Discover- Is it PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury?

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

In this episode of Brain Warrior’s way podcast, we’re going to discuss this landmark research paper on brain imaging and behavior where we can distinguish between people who’ve had been physically traumatized versus those who’ve had emotional trauma.

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Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond, and welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way, hosted by my friends Daniel and Tana Amen. In this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is won between your ears. That's right. If you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, energy, and focus, well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.
Dr Daniel Amen: Hi, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen. I'm here with my beautiful wife Tana.
Tana Amen: We are so excited to be able to share this moment with you of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.
Dr Daniel Amen: Today, we're going to teach you about the connection between post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, or TBI. I'm so excited to tell you that our research department just got a landmark paper accepted for publication in Brain Imaging and Behavior, a really wonderful scientific journal, where we can distinguish between people who've had emotional trauma versus whose brains have been physically traumatized nearly 94% of the time.
Tana Amen: I thought this was so interesting. When we first met, you scanned me after two weeks. A lot of people have heard this story now. So, he said before he got really serious with anybody, and we got along really well, he said he wanted to see my brain naked before he saw any other part of me naked. A little tidbit there.
Tana Amen: When he scanned me he said, "Wow, you have this diamond shape pattern in your brain, which means there's been some trauma, some emotional trauma." I'm like, "No. I've had no emotional trauma." I like have this very tough façade. He's like, "Really?" and he does his little psychiatry thing. I'm like, "Don't shrink me."
Tana Amen: But, as he started talking to me about my history, my childhood, I was amazed. It was very fascinating to me. That connection. He could see that pattern in my brain from unresolved childhood issues, which now he never lets me live down.
Dr Daniel Amen: I'm not like that, trust me. But, what we saw in our patients who have-
Tana Amen: I was not a patient here. That's not how we met.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... who have post-traumatic stress disorder, so, if you grew up in an alcoholic home, if you had been in a fire, or an accident, or robbed, or raped, or we know a lot of soldiers coming back who have post-traumatic stress disorder. What we see in the brain is your emotional brain becomes significantly overactive. When I looked at yours, it's a pattern we call the diamond pattern. It's the emotional brain we see too active, it's like your brain keeps reliving things from the past and it won't let go of it.
Dr Daniel Amen: When I saw yours and you said, "No, there's no emotional trauma," but her uncle was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong when she was four years old. Her mom had to work two or three jobs so she was often left home alone. There were-
Tana Amen: Well, there were many things. Some of you might relate to some of this. I was attacked at 15 years old walking to high school. So, there were a lot of things growing up because of the environment that I grew up in, you know, I was poor. We were poor when I was growing up. In those environments some of you may have experienced some similar issues. What I find interesting, I chose a career where it was also very stimulating and there was a lot of trauma. In fact, I worked in-
Dr Daniel Amen: A trauma unit.
Tana Amen: ... the trauma unit in a hospital. I worked in a Level A trauma unit where day in, day out that's all we saw, was Level A traumas. Believe it or not, doesn't that keep that part of your brain stimulated?
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, it does, and first responders, police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, trauma nurses, they see horrific things over and over and over again. It can take your emotional brain and fire it up so you have trouble sleeping you feel like your life is shortened, you're always waiting for something bad to happen. You might actually relive the trauma in nightmares or you just begin avoiding places.
Dr Daniel Amen: Now, why the study is important is a lot of people also have traumatic brain injury. They've had concussions because they played football, they were in car accidents, or, again, if you think of soldiers, yes, they may have witnessed horrific things but they may also have been exposed to blast injuries.
Dr Daniel Amen: Why it's important to separate those is the treatment for emotional trauma tends to be psychological to calm down the brain. The treatment for traumatic brain injury or physical trauma is usually ways to heal it and to increase activity. Even though they may look the same, they may both have trouble sleeping, they may both be irritable, the treatment is radically different.
Dr Daniel Amen: If you never look at their brains, you might actually never know. Of course using you as the eternal example, when I looked at your brain initially, I went, "Well, did you ever have a brain injury?"
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: You said, "no."
Tana Amen: Because to me a brain injury meant you were in the trauma unit with a serious brain injury.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. Like somebody shot you in the head.
Tana Amen: Right. You were in a coma.
Dr Daniel Amen: I'm like, "Well, have you ever fell out of a tree, off a fence, dove into a shallow pool?" She's going, "no, no."
Dr Daniel Amen: "Have you ever been in a car accident?" She's like, "Well, my sister did fall asleep at the wheel going 70 miles an hour and the car flipped over three times, but I thought I was fine."
Tana Amen: I walked away.
Dr Daniel Amen: Which is what people think.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right? They don't connect that your brain is really soft. It's housed in a really hard skull that has many sharp, bony ridges. Your brain is the consistency of soft butter, but runs your life. And, 70 miles an hour. Imagine your brain is going 70 miles an hour and all of a sudden, boom, it stops and flips. Literally bad for the function in your brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: Being your best, getting as optimized or well, you went and had EMDR, a very powerful treatment for psychological trauma. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
Tana Amen: I thought it was very helpful.
Dr Daniel Amen: There are specific treatments for people who are storing emotional trauma and specific treatments for people who have had physical trauma. But, you wanted to know where you stood. That's why the imaging work we do here at Amen Clinics is just so important.
Tana Amen: I want to point something out before we... because we're going to give you some really great tips. But, I want to point something out as well. I think that it's not too hard for some of you to understand who are listening. You're going, "Oh, this is my life." You know what impact it has on you.
Tana Amen: But, I want to talk for a second about the impact it has on relationships. First of all, if you're with someone else who has a lot of trauma and you are suffering from this sort of trauma yourself, it can be very chaotic in those relationships. Now, I'm with someone who is not, who is very calm, very soothing for me. I often say he grounds me. He's like my rock, which is wonderful.
Tana Amen: But, even there, I have to be careful. For example, my brain automatically goes to feeling unsafe. That's just something because of how I grew up, I'm always looking for ways to be safe. I practice karate. I'm very driven. I have this amazing alarm system in my house. I didn't grow up in an environment of safety, so my mind is never thinking, oh, I'm perfectly safe, I don't need to worry. That's just not how I'm wired after all those years.
Tana Amen: Whereas you never think anything bad is going to happen. Daniel is very comfortable in his environment. I can drive him a little crazy with my fear factor. While he settles me down, I can stir him up sometimes and make him nervous. Fortunately, he's psychologically minded enough to be able to point this out, and we work on it, and I have some great tools.
Tana Amen: You want to be aware of these things. I'll often say to him, you know, "You grew up in the American dream. I grew up in the American nightmare." We have to be aware of those things so that we're not constantly at odds and creating chaos.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, there's no question. Emotional trauma can really hurt your relationships. You might always be looking for the other shoe to drop.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Dr Daniel Amen: Something negative is going to happen, so your mind is always predicting fear and trauma.
Tana Amen: In fact, I did that with Daniel when we were dating. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing is this good. Nobody is this nice. You want to be careful and watchful of those things. Learning about it was the number one thing I did, just understanding.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and then really understanding the bridges to the past. What is it in this moment? When is the first time I ever felt like that? If I'm feeling unsafe, when is the first time I ever? All of a sudden you might get this flood of episodes. Then you just ask yourself, is this now or am I reacting to something that happened in the past?
Dr Daniel Amen: The other thing that also goes on is people who have traumatic injuries, they've had falls, they played football, they've been in a car accident, that can actually lower the function in some parts of your brain. You could be more irritable, your judgment is not as good, you say things you shouldn't say. That can then have a very negative impact on relationships.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: Often if you grew up in a traumatic environment, emotionally traumatic, and you're married to someone who had a concussion, that can then start to cause these problems that can be devastating to relationships, to how you feel, and so on.
Dr Daniel Amen: Ultimately at Amen Clinics it starts with, well, we should look at your brain. Let's see where we're at and then work to optimize it. I mean, that's the most exciting thing that we discovered is you're not stuck with the brain you have, you can make it better.
Dr Daniel Amen: Diet, exercise, supplements, and then learning not to believe every stupid thing you think. When you've been emotionally traumatized a lot of the ANTs or the Automatic Negative Thoughts can come in your mind and ruin your day.
Tana Amen: While a lot of people find unhealthy ways to self medicate, there are some really healthy ways to self medicate. Fortunately for me one of the things I found when I was really young was exercise. I may have gone to an extreme early on, but exercise is actually really good for people with anxiety and that have suffered from trauma because it increases dopamines, serotonin, and endorphins, and really settles the brain down.
Tana Amen: I know a lot of people will say, "But, I don't have time" or this or that. I'm telling you, I'm just going to be really frank, "Find time." I'm standing here in front of you, fortunately you can't smell sweat because I'm sweaty. I always bring make-up, a change of clothes, and I just run in the bathroom and clean up a little bit. I will always find time to exercise. There's just no excuse.
Dr Daniel Amen: Exercise is also good if you've had physical trauma to your brain. Another really important thing to do is begin to disconnect some of these bridges from the past.
Dr Daniel Amen: One of the most powerful exercises I do with my patients is I say, "tell me what you're thinking and feeling and then tell me the first time in your life you were ever thinking or feeling that." We see if there's not a bridge. Then I want you to ask yourself is this what's really happening now or are you being triggered by what's in the past? Just the recognition, it may not be now, it may be from before, helps to disconnect that bridge.
Tana Amen: One thing that you really helped me with, you got me started doing guided imagery and hypnosis before bed. What that does is that not only helps me sleep, like I sleep really well, but it sets you up to have a more positive mindset when you wake up. It really gets me set up for my next day and I feel amazing and the quality of my sleep is just so much better.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's one of the most powerful things you can do. We have hypnosis CDs. One is called Magnificent Mind at Any Age. It's got tracks I record for you on sleep and weight and pain and anxiety.
Tana Amen: And high performance.
Dr Daniel Amen: And high performance, or optimizing your performance. You just want to begin to train your brain to go in the right direction. Where you bring your attention, where you bring your attention, determines how you feel. If you go back to that trauma place then you're going to be feeling pretty anxious. But, if you can, "Oh, that's in the past" and you go to gratitude or appreciation, all of a sudden you feel so much better.
Dr Daniel Amen: Brand new study, just read it last night, that people who have heart disease, which is actually very common in people who have had emotional trauma in the past. You know, it broke their heart in some ways literally.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: If they just wrote down three things they are grateful for every day, their heart function within just a few weeks was better.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, disciplining your mind, training your mind, physical exercise, diet, disconnecting those bridges, all very powerful.
Tana Amen: Let's not gloss over... I'm not going to go too into diet because we do that in other segments and that's a big piece. But, very simply, just eliminating sugar. Sugar causes this irregular firing of brain cells. Not only that, it increases inflammation. Those two things alone are going to cause an increase in your symptoms.
Dr Daniel Amen: Let me just jump in just a little bit. A lot of people who have had emotional trauma, their brain works too hard and they seek ways to calm it down. Alcohol will do it, pot will do it, sugar will do it. It's simple high glycemic carbohydrates, so carbohydrates that quickly turn to sugar.
Tana Amen: Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes.
Dr Daniel Amen: Boost insulin which then causes serotonin to go up in your brain. You feel better but the cure will ultimately make you sick with things like diabetes and obesity.
Tana Amen: You also only feel better for a very short time.
Dr Daniel Amen: The same thing is true with alcohol and pot. You know, short term-
Tana Amen: Pain versus long-term pain. Eventually you actually feel worse. When you get the hypoglycemic effect.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. So, it's short-term benefit but [crosstalk 00:14:01].
Tana Amen: When you get the inflammation, when you get the irregular firing of the brain cells, then you don't feel better.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. We're going to talk about this some more in upcoming segments. You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better.
Tana Amen: Last thing. Give them three simple supplements that calm the brain down.
Dr Daniel Amen: Some of my favorites are 5-HTP, boost serotonin in the brain, calms things down. GABA is something called an inhibitory neurotransmitter, but it calms things down. Another one called Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, it's called an adaptogen, calms you but also helps you focus.
Tana Amen: I'm going to give you one last one. It's my secret weapon for sleeping. A lot of people with trauma don't sleep well. I take a time-released melatonin along with 300 milligrams of magnesium. Bam. I call it the hammer.
Dr Daniel Amen: And, 80% of the country is low in magnesium. I think all of us should actually take some. I do every day. So many things that can change your brain, change your life. Stay with us.
Donny Osmond: Thank for listening to today's show, the Brain Warrior's Way. Why don't you head over to That's, where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. When you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen Clinics.
Donny Osmond: I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.