Could You Have a Brain Injury and Not Know It?

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

In Part 6 of the Memory Rescue series, the focus is on head trauma. Taking a bad fall or playing contact sports can lead to memory issues as you get older, and can leave many people with lasting damage that they may not realize is there. Learn the importance of protecting your head, and what you can do to help your brain if you’ve experienced head trauma.


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Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the first for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are in our Memory Rescue series. We're talking about how to have a bright mind, and today we are going to talk about the H in bright minds, which is head trauma. B is for Bloodflow, R retirement and aging, I is for Inflammation. We just got through Genetics. H is for head trauma.

Tana Amen: How many times would you say on average you have to ask people if they've had a head trauma before they actually answer you?

Daniel Amen: Well, let's talk about you.

Tana Amen: Me?

Daniel Amen: Let's talk about you.

Tana Amen: I wasn't talking about me.

Daniel Amen: A lot of people know that when we first met-

Tana Amen: Two weeks-

Daniel Amen: -just really liked you a lot.

Tana Amen: Two weeks, he wanted to see my brain naked.

Daniel Amen: The line was, "Hey. You haven't seen the clinic yet. Do you want to come see the clinic?" Of course, I was trying to get her brain scanned to see. I really liked you and I wanted to know, did I really want to like you? I could see evidence of brain injury on your scan and you went, "I never had a brain injury."

Tana Amen: I'm a neurosurgical ICU nurse. When you say "brain injury" to a neurosurgical ICU nurse, you know what the vision that comes to my mind is. It's like brain flap, skull missing. It's like brain drains.

Daniel Amen: Yours was not minor. It wasn't you tripped.

Tana Amen: Yeah. I never lost consciousness, so in my mind, that's not-

Daniel Amen: So tell everybody what you then told me-

Tana Amen: I was never diagnosed with a concussion.

Daniel Amen: -after I asked you 10 times, "Have you ever had a brain injury?" "No."

Tana Amen: Okay, to be fair-

Daniel Amen: "Are you sure?" "No." "Have you even fallen out of a tree, off a fence, dove into a shallow pool?"

Tana Amen: Stop.

Daniel Amen: "No."

Tana Amen: Okay, he's making me-

Daniel Amen: "Did you play sports?" "No."

Tana Amen: Well, I did. I was a cheerleader, sort of.

Daniel Amen: Ah! Well, cheerleader right away. The odds just went way up. Then I went, "Well, have you ever been in a car accident?" "No. Oh. Well, there was this one time," and I just, like my usual self, I just paused and I said, "Well, tell me about it."

Tana Amen: Okay. Just so you don't make me sound really lame here, I did not lose consciousness and I was not diagnosed with a concussion.

Daniel Amen: Could you tell everybody about what happened?

Tana Amen: Yes. My sister fell asleep at the wheel driving 75 miles an hour, and she rolled the car two and half times. The roof caved in.

Daniel Amen: If you had been sitting up, you would've been dead.

Tana Amen: I had the seat all the way back, yes, but I'm pretty sure my head hit the center console.

Daniel Amen: Just think about the forces in your soft, soft butter-like brain, housed in a really hard skull that has sharp boney ridges, and 75 miles an hour, flipping two and half times and then stopping all of a sudden. What do you think ... You think the forces inside your skull, with your very pretty brain, were like on a scale of 1 to 10, was that like a 1, maybe a 2?

Tana Amen: I was asleep.

Daniel Amen: It's like a freaking 7!

Tana Amen: Thank God I was asleep, so I am not exactly sure.

Daniel Amen: Yeah, but your brain ... Consciousness, you were not conscious, but that's a big deal.

Tana Amen: The thing is-

Daniel Amen: Now, we could see it on her scan, which scared me a little bit.

Tana Amen: Well, and I was so busy being grateful that I walked away from it that I was not even thinking back then, "Oh. Probably I should be thinking brain injury." I was just like, "Yes! I walked away from this thing."

Daniel Amen: What we discovered here at Amen Clinics, and we're not the only ones who've talked about it, is undiagnosed brain injury are a major cause of depression. They're a major cause of panic attacks, suicidal behavior, homelessness. There was a study out of Toronto, 42% of the homeless women had a significant brain injury before they were homeless. 58% of the homeless men.

Tana Amen: Interesting. I would say the one thing that I've noticed since then, if I had to really sort of analyze it, less tolerance.

Daniel Amen: Didn't you say that you used to know everybody's name and all of a sudden-

Tana Amen: Yeah. That's the other thing is people's names. What's weird is I can take a medical class, like medical terminology and facts, like scientific facts, I don't forget. People's names, for some dumb reason I have trouble with people's names. It's so weird, so I have to say them to myself three or four times before I'll remember it. It's very weird.

Daniel Amen: So having a head injury with, or even without, a loss of consciousness is a significant risk factor for memory loss, as is loss of sense of smell, which often comes after a head injury. The labs, to know whether or not you've had a significant head injury, brain SPECT imaging, SPECT is, in my mind I'm completely bias because it's what we do, it's what we love. We built this massive database.

Tana Amen: I was shocked you could see it. That was really cool.

Daniel Amen: It's just better than a CT scan or an MRI. Doing smell tests, like can you smell peanut butter or one of the fun ones, natural gas. If you can't smell the natural gas, you may never get dementia because you won't live long enough because you'll die in the explosion at home, and having low hormone levels, so having significantly low hormone levels because often when you have a head injury, it damages the pituitary gland, which is sort of the master hormone gland in the brain. I just have to tell you, after I started looking at scans, that's a theme that came up over and over and over, the repetitive brain injuries that caused a lot of psychiatric symptoms. It increases-

Tana Amen: I have a question. We know head injuries, they happen all the time. I'm not a football player and I got a head injury. Okay, so it happens, but it seems like, wow, kind of unfair. What are you going to do about that?

Daniel Amen: Rehabilitate it.

Tana Amen: Okay, so-

Daniel Amen: Here at Amen Clinics, starting in 2007 when Anthony Davis came to see us, he's the Hall of Fame running back from USC, at 54 his brain looked like it was 85 and it was bad for 85. We put him on a rehabilitation program because that's what we do here at Amen Clinics. There's a reason I wrote a book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Tana Amen: Of course.

Daniel Amen: Anthony, like [Shayleen 00:07:23], who we talked about in the last podcast, he's a high performance athlete. He's runner up for the Heisman trophy, and he liked being a coach. "Hey doc, tell me what to do. I'll do what you tell me to do," and he just did everything.

Tana Amen: He's amazing.

Daniel Amen: Five months later, his brain was better. We actually have a scan 10 years later-

Tana Amen: And it's better.

Daniel Amen: -and it's better, which just makes me so happy for him. Then he invited me to speak to the Los Angeles chapter of the Retired NFL Player's Association, and together we put together our study that now has 200 players and cool people like Terry Bradshaw and Freddy Dryer. How do you make your brain better? We know it's a risk factor for memory loss, but if you've had a head injury, a scan really helps understand "Where am I at," and then, we put them ... because I paid for the rehabilitation study so I'm like, "What's the most cost effective way I can get these people well," multiple vitamin with high doses of B6, B12, and [folate 00:08:34]. The reason I had high doses of those three, in a number of studies those doses were found to decrease the conversion of mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.

Daniel Amen: I'm like, "Okay. I'm a fan. They're not going to hurt anybody." High dose fish oil, we use 5.6 grams.

Tana Amen: That's what I take everyday.

Daniel Amen: Omega-3 Power, which is four of Omega-3 Power, and then brain and memory power boost, which we designed for that study, which has seven different things to optimize brain function, so sort of like in a bright mind's approach we wanted to attack the war on multiple [fronts 00:09:15].

Tana Amen: That's the tricky part about being married to you because you come home and you're like, "Here sweetie. I want you to try this." So I'm on all these things, so I'm onto you. I know what you're doing.

Daniel Amen: I know, but we've also been together 12 years-

Tana Amen: It's true.

Daniel Amen: It's the best 12 years of our lives.

Tana Amen: It's very true, yes.

Daniel Amen: So let's keep it going. Better brain, better relationship.

Tana Amen: Talk to me about hyperbaric oxygen.

Daniel Amen: For the players who we thought needed more, we also put them in a hyperbaric chamber.

Tana Amen: So it depends on the severity as to who you-

Daniel Amen: It depends on the severity. I'm just, I'm a huge fan. We actually recommend it to 25% of our patients because we found it to be so helpful. I got interested in hyperbaric oxygen because my friend Mike [Eusler 00:10:00], who's done SPECT scans longer than I have, there are not that many people on the planet, so at UCLA he said, "Look at these scans before and after hyperbaric oxygen therapy." It increases blood flow to the brain.

Tana Amen: Yeah, I try to do it and ours is almost always full. Our chamber is almost always full, but I know we have one patient, who I'm not going to mention names because it's a very high profile patient, but who had severely traumatic birth process and was anoxic, anoxia means lack of oxygen during birth, and suffered a brain injury, head trauma because of that. Well, not had trauma like injury but anoxic-

Daniel Amen: But it was traumatic.

Tana Amen: Right, traumatic. So she has done, what, about 40 treatments in ... She won't stop simply because she says that while she's in the chamber, she feels like her whole life is just different, like her whole outlook on life is better. So she feels like she can think better

Daniel Amen: Because she's getting better blood flow to her brain, which means you're absolutely thinking better. At the end of the new PBS show coming out in December, Memory Rescue, we talk about Grace and Shannon who we haven't had on this podcast-

Tana Amen: Oh, that was such a sad story.

Daniel Amen: -where it literally saved her life. Now, obviously, the most important intervention if you've had a head injury, or if you've not had a head injury, is to prevent one. That's just the most important thing. Don't text while you drive. Don't read your email while you're walking down 5th Avenue. Be really careful at home not to fall. Quite frankly, falls are one of the major causes of death in the elderly.

Tana Amen: Yeah. We actually replaced our floors. It's a huge hassle and it's expensive, but it's not as expensive as having slippery floors and falling. As we get older, people think about hip replacements, but they don't think about head injuries. Both my mom and her husband who recently passed away fell and had bad head injuries. Both of us are like, "We don't need slippery floors in our house."

Daniel Amen: Right. We had marble floors.

Tana Amen: They were really slippery. It used to scare me half to death because the kids would come running in from the pool, and they wouldn't listen and just like take off, darting across the floor. The trauma nurse in me is just terrified all the time, so now we don't have floors that are slippery. We made sure we got rid of those slippery floors. Even though the expense was there-

Daniel Amen: So whatever you can do, and that's why when Caitlyn, my third child, learned to drive, I made her drive my Escalade because I wanted steel around-

Tana Amen: I'm sure she hated that.

Daniel Amen: No, she did! She was bothering me for a Volkswagen Bug.

Tana Amen: Yeah. No, we're not all about that.

Daniel Amen: No. You have to be protected. I remember my son-in-law, he went four-wheeling in the desert and he didn't tell me he was going ahead of time because he knew I would've been like, "Why are you going to do something so stupid?" He had a bad accident, and his father, that same weekend, they went together, he had a bad accident and six months later-

Tana Amen: I forgot to tell you that I had one of those, too, when I was 15. I rolled one. It just occurred to me. Totally forgot about that.

Daniel Amen: All right. We need to talk about that, but Jessie's father had a bad accident. Six months later he killed himself.

Tana Amen: I know, yeah.

Daniel Amen: So this is serious. All of the, "Oh, Dr. Amen, you're such a bummer. We want to do all of these really great, fun, high risk things," I'm like, "Not if you love yourself." There's so many great things you can do in life. God gave you a big brain for a reason. You can generate options that are safe.

Tana Amen: Well, if you are on our side of this and you constantly hear people say, "If I could just go back, if I could just rewind the clock and take back that one thing, the thing I thought that I had to do, if I could just take back that one thing," so you begin to understand. Believe me, I do lots of pretty cool, amazing things that seem like, "Oh my God. Why is she doing that," like they're kind of crazy, but none of them involve things that are what I would consider high risk for head injuries. They're just-

Daniel Amen: Well, if anything, you're trying to do the opposite by protecting yourself and so on.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Anthony Davis, played in the NFL, Hall of Fame in college, he said, "If I had to do it over again, I would've played baseball."

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: You can still get a head injury in baseball, but it's not the point. The point of football is collision. He would say, "On any one play, I'd get hit in the head five times," because he had multiple people trying to tackles him and he was strong-

Tana Amen: In different directions. So you're going ... Those guys are huge.

Daniel Amen: Yeah, so protect your brain. I remember when I spoke at the Future of Medicine Conference, Kevin Plank, who is the CEO of Under Armor, came up after me and they support the NFL and college. He said, "Are you saying there's nothing good about football?" I said, "Brain is soft skull, is hard skull has sharp boney ridges. Damage your brain, you damage your life." "But are you saying there's nothing good about football?" "Brain is soft skull, as hard skull has sharp boney ridges. Brain runs your life. Why would you ever put it in a place to damage it?"

Tana Amen: Yeah. You guys did not part friends, did you?

Daniel Amen: Then he asked me the third time and I'm like, "Did you play football?"

Tana Amen: I don't think you guys parted friends that day, did you?

Daniel Amen: Well, the point wasn't to be friends or not. It's why would you allow someone you love to play a game that could damage their brains? You were a cheerleader, right?

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen: It's a very brain damaging sport.

Tana Amen: Oh, and I was pretty small when I started. They wanted me on the top, but I'm not ... Even then, I'm like, "No," because I saw them get dropped all the time. I'm like, "I don't think I want to be on the top," so I'm like, "I'll be in the middle."

Daniel Amen: The female brain is different. We published studies, and we talk about it. The female brain, 90% of her IQ is in her frontal lobes, where for the male brain it's more widely distributed. So a frontal lobe injury for a female is actually more devastating-

Tana Amen: To her life.

Daniel Amen: -than it is for a male.

Tana Amen: Has more longterm-

Daniel Amen: Has more longterm-

Tana Amen: -long-lasting effects.

Daniel Amen: -negative consequences, but you can change it. We talked about our rehabilitation, multiple vitamin, fish oil, brain boost through multiple mechanisms, and there are foods that can help. Obviously limit sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods-

Tana Amen: So the goal here is to increase blood flow, right?

Daniel Amen: Well, it's to increase actually multiple mechanisms, especially acetylcholine because those tracks tend to be damaged, so choline-rich foods like eggs and shrimp can be really helpful. Tumeric, we said that a couple times-

Tana Amen: Decrease inflammation.

Daniel Amen: -and peppermint herbs have actually been shown in traumatic brain injury to be helpful, but like with genetics, if you've had a head injury, you want to be serious about doing everything else right.

Tana Amen: Excellent.

Daniel Amen: You can change your brain, change your life, take a bright mind's approach. Rescue your memory. Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warrior's Way and the Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.