It’s Not Your Brain Cells That Age, It’s Your Blood Vessels

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

Conventional wisdom has typically expressed that the aging process in brain cells is what eventually leads to cognitive decline in adults. However, we have since learned that this isn’t necessarily true. Rather, it’s the aging and degradation of your blood vessels that restrict blood flow to the brain that’s the real problem. In this episode, Daniel and Tana continue their lesson from the 6-week live class by discussing ways to keep your blood vessels healthy.

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Dr Daniel Amen:               Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen:                        And 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

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

Dr Daniel Amen:               Hi, this is Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen:                        And I’m Tana Amen.

Dr Daniel Amen:               We’re so excited you’re with us. For this week’s series, what we’re doing is we’re playing the live class from the end of mental illness.

Tana Amen:                        We wanted you to join us on this journey, because we had such a good time in our class, and the people who joined us just saw such incredible transformation, that we wanted to share the challenge with our tribe. So we wanted to share this with you, and we hope that you will join us in the challenge.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So the mnemonic we created is BRIGHT MINDS. This will help you remember the 11 risk factors. So B is for blood flow. Low blood flow is the number one brain imaging predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also associated with depression, ADHD, and schizophrenia. And why is blood important?

Tana Amen:                        Many reasons. Oxygen, is that what we’re talking about?

Dr Daniel Amen:               So oxygen would be one.

Tana Amen:                        Yes.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Do you have any other ones, [inaudible [00:01:56]?

Tana Amen:                        So many reasons, I’m trying to figure out which one you’re looking for, [inaudible [00:02:00].

Dr Daniel Amen:               I’m looking for all of them.

Tana Amen:                        Okay. Well, oxygen is the big one, so.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Without oxygen-

Tana Amen:                        You die. Right.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … [crosstalk [00:02:07] dies. The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body. It’s 2% of your body’s weight, but it uses 20 to 30% of the calories you consume, which is why food is so important. 20% of the oxygen, 20% of the blood flow, it’s the most expensive real estate in your body. So here we’re in Orange County, so it’s sort of like Corona Del Mar, Laguna Beach. In New York City, it would be Manhattan. It’s Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles. I don’t know where we’d say in San Francisco.

Tana Amen:                        We get it.

Dr Daniel Amen:               You got it. Okay.

Tana Amen:                        Tiburon, Belvedere.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Ah. Love those areas. It’s the most expensive real estate, and are you going to take care of it or are you going to trash it? I mean, let’s be serious about this. So blood carries oxygen, it also carries nutrients, as you know, but one of the most important functions of blood flow is it takes away the trash, it takes away toxins. And so, when you have lower blood flow to an organ, it prematurely ages the organ, and what we found is whatever’s good for your brain is also good for the health of your skin.

Tana Amen:                        Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr Daniel Amen:               Right, and so-

Tana Amen:                        So when your skin begins to… Like when you see people who’ve been smoking for a long time and their skin gets that leathery look, the skin is an outside reflection of what’s going on in your brain, but it happens to your brain first.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And so, if you want prettier skin, you want to work on having a healthier brain. And so, last week we talked about brain envy. I want you to have blood flow envy. And for each of these risk factors, I horrified myself a couple of years ago and I went, “Oh, I could summarize all of my work in three words.” Care, brain envy, stop doing things that hurt it, do things that help it, and you just have to know the list, we’re going to go over much of that list tonight. But so, I want you to have blood flow envy, which is care about your blood vessels, avoid anything that hurts them, and do things that help them. And I talked to you about my nieces, and this is Alizé’s original scan, I was horrified, but-

Tana Amen:                        When she was 13.

Dr Daniel Amen:               It’s actually literally one of the worst 13 year old scans I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

Tana Amen:                        And it’s weird, because it doesn’t reflect her.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Well, at the time, she was much more emotional.

Tana Amen:                        Yeah, but she still got really good grades, she’s a caring human.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Right.

Tana Amen:                        I mean, she’s…

Dr Daniel Amen:               But she’s on the edge.

Tana Amen:                        Right.

Dr Daniel Amen:               That she has no reserve in her brain.

Tana Amen:                        So she could go over the edge if we’re not careful.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So she’s much more vulnerable to having a mental health challenge, then once we put her in a hyperbaric chamber, put her on some supplements and medication, and I mean, she’s so much better. So this goes to the point you are not stuck with the brain you have, you can make it better. I can prove it. I really love that, and she is…

Tana Amen:                        She just got-

Dr Daniel Amen:               Compared to me, I didn’t have one decoration in academics until-

Tana Amen:                        She was just put on the principal’s list again.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … I was in college.

Tana Amen:                        Yeah. She was just put on the principal’s list for a 4.0 student, and…

Dr Daniel Amen:               Yeah, she’s really special. She was her graduation speaker as well.

Tana Amen:                        From eighth grade.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Okay. Brain cells don’t age, rather it’s your blood vessels that age. This should really concern you, that when you know that your brain could live a long time in a healthy way, if you keep your blood vessels healthy. So how do you do that? So you will avoid things that hurt it and you do things that help it. So how do you know if you have a blood flow problem, if you can’t come and get a scan? And a number of the questions were, “Well, if I get a SPECT scan done locally, will the person reading it know what to look for?” And the answer is, probably not. That’s why we decided to expand our clinics around the country, so people could have access to this information.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So a scan, like with Alizé, I’ll tell you, if you have low blood flow, if you’re not exercising, you have low blood flow. What do you think the percentage of people not exercising is?

Tana Amen:                        That’s a tricky question. Not exercising, not exercising enough, because a lot of people think they’re exercising, but they’re not getting enough exercise, so.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So what would you say is a good rule?

Tana Amen:                        You need to do a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes, like at least five days a week, and it should be somewhat intense, so.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So I say walk like you’re late 45 minutes, four times a week. There’s actually a study that shows that decreases depression as good as antidepressant medication. And then put two or three times, just a half an hour of lifting weights. Now, don’t hurt yourself. If you think you might hurt yourself, get a trainer, and it’s basically, do something for your chest, do something for your back, do something for the front of your arms, the back of your arms, your abs, your lower back, and your legs. It doesn’t have to be hard and don’t start heavy, because then you’ll hurt yourself, and then you won’t do anything for six months. So start light, increase the weight over time. And we like something called burst training or high intensity-

Tana Amen:                        Yeah, I like burst training.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … training, which means walk like you’re late, or run as fast as you can for 30 to 60 seconds, and then walk for maybe even 10 minutes, and then bursting again.

Tana Amen:                        It’s one of the reasons I like hiking, or in our neighborhood, if I’m going to walk, I really like walking the hills, because I just, I get that extra little bump in there. And I was surprised, I played ping pong with you, and it was better exercise than I thought it was going to be, so I wasn’t dying at the end. Like karate, I’m pretty much dying at the end, but I felt good, I was sweating and I felt good and I was like, “Oh, it’s better than walking.” I was more challenged.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Well, if I ramp it up on you-

Tana Amen:                        I know, but you can’t.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … you’ll be [inaudible [00:09:08].

Tana Amen:                        No, no. You have to be-

Dr Daniel Amen:               Because when I play, I-

Tana Amen:                        Be nice to me.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … play competitively.

Tana Amen:                        You need to be nice. He’s trying to teach me.

Dr Daniel Amen:               At the end of the evening, you’re just soaked.

Tana Amen:                        Yeah, but you’re supposed to be teaching me. Be gentle.

Dr Daniel Amen:               I’m trying to be gentle with my fragile flower.

Tana Amen:                        I can’t play tennis with him. I cannot play tennis with him, because literally, he stands in one spot and I’m running across the whole court. I never get a chance to breathe or stop, or rest. It’s ridiculous.

Dr Daniel Amen:               That’s the idea.

Tana Amen:                        No, it’s ridiculous.

Dr Daniel Amen:               For me to dominate you. I’m only kidding, trust me. I’m only kidding. All right, so if you don’t exercise, likely, you have lower blood flow to your brain. If you’re drinking caffeine or using nicotine, and last year, nicotine use among teenagers went up 36%. And that’s an evil ruler strategy-

Tana Amen:                        Yeah, the JUULs are just-

Dr Daniel Amen:               … we talked about. The evil ruler, we’re going to talk about the evil ruler more. So get rid of the nicotine, just get rid of it. That’s bad, bad, bad, bad for you. And caffeine, really limit it one, maybe two cups of coffee a day. What we do, and I don’t need it at all, but we actually make a quarter caf cappuccino. I make it for her, because it’s my way of telling her I love her, and I’m like, “Did I tell you I loved you today?” and you said, “Well, you made the cappuccino for me,” right? So we just have that part down. Limit caffeine. Hypertension, 60% of Americans are either hypertensive or pre-hypertensive. It’s a fricking disaster for your brain. As your blood pressure goes up, blood flow to the brain goes down. Now, low blood pressure is not good for you either, but high blood pressure puts you at risk for things like strokes, but it also limits blood flow to the brain.

Tana Amen:                        Yeah. It’s interesting, and it’s just moderate exercise for 30 to 40 minutes a day will dramatically reduce blood pressure for most people.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Any form of heart disease, heart attack, atherosclerosis, heart arrhythmia, heart infection, because your heart pumps the blood to your brain. Anything that’s bad for your heart is bad for your brain. And I know this, my grandfather had a heart attack, and I loved my grandfather. I was named after him. He was my best friend growing up, and just the happiest person I knew, and got significantly depressed after he had his heart attack. And erectile dysfunction, if you have blood flow problems anywhere, it likely means they’re everywhere. And what I really love is on our program, people’s sex lives tend to get better because they have better blood flow, and that is good for your-

Tana Amen:                        And they have more energy. So that’s what we hear.

Dr Daniel Amen:               So fall in love with your blood vessels, avoid anything that hurts them, we just talked about it. Do things that help them. Exercise, limit caffeine and nicotine, keep your blood pressure healthy. You should measure that four times a year. You want to get ahead of it, not behind it. And the first thing is not to go on blood pressure medication, the first thing is get your diet right.

Tana Amen:                        Oh my gosh, they put me on blood pressure medication, because I have to take a really high dose of thyroid because of the cancer, and when the last go around with cancer, I was, what, 40 I don’t know, I was in my 40s. So they put me on 275 milligrams of Synthroid, which is a really high dose, and because of that, my heart was just racing. I was wired and tired, and they put me on a heart medication, and-

Dr Daniel Amen:               [inaudible [00:12:59].

Tana Amen:                        … I fell asleep at a stop sign. And I’m like, I couldn’t even function. My normal daily activities, I was dangerous driving. So I just decided I would do whatever I had to, to figure out how to not have to take that. So now if you have to take it, that’s one thing, but try to figure out how not to, so. It was miserable.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Obviously, protect your heart. Ginkgo, I’m a huge fan of ginkgo. It increases blood flow to the brain. That’s why in Brain & Memory Power Boost, we have a significant dose of ginkgo, just because of what I’ve seen to how it helps brain health. And there are foods like peppers, and beets, and oregano, and rosemary, that-

Tana Amen:                        Love all of those.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … increase blood flow to the brain. So you often say that you should use spices like medicine.

Tana Amen:                        You should keep them in your medicine cabinet, instead of your spice cabinet.

Dr Daniel Amen:               What do you think people would, if they opened the cabinet and saw saffron, they would think?

Tana Amen:                        It would look a lot prettier and taste a lot better, and they’d feel a lot better.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And have fewer side effects.

Tana Amen:                        Right.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And then another treatment we like a lot is hyperbaric oxygen.

Tana Amen:                        Yes.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Actually after you…

Tana Amen:                        I’m in love with hyperbaric oxygen. It’s my happy place, because no one can bother me. I feel like I’m in a cocoon. I just go in there and I just meditate, take a nap, hang up on myself, and whenever anybody wants to bother me, I’m like, “I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.”

Dr Daniel Amen:               So we actually have hyperbaric chambers in all of our clinics, and Tana had a hysterectomy last year and she just wasn’t right.

Tana Amen:                        I felt terrible.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And-

Tana Amen:                        I felt like I was just walking through mud.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And then, so I scanned her, and her brain was much sleepier. And so what do we do? We-

Tana Amen:                        I kept saying, “I’m not right.” I just feel like I’m walking through mud.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Yeah. And so, the hyperbaric chamber has been really helpful. So last night, I sort of teased you last week that said something very special is coming. So last night, Tana and I, and Chloe, our daughter, went to the premiere of Justin Bieber’s new docuseries, Seasons.

Tana Amen:                        It was so fun.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Dr. Amen, aren’t you a little old to get excited about that?”

Tana Amen:                        To be a Belieber? Are you a Belieber?

Dr Daniel Amen:               I absolutely am. For the last five years, I’ve been Justin’s doctor, and he basically tells the story of how messed up he was, and-

Tana Amen:                        He was very raw.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … his transformation over the last couple of years to-

Tana Amen:                        And his struggle.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … really become a fine young man, who is able to do his craft without falling apart. And so I’m very proud of him.

Tana Amen:                        I love his wife. I just, I love his wife.

Dr Daniel Amen:               And in the docuseries, you’ll actually see multiple times his hyperbaric chamber, because when I first saw him, he had really low blood flow to his brain, that his brain was being assaulted. We’ll get to infections next week, but his brain really was being assaulted by a number of infections. He came out publicly saying he had Lyme disease, but it’s more complicated than that, and part of the treatment was to get better oxygen and blood flow to his brain, and he has fallen in love. Like you said, it’s his happy place with the chamber-

Tana Amen:                        Yeah, it’s his happy place, his chamber.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … that he gets-

Tana Amen:                        Loves it. He sleeps in there.

Dr Daniel Amen:               … more perfusion, more blood flow to his brain.

Tana Amen:                        It’s one of the things when I met him for the first time and I really understood what was going on with him, is when I realized how messed up the media is, and how wrong they get it most of the time. And it was one of the first times that I realized he’s got such a sweetheart, and he was struggling so much to try to do the right thing, but just really struggling to do the right thing sometimes, because he just felt so awful, and that was when I first realized it’s like, oh, and I know because I can be somewhat judgmental once in a while, and you were [inaudible [00:17:18]. It was the first time that I really understood the idea that it’s easier to call people bad, and harder to ask why sometimes. So yeah, just take it that I said that, don’t beat me over the head with it.

Dr Daniel Amen:               Yes, ma’am.

Tana Amen:                        Yep.

Dr Daniel Amen:               I’ll take it.

Tana Amen:                        If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s way podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode, and while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen:               If you’re considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code PODCAST10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at or a 10% discount on all supplements at For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.