior. You're armed, prepared, and aware to win the fight of your life. Stay with us.