What an incredible few weeks it’s been! I want to thank everyone who tuned in for the Broken Brain docuseries which told the story of my own healing journey, along with those of numerous experts and patients who were also able to make miraculous recoveries from a broken brain.
There were so many highlights from this docuseries, I wish I could share them all with you. But for anyone who missed it, I put together 5 of the biggest highlights.
We will be launching the series again in January, so don’t worry if you missed it! We’ll be sure to keep everyone updated about the release date. For more information about purchasing the docuseries please visit here.
For now, here are 5 highlights from Broken Brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection
In episode 2, we talked in depth about the gut-brain connection and learned that this connection is more powerful than we ever could have imagined. Here’s what gut and brain expert Dr. Raphael Kellman had to say:
“When I think of the brain, I automatically think of the microbiome. To me, the microbiome and the brain are really part of one whole—they’re really inseparable. In fact, I believe that the whole brain is not just what we find from our neck up, but it’s really also what’s in our gut. I like to think of them as one unit, as one whole. Embryologically, the gut and the brain start out at the same point, and then one goes up and one goes down. When two cells start from the same place, they always retain a memory for each other. The microbiome and the gut, the gastrointestinal system is the housing for the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria, the friendly bacteria. They have direct communication to the brain via a bidirectional highway. They’re constantly speaking to each other in so many different ways. They’re communicating messages to each other. These messages are part of a communication system that really outshines any type of communication system that we know of today with our modern technology. It’s really staggering. This communication actually mostly originates from the microbiome up to the brain. There are 400 times the amount of messages coming from the microbiome to the brain than from the brain to the body. We now have the ability to significantly bolster, enhance, and improve that flow of communication, both improving the gut and the microbiome, and most importantly, improving the brain.”
Brain Health is Connected to Blood Sugar
In episode 3, we learned why experts call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes. Dr. Ann Hathaway and Dr. Dale Bredesen described their approach to treating memory loss, and the first step is balancing blood sugar.
Here’s what Dr. Ann Hathaway had to say: “Alzheimer’s has been called prediabetes of the brain. Certainly, if you have diabetes, you’re at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. When your blood sugar is high, it pumps your insulin high, and insulin is inflammatory. Inflammation is a major factor in cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Also, high blood sugar causes something called glycation, where the proteins throughout your body, including in your brain, get a sugar molecule added to them. That addition of a sugar molecule to a protein is damaging—that’s actual damage to that particular molecule in your brain. If you picture a loaf of bread baking, when the top of the bread turns that darker brown color, that’s glycation. That part of the bread is very hard, right? It’s damage, or glycation, and the more that glycation happens in our brain, the more prone we are to neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The Thyroid and Your Brain
In episode 5, Dr. Izabella Wentz described how the health of your thyroid can actually impact the health of your brain. She outlined her own experience with Hashimoto’s and how it led to anxiety, depression, and more. Here’s what she had to say:
“When I was struggling with Hashimoto’s, it was really, really scary for me. I had anxiety attacks and panic attacks that I’d never had before and I started to have new onset anxiety disorders and social anxiety. One of the worst things that happened with Hashimoto’s is that I started to have brain fog. The brain fog that comes along with thyroid disease is quite scary because you don’t know what’s happening to you. You can go from being this really intelligent person who’s on top of your game, can tell jokes very quickly, can study and remember things very quickly, to all of a sudden walking into rooms and forgetting why you got there in the first place. That can be very, very scary when you feel like your mind is slipping away from you—where you’re slowly losing parts of yourself. I became less funny, less outgoing, less interactive with the world around me, and this was all related to Hashimoto’s. People with thyroid disorders can exhibit a lot of symptoms that affect their brain. Some of the things that I’ve seen are fatigue, brain fog, apathy, irritability, anxiety, and panic attacks. We’re also going to see times of depression. I’ve seen people who are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I’ve also seen people who are hospitalized for psychotic disorders as a result of Hashimoto’s.
For people with Hashimoto’s and for thyroid disease, I really like to recommend a focus on eating a whole-food-based diet that’s minimally processed. I’ve seen the most benefit from patients going on a Paleo diet, as well as the Autoimmune Paleo Diet. We’ve actually been able to see and measure improvement in people’s symptoms as well as in their thyroid antibody markers, which can tell us how aggressive the thyroid condition is. We see symptoms like headaches, panic attacks, palpitations, weight gain, fatigue, all these symptoms begin to melt away when we get rid of the reactive foods and focus on eating organic, wild-caught, and real foods. I love to see people eating bone broth, good fats, and organic and wild-caught meats.”
The Role of Fats in Brain Health
Throughout the series, we talked about the importance of fats for brain health. Here’s what some of our experts had to say.
Dr. John Ratey: “There’s a lot we’re learning, and one of the things we have learned about our diet is that we became fat-phobic in the 60s and 70s and 80s, so we became low-fat people, and that meant we became high-carb people, but we cheated ourselves on the good fats. One of the things that we’ve known in psychiatry since 1990, is that omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps as good a treatment for things like bipolar illness as are some of our bipolar drugs. With that came a whole lot of research looking at omega-3s as a way to treat mood, anxiety, ADD, and autism. It has a positive effect on all of those pervasive problems. Plus, it’s great for the heart, skin, bones, the connections in our body, and also treats arthritis and the like.”
Dr. Drew Ramsey: “If you look at what happened, for example, to long-chained omega-3 fats, and these are really a great example of one of the most important things that I tell my patients to focus on eating. That’s what I focus on. I look at my week, how do I judge it? Did I eat fatty fish that has long-chained omega-3 fats? Omega-3 fats are one of my top criteria for eaters who are looking to support brain health. Omega-3 fats just got entirely stripped from our diet. We actually moved from having an omega-3 fat-based grass-based diet to a diet that’s based much more on seed oils and what are also essential fats but are thought to be much more inflammatory.”
The Role of Community in Brain Health
One of the biggest tips we took away from the Broken Brain experts was the importance of community. Lack of community and social isolation is deadly. Here’s what our experts had to say:
John Ratey: “Community is really important and community happens on a family level, it happens at a neighborhood level, and it happens in a broader context. There’s a wonderful book called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. She talks about how technology in some ways is bringing us together, but it’s also making us separated. Real connection is vital, and I call this vitamin O—vitamin oxytocin. Oxytocin is the thing that mammals get when they’re in a community, touching one another, hugging, and they’re sitting down eating together. That sharing, that social bonding that happens, that glue that cements us together is really important. Look at the Blue Zones (an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people)—they have that sense of community and a sense of purpose and cohesiveness. We’re a social animal. We need that. That vitamin O is really important.
The most important thing is community, being connected to one another. I’m working with a group that studies this for the elderly. One of the big ways to keep people well, to keep people from using Medicare B, is being more social and staying more social. It’s even three times more important than if you exercise every day, which I think is one of the most important things you can do, which is twice as important as taking medicine as your doctor prescribed.”
Dr. Robin Berzin: “I absolutely believe that your community is one of the most important determinants of your health. We know that the social determinants of health are more important than the genetic determinants of health. We know that the health status of your Facebook friends can actually be a really good indicator of how healthy you are. I try to remind people that they need to deliberately cultivate friends in their lives who make them healthier. Of course, we can’t control every person we come across day-to-day, but we can choose to work and have social lives with people who make us healthier, who encourage us to move and eat better. We all have those friends who when we get together end up having too many beers, or eating pizza, or skipping the workout, and those are friends who can be amazing for us, but we need to counteract those friends with some of the friends who help us live a little bit more healthy. I’ve literally done that in my life. For instance, I practice yoga and my yoga community contributes to making sure that I practice yoga. I’m more active than I would be if I just had to remind myself all the time.”
These were just a few of the highlights from the Broken Brain docuseries. For those of you who watched the docuseries, I’d love to hear from you! What were some of your favorite moments? Send us an email here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And to learn more about Broken Brain, click here.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD