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When his mother became ill, “Genius Foods” author Max Lugavere learned the hard way that dementia can begin to take hold in your brain decades before you start seeing symptoms. This experience became his motivation to educate people on the importance of nutrition for the brain. In the first episode of a series with Lugavere, he and the Amens discuss the ways a poor diet can disrupt your health.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome, everyone. We are here with our friend Max Lugavere, who's a filmmaker, TV personality, health and science journalist, and brain food expert. I've actually gotten to look at his brain, which is fun. We did an episode for the Dr. Oz Show together.
Dr Daniel Amen: He's the author of the international sensation, New York Times bestseller Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain. He's also the host of the number-one iTunes health podcast, The Genius Life. He's contributed to Medscape, Viced, Fast Company, and The Daily Beast and has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Dr. Oz Show, and The Wall Street Journal. He also has a new book coming out March 17th called The Genius Life. I always love interviewing Max.
Tana Amen: Yeah. It's such an honor to have you.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Max Lugavere: Thank you. I really relished having the opportunity to get my brain scanned by you. It empirically was able to prove that I do indeed have a brain, which is something that I think, for many years, was, at least in my family, up for debate.
Tana Amen: That's great.
Dr Daniel Amen: Tell our audience your story. Why have you become so passionate about brain health?
Max Lugavere: Yeah. I mean I think that I have a story very similar to many people these days. I became interested in the role of diet and lifestyle in brain health when my mother got sick. She was about 58 when she was diagnosed for the first time, at the Cleveland Clinic, with a neurodegenerative condition. It took us a few years to actually get a diagnosis for her even though she was prescribed drugs to treat both memory loss and her movement symptoms years before that.
Max Lugavere: She had a condition called Lewy body dementia, which was just traumatic to see a person, especially a younger person like my mom was, decline and succumb to that condition which, for anybody listening who doesn't know what Lewy body dementia is, it feels like having Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease at the same time and-
Dr Daniel Amen: With psychosis added onto it.
Tana Amen: Oof.
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, because it often will start with visual hallucinations and-
Tana Amen: So sad.
Dr Daniel Amen: On SPECT, what we often see is their occipital lobes in their back are attacked, that we see low blood flow different than Alzheimer's disease that tends to attack the parietal lobes nearby, top back part of your brain. Yeah, no, it can be just so devastating. It's what Robin Williams was diagnosed with.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. Robin Williams, everybody knows he committed suicide. The condition does... Yeah, it has more in common with Parkinson's disease than it does Alzheimer's disease. The way that I compare them all is that Alzheimer's disease primarily is a neurocognitive disorder. Parkinson's is a movement disorder. In the later stages of Parkinson's disease, you might develop Parkinson's disease dementia just because the condition ultimately ravages the brain, and we don't yet fully understand its etiology.
Max Lugavere: Lewy body dementia, at the onset, you'll experience both the movement symptoms and the cognitive symptoms. That was something that my mom, from the get-go, it was very clear that my mom had, but nonetheless, what I experienced in every doctor's office with her I've come to refer to as diagnose and adios.
Tana Amen: Yep, so true.
Max Lugavere: Typically, a physician would prescribe a new drug or raise levels of a medication that she was already on. In my view, and I'm an N of one, this is N of one anecdote, none of the medications helped my mom at all. In fact, by the end of her life, she was on seven different pharmaceutical drugs at least.
Max Lugavere: It motivated me, in a very strong way, to undertake this journey of trying to understand why this would've happened to my mom. What could be done? What might explain the extremely poor health that she had in the latter years of her life, and what could be done to prevent this from ever happening to me? I think we're at this very fascinating and empowering time in the literature where we no longer have to sit idly on our hands. There's enough information out there. It's just a question of getting this information out to the right people.
Max Lugavere: One of the most shocking discoveries that I made when I began this research is that dementia often begins in the brain decades before the first symptom, so this is a topic that I felt younger people, I mean ultimately people of all ages, but especially younger people, needed to be talking about. That's what inspired my work.
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, no, it's one of the early lessons I learned from SPECT is that Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, they don't start when you have symptoms. They actually start decades before, which is... I'm a huge advocate of screening the brain. It's like we screen every other organ, but the one that gives you your personality, the one that makes decisions, the one that decides if you're happy or sad, wealthy or poor-
Tana Amen: A good parent, a good spouse.
Dr Daniel Amen: Good parents and so on. If you don't look, you don't know.
Max Lugavere: Yeah, exactly. That's the thing about the brain is that we look in the mirror, and we can see our body composition. We can get a sense of our cardiovascular health when we're going up a flight of stairs, how in shape we are, but you can't look in the mirror and see your brain, so it's just something that most people don't think about. Most people are not thinking about their brain health, which is odd because so many people are struggling with mental health. Where do you think our mood manifests from? I mean it comes from our brain. Where do you think memory originates in the body? Well, it comes from the brain, but the thing is most people underwrite the brain. Yeah, it's a-
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, no, The End of Mental Illness, coming out in just a few weeks, it's like it's not mental illness. It's brain health issues that steal your mind. We don't screen and get young people excited about their brains. It's just a disaster waiting to happen.
Dr Daniel Amen: Genius Foods did really well, and we're so proud of you for really elevating the conversation around food. Why did you decide to start there first?
Tana Amen: It's a great title.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. Well, thank you so much. I'm glad, and I'm humbled, and it's been a wonderful experience because, as I mentioned, it's all motivated by my mom. That was my mission was to get this information out there.
Max Lugavere: I started with nutrition because I guess you could say that I've always had an interest in nutrition for as long as I can remember. Food is something where I think people have just a tremendous amount of agency. We all eat every single day multiple times a day, and so it's a great place to begin. There is now, for the first time, a plethora of studies coming out showing us that food has a major impact on the brain, which we should have assumed, I think, from the get-go, but we just didn't have the data there to really have our recommendations rooted in science.
Max Lugavere: Now, for the first time, we're seeing associations with dietary patterns that are related to reduced risk for conditions like Alzheimer's disease and all-cause dementia. We have a growing body of mechanistic studies in animals and in vitro showing us how different nutrients found in food can boost brain health and memory function and even mood if you'll accept that a mouse's mood might somehow reflect the mood of a human.
Max Lugavere: Then we have, for the first time, interventional trials, actual experimental research in humans. One that I cite in the book Genius Foods comes from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden where I actually had the pleasure to go and visit. I got to look at the work being done in the FINGER study where they're showing it's the world's first-ever large-population, long-term, randomized, controlled trial that's actually an ongoing trial where they continue to show us that, by adhering to a healthier diet that's packed with nutrients that nurture the brain, that you can actually significantly delay the onset of cognitive decline. Whether or not we want to use the word prevention, I think, is up for debate, but I'm happy to use it because we use it for other conditions.
Max Lugavere: Not only that, even in old age, by adhering to a diet that's rich in brain-boosting nutrients, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, things like that, you can actually have a marked effect on the way that your brain functions in the here and now. What they're showing us in Finland, which is actually where the intervention is taking place, that even if you're in old age and have at least one risk factor for developing cognitive decline, you can boost the processing speed of your brain by 150% with food or your brain's executive function, which is-
Tana Amen: Love it.
Max Lugavere: ... so crucial for getting things done in our day-to-day lives, by 83%. I felt that we had enough information, in terms of diet, to make really solid recommendations for people that were safe, that were rooted in evidence, and that could have a significant impact on readers.
Max Lugavere: Now that the book has been out for over a year, Genius Foods, I can't tell you, Dr. Amen, the amount of testimonials that I've received from people that they've been sleeping better, that the brain fog has lifted, their moods have improved. To me, I'm like, well, man, this is just like you are what you eat, and what you eat certainly matters for your gray matter. I'm just so happy that people are embracing this idea.
Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, what I want to do is actually help people with really practical tips on how they can implement brain-healthy food, genius foods, into their life. Tana and I, tomorrow, are doing a program for the Newport Beach Police Department. The topic, tomorrow, is about food. We've been working with them for six months. They're under chronic stress. They do shift work, so they have these 12-hour shifts that are not going away. Let's just see what practical tips we can tell our Brain Warrior audience. Stay with us.
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