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Strengthen Your Brain Through Diet, with Shawn Stevenson

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

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”. But does this phrase apply to the brain, too? Does the food we eat actually become our brain? In the first episode of a series with The Model Health Show host Shawn Stevenson, Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen discuss how the foods we put into our body become our body (and brain), and why certain societal institutions have made building a healthy brain more difficult.

For more info on Shawn’s new book “Eat Smarter”, visit https://www.amazon.com/Eat-Smarter-Metabolism-Upgrade-Transform-ebook/dp/B07W3M55SP

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome everyone. We are very excited this week to be with our friends, Shawn Stevenson. He’s been on the podcast before. He’s a bestselling author creator of the model Health Show, featured as the number one health podcast on iTunes with millions of listener downloads each year. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri St. Louis, Shawn studied business, biology and kinesiology, and went on to be the founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance. A company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations worldwide.

He’s been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, which I used to write for, ESPN, Fox News and many other media outlets. He has a brand new book, Eat Smarter, and I actually have the quote on the front cover. I’m so honored. Well researched, easy to read and will help you be smarter, healthier, and happier. So the title is Eat Smarter, Use the Power of Food to Reboot Your Metabolism, Upgrade Your Brain and Transform Your Life. Welcome my friend …

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Welcome Shawn.

Shawn Stevenson:

… to the Brain Warriors Way podcast.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Thank you. It’s always an honor to talk to you two. I appreciate it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So why now? Why did you feel like this is the book the world needs? COVID-19 they often call it COVID-19.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The COVID-19.

Daniel Amen, MD:

People gained 19 pounds, that they allowed themselves to eat bad food, telling themselves it’s the only thing on the shelf, actually not true.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Or it’s for comfort because they’re more permissive.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Comfort, because people need comfort …

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… now. So talk to us about why now, Shawn for this book.

Shawn Stevenson:

You know what’s so funny about writing a book? Sometimes it preempts some things that are coming. I had no idea any of this stuff would happen when I started writing this book, but it’s such a timely message because one of the most overlooked things and we’ve talked about this is actually what we can do to get our citizens healthier and just get us to be more robust, healthier immune systems. A lot of the conversation hasn’t been on that piece and we’re going to continue to be susceptible. And so, coming from the environments that I come from, which is very diverse, very different environments, very safe, happy, suburban environment, and also very volatile environment with a lot of violence and potential dangers. And I’ve seen in all the entire spectrum that everybody wants the same thing.

Everybody wants to be healthy, everybody wants to take care of their families, but also everybody’s been inundated with unhealthy food. And especially in those other communities that’s riddled with violence, it’s not just accessible, it’s encouraged to eat terrible food. So knowing these pieces and knowing that there are solutions and also, here’s a big thing and why I wrote the book, and you know this as well. A lot of the data that’s out there is just so immersed in complexity, unnecessary complexity when the accessibility for these things, what we have to do is really make it fun. So many things about diet is about deprivation, restriction and there’s a natural human tendency to want to rebel even if we’re a rule follower, we don’t like to be told that we can’t do something.

So I would see this in my clinical practice, working as a nutritionist for as long as I have that people want change, but we generally don’t want to change that much. So what are some simple things we can do, some things that are clinically proven but we don’t have to turn our lives upside down. And also, I think that the conversation about food needed to be expanded. And this is the last thing I’m going to say and just the heart of why I wrote this book. Oftentimes in our culture when we think about diet and nutrition it’s generally related to weight and they go together, but food is so much more than that. It literally makes up everything about us. As I’m looking at you guys, I’m seeing the food that you’ve eaten and the same thing as you see in me. It’s so weird and seemingly magical.

And talking about the brain and you’re such an inspiration for me. The dendrites, the axon terminals, the gray matter, the white matter, everything about our brain is made from food, it’s made of food. How important and powerful is this? And we get to choose when we’re making our brains out of. And so, that piece, and I wanted to share of course, the metabolism side and all the foods that are clinically proven to help with that but also, how can we not just help to protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s? But what are some nutrients that we’ve got some real clinical data that can improve your memory within a matter of weeks potentially.

And lastly, how does nutrition and food affect our ability to perspective take and have empathy and to connect with other people. That’s such an important conversation that’s not being talked about and the data on this and how food affects even our proclivity towards violence and aggression. It’s so powerful because right now there’s a lot of infighting, people just going on the internet just mad, looking for problem, let alone out here in the real world. So, it’s a very important message right now. It’s very comprehensive, but also very actionable.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s so interesting. So that’s what I do at our clinics is nutrition and lifestyle component, that’s what I’ve typically written about. So everything you’re saying I’m over here, yes, yes, yes, yes. I love what you said. I can see what you’ve eaten. So that is just such an important thing. Your skin is an outside reflection of the food you eat, of the health of your gut. Your brain is a reflection of your overall health, they’re connected and so, I love that you’re approaching it from this way. Because I wrote my first big food book 10 years ago and there are so many people trying to broach that, back then trying to broach it and it seems like it’s gotten worse, not better. So help me out with this, and we know that this is affecting society.

Shawn Stevenson:

Yeah. It’s just a fundamental flaw in the system. A system mapping out any model, it’s only as good as the fundamental premise of the system itself and our system of healthcare doesn’t really respect or acknowledge the role that food plays. And knowing now, at this point in working, I’ve been in this field for 19 years, but I know the top cardiologists, I know the top gastroenterologists, I know the top neuroscientists and one of my friends, incredible gastroenterologists. He was in school for 16 years, 16 years of education, he deals with the organs that are associated and work in the assimilation digestion and elimination of food and yet he only learned about food for two weeks in 16 years. And it wasn’t, in-depth real evidence based stuff, it was more like if your patient has a very rare B6 deficiency give this vitamin.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Disease oriented, not health oriented.

Shawn Stevenson:

Yes, exactly. And also, again, not understanding that these organs are made from food. There’s nothing really more important than this. The other aspects are valuable, but that is the number one premise and why we’re in this situation until there’s a shift in the acknowledgement. And I mention this stuff as well. The Journal of the American Medical Association, one of our most prestigious journals, this was in 2018, came out and affirmed, poor diet is the number one cause of our chronic diseases.

So this isn’t news anymore, we know that this is the case, when is the shift going to happen to focus on food? But I believe that it is happening. There have been ripples, but we need some big waves and a big movement. And I’m grateful that this book again is coming out right at this time, which I had no idea that this would happen and I haven’t shared this with you guys. It became a number one new release in the United States the week that it came out.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, congratulations.

Shawn Stevenson:

It was unbelievable. It was on the top 10 with Matthew McConaughey and Barack Obama. But this isn’t a book about celebrity or fanfare, it’s about food and about health and to see the response, there’s something just internally, our spirits really know that this is important.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Congratulations.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So what are some of the big a-ha’s for you when you wrote the book? I mean, when we wrote the Brain Warrior’s Way, I love this phrase that we came up with is that it’s critical to begin to avoid the weapons of mass destruction. Highly processed, pesticide sprayed, high glycemic, low fiber food like substances stored in plastic containers. And so, we have a sense, lots of plants, healthy fat, but when you wrote the book, what were some of the big a-ha’s? And we’ll finish this first podcast with that. We only have a couple of minutes left and then we’ll go into some of the programmatic aspects of Eat Smarter.

Shawn Stevenson:

Absolutely. So definitely the next segment we got to talk about specific foods and metabolism and this new term called epi-caloric control. So we’ll talk about that next, but one of the biggest a-ha moments, and this is why having you in my life and even having you on the cover is such again, such an honor, but for me, one of the biggest a-ha moments and you know this, you might be in your office researching and you’re just like, “Oh my goodness, how do people not know this? This is going to be a game changer.” And I always ask this fundamental question, for example, with the brain, what is it made of? What is it made of? And one thing really rises to the top and it’s just not talked about enough, but there was a nuance there. So the brain is primarily made of water, right?

It’s 80% water, upwards of 80% water, the most water dominant organ in the body next to the lungs. But here’s the catch. And by the way, so everything is very, evidence based. One of the studies that I broke down in the book was published in Medicine in Science and Sports and Exercise. And they found that just a 2% drop in our body’s baseline hydration level led to significant cognitive impairment, including a reduction in the ability to have basic motor performance, right? Just moving your body in space, a reduction in executive function and things with coordination and also map recognition, mental map, basically we get dumber. Just a 2% drop in our baseline hydration rate. And again, we’re looking for these super nootropics and all these things to make our brain work better but we got to get this addressed and here’s the nuance.

It’s not just the water, because the brain itself and I give this analogy of being toll booths, there’s a very specific diet that can actually enter the brain, right? We call this neuro nutrition and it’s very specific, but water has expressed pathways. They got that fast pass to get right into the brain, but here’s the nuance is the role that electrolytes play, right? And if you just listen to the word electrolyte, right? Our brains are running on this electrical currency and it helps with signal transduction, but specifically I’m just going to drop these real quick for you guys. This was a double blind placebo controlled study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that improving magnesium levels, one of our most powerful electrolytes in adult test subjects who had noted cognitive decline, there were between the age of 50 and 70 was found to reverse their brain aging by upwards of nine years.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Wow.

Shawn Stevenson:

Just by getting their magnesium levels dialed in, all right? This is absolutely unbelievable. And so, we talked about the various electrolytes and some of the science behind it. And also of course there’s sodium involved, potassium, the list goes on and on, but magnesium really jumped out at me. So it’s not just the water, it’s also the structure of the water, the minerals in the water, the minerals in our food when we eat water rich foods. So some of these things can be absolutely game changing and then we go into what foods do we find these things in? How do we get our magnesium levels up efficiently? Because food first is a big premise of Eat Smarter.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Great.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s awesome.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Eat Smarter: Use the Power of Food to Reboot Your Metabolism, Upgrade Your Brain and Transform Your Life out now. And I highly recommend it. Stay with us. What’d you learn? Write it down, like magnesium is critical and can reverse your brain’s aging. Take a picture of it, post on any of your social media sites, #BrainWarriorsWayPodcast. Also Eat Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. We’ll be back

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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 a five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.