How to Become Smarter & Happier – PT. 1 with Max Lugavere

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

There’s a critical link between the foods you eat and the way your brain functions. In this episode of the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Max Lugavere, author of the new book Genius Foods. Max tells the story of how his mom’s heartbreaking diagnosis set him on the path to learn and spread the message of eating right.


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

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

Dr. 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 BrainMD, 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, and stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, welcome everybody. We are so excited about the next three podcasts we're going to do together with our friend, Max Lugavere, who's the author of the brand new best selling book, Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain For Life. I know how important this broadcast is to Max.

Max and I first met on the Dr. Oz show. We were studying the effects of technology on the brain, and Max was one of our subjects. When I heard his story, about why health was important to him, I just bonded to him immediately, and I'm just so grateful that he's going to take time for us. He's been interviewed and contributed to MedScape, Vice, Fast Company, The Daily Beast. He's been featured on NBC Nightly News, the Dr. Oz Show multiple times, The Wall Street Journal. He is a journalist and has a personal interest. Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Max Lugavere: Thank you so much for having me. I definitely consider myself a brain warrior, so this is a real honor.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Brain warriors are armed, prepared, and aware.

Tana Amen: Yes, it's a war.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Why did you become a brain warrior?

Max Lugavere: I became a brain warrior because about seven years ago my mother was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition. I had no prior family history of any kind of dementia, and at the youthful age of 58 my mom, spirited, blonde haired, began showing her very first symptom, ending up with me going around the country with my mom to some of the top neurology departments in the United States to try to some sort of consensus as to what it was that she had.

She had symptoms that were indicative of a movement disorder, but then it seemed her cognition also had downshifted pretty profoundly. I mean, I think when we're talking to an elderly person we all speak a little bit more slowly because we understand that there's a decline in processing speed that occurs with age, but my mom was not old. It had seemed suddenly as if my mom had had a brain transplant with an elderly person. You know, I now know that dementia is not a natural aspect of aging, but back then I was just completely ignorant.

When my mom was first diagnosed at the Cleveland Clinic, I became obsessed with learning everything I possibly could about how diet and lifestyle might provide a more meaningful intervention for my mom, while also becoming really interested, in fact, laser focused on the steps that we can take today to prevent cognitive decline from ever happening to us when we're young.

One of the most shocking things that I learned, which Dr. Amen, you preach all the time, is that dementia is not something that bubbles up overnight. It's often a decades long disease process, and it became very much my passion and mission to spread the message of prevention and awareness to younger people. That's really what lead to the creation of Genius Foods.

Tana Amen: Max, you said your mom was showing symptoms of a movement disorder as well, so that's very interesting. She was really suffering significantly for someone so young.

Max Lugavere: There was a change to her gait, her stride was affected. She had been previously a normal way in which she walked, became suddenly a shuffle. There were symptoms that were indicative of something Parkinsonian going on.

Tana Amen: Right, that's what I was thinking.

Max Lugavere: But, there was no tremor.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The ultimate diagnosis for her was, what?

Max Lugavere: It seems that she has something like Lewy body dementia is what it basically unfolded as. Her course has been somewhat stable, for better or worse. Lewy body dementia is a very niche form of dementia. There's not a lot known about it. It affects about one million people in the United States.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Lewy body dementia is the dementia that Robin Williams died from. It is where you get this deposition of these things called alpha-synuclein plaques that attack the basal ganglia, also attack the occipital lobes. On SPECT, the study we do, you can differentiate this from Alzheimer's Disease, which is usually the parietal and temporal lobes. Lewy body dementia is usually the basal ganglia and the occipital lobes in the back.

All the steps to keep your brain healthy or reverse Alzheimer's are the same steps for Lewy body as well, which may in some ways, at least in my experience, be associated with toxic exposure. Toxins are just everywhere, including our food. Tell us about Genius Foods. You know, we have young people that listen to the podcast, old people, but all of us want to be a genius no matter what our age. Talk to us about what you wrote about in Genius Foods.

Max Lugavere: Yeah, you know, I think we're at an interesting time where most people that are clued into health related content are aware that sugar's not good. Right? I can go on and on, as can you about the dangers of added sugar and how our food supply has just become saturated in it. In Genius Foods, rather than continue to beat people over the head with what they shouldn't be eating, I decided to go another route [inaudible 00:07:03] body of evidence that foods actually improve your brain functions and support your brain health in a way that's going to help minimize your risk decades from now for the kinds of diseases that we are talking about.

You know, a really interesting study came out from the University of Texas that found that dietary diversity in the modern supermarket is actually not a good thing. When people abide by the "eat everything in moderation" rule, they tend to use that as an excuse or justification to eat more junk food. Whereas, the healthiest people buy healthy foods on loop. With Genius Foods, that was sort of like my strategy where I said, "Okay, these are the 10 foods and food categories that, if you were just to put on your smart phone and just remind yourself every time you go to the supermarket to buy these foods on loop, you're probably going to lose a lot of weight and your brain is going to thank you for it."

We go into depth [inaudible 00:08:04] foods to avoid, certainly [inaudible 00:08:07] especially ream the industrial processed oils that now saturate our food supply; canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil. These are toxic foods to the brain. I really try to, in Genius Foods, make all of my recommendations highly actionable and talk in terms of food. I think a lot of nutrition scientists suffer from what Michael Pollan calls nutritionism. We basically break down foods into their nutrients, but we didn't co-evolve with single nutrients. We co-evolved with food. Food is what we buy when we go to the supermarket, so it's a very food focused approach.

Tana Amen: I like that, because people get lost in the minutiae, and then they finish your book and they're like, "That was really good." Then all of a sudden they're like, "Well, I still don't know what to eat." They get really confused. I mean, I see it all the time. People will reach out all the time, they're like, "I don't know what to eat." That's why when you make it simple like that, they need to know what foods to eat. Then if you want to tell them what's in the foods, that's fine, but they need to know what food to eat first.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In the last 24 hours, I'm just looking at the foods on the cover of Genius Foods, I've actually had all of them. I had eggs this morning. We had a salad and salmon last night. I have a cup of frozen blueberries ...

Tana Amen: Almost every day.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Every day. I had nuts for lunch. BrainMD, which is our supplement food company, makes a sugar free, dairy free dark chocolate, so I love this. This is exactly how we eat.

Tana Amen: Well, I was thinking as max was talking that the people who are the healthiest are the ones who eat the same foods, but they're the healthy foods. I'm like, well, no wonder you're so healthy, because you can eat the same stuff.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and people are already in a rhythm or in a rut. It's just, are you in a rut or are you in a supercharged tunnel to get what you want.

Tana Amen: Are you on a cul-de-sac or are you on a highway?

Dr. Daniel Amen: People are all, "Oh, this is hard." It's like, your routine is going to make you sick and you're going to die early. Why don't you just get in a different routine with foods that serve your health rather than foods that steal your health?

Tana Amen: Right, I agree. Both of you said something, and maybe this is a whole podcast in and of itself, but we talk a lot about toxins. We mentioned this here about how toxins can be one of those things that make people sick, but there's a lot of power in food, antioxidant foods that help with detoxifying the body. Do you talk about that at all, Max? About, especially in light of what's going on with your mom, can you talk a little bit about your recommendations for what you put in the book for detoxifying foods?

Max Lugavere: Absolutely. I definitely talk about the value of antioxidants in food, particularly the fat soluble variety, vitamin E. We want to seek out these fat soluble antioxidants in our foods. Some of the most valuable foods are valuable in part because they stimulate our body's own antioxidant production.

Tana Amen: Right.

Max Lugavere: Right, so I talk a lot about these in the book, the value of cruciferous vegetables, things like that. I mean, we live in a time where detox programs are very trendy, but people forget that we have the ultimate detox machine right in our own bodies, and that's our livers. We just need to feed the right ingredients, eat the right ingredients so that our livers have the materials to produce these detox compounds and get the stimulus required to sort of [inaudible 00:11:44].

Tana Amen: Yeah, I had a patient one time get really upset with me because she, when I was talking about detoxifying foods, like, eating healthy to support the liver. She was like, "Well, I shouldn't have to do all that. Environmental toxins, so what? That's what my liver is for." Like, all these foods, "So what if I eat bad and drink alcohol, that's what my liver is for." I'm like, yes, but, there is cirrhosis, there is all sorts of problems if you don't support your liver with healthy foods. If you don't take care of it, it can't take care of you. There's a way to eat foods to support it and there's a way to not do that, so clearly.

Max Lugavere: Absolutely, I mean, [inaudible 00:12:25] containing foods with sulfur-containing amino acids; eggs, grass fed beef, broccoli, things like that, very important stuff. Your whey protein could potentially be used. Then also, you really want to eat the foods that stimulate those gene pathways involved in creating those liver detox compounds.

I talk a lot about [inaudible 00:12:46] broccoli [inaudible 00:12:51] very potent activator of these detox pathways in the body, 100 times as powerful as adult broccoli. That's why whenever I go to the supermarket I'm always looking out for broccoli sprouts, and I even grow my own, actually. On my website there's a great guide, you can super cheaply grow your own broccoli sprouts after three days and they're one of the most powerful foods that you can eat.

Tana Amen: That's fantastic.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us. When we come back, we're going to talk about foods and tactics that can supercharge and rejuvenate your brain no matter what your age.