Yes Really – These 11 Things Can Damage Your Brain

Step away from the coffee…
Malte Mueller via Getty Images

Doctor, psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain Every Day, Dr Daniel Amen, has shared 11 ways that we’re damaging our brain and minds daily — without even realising it.

Amen, who’s the go-to doctor for stars like Bella Hadid, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, opened up with his advice on how to protect our brains on Steven Bartlett’s Diary Of A CEO podcast, where he said that our brains are so important because it’s “the organ of intelligence, character and every single decision that you make.”

In the episode, he shares how, in one of his books, he prescribes the pneumonic ‘BRIGHT MINDS’ as a guide for keeping a healthy brain, with every letter representing a different step.

Here’s what he has to say about all things grey matter…

  • B

The first letter in ‘BRIGHT MINDS’ represents blood, he says: “The B is for blood flow. Low blood flow is the number one brain imaging predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. How do you get low blood flow? Caffeine, nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, having a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight.”

He says that caffeine “constricts blood flow by 30%” and also increases the stress hormone cortisol, which isn’t great for long-term health either.

We can assume, then, to get the blood flowing would be to do the opposite of the things he listed — cutting out our thrice daily coffee habits (gah!!), not smoking, limiting alcohol and getting moving in whatever way makes you feel good.

  • R

“R is retirement and ageing. You want to prematurely age your brain? Drop out of school. Do not engage in new learning. When you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. When you stop learning, or you start doing the same thing over and over again, your brain starts to disconnect itself. Being in a job that does not require new learning is a risk factor for dementia,” Dr Amen explains.

Research shows that older adults can still learn new languages, form new memories and pick up new skills, and it’s beneficial to never stop learning as we age.

  • I

The I stands for — you guessed it — inflammation. The wellness world has been coming down like a ton of bricks on all things inflammation in the past few years, and Dr Amen says reducing it can really help protect the ol’ noggin.

“If you want to prematurely age your brain, eat a lot of red meat as if your iron and ferritin levels are high. Because ferritin, which is stored iron tends to age the brain,” he says.

“If you want to increase inflammation, which is a root cause of so many medical and mental health issues, never floss, don’t care about your teeth.”

He says there’s a fascinating link between your dental hygiene and your brain: “It’s absolutely critical for you not to have gum disease, but if you have gingivitis, odds are you’re at increased risk for heart disease and depression and dementia. It’s fascinating.”

  • G

Next up: genetics. Something that Dr Amen says a lot of health issues are blamed on when lifestyle changes can switch things upon. He says: “I have obesity and heart disease in my family, but I’m not overweight and I don’t have heart disease. Why? I’m on an obesity and heart disease prevention programme every day of my life. Because genes load the gun, it’s what happens to us and what we choose to do that pulls the trigger.”

  • H

H stands for head trauma. While it’s important to look after our brain through what we eat and how we exercise, physically looking after it is vital, too. He sarcastically says, “You want to damage your brain? Play football, play soccer, play rugby, and box.” We can guess then that he would rather we didn’t do all of those things…

  • T

He goes on to say that toxins in our personal care products and should be avoided.

According to a piece published in the National Institutes of Health, phthalates, parabens, PFAS, and triclosan, found in popular personal care products, are endocrine disruptors, which mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones and have been linked to problems with the brain, as well as development, and reproduction.

  • M

Embrace positivity for a healthy brain, he says: “M is mental health. Negativity increases stress, plus negativity drops activity in your cerebellum.”

  • I

“The second I is immunity and infections,” he explained. “Low vitamin D, which occurs in about 60% of the population, is associated virtually with every bad thing, including a smaller brain.

The UK government actually recommends that everyone in the UK should take a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement a day due to how we get absolutely no good weather, ever.

  • N

According to Dr Amen neurohormones are incredibly “important”. Some hormonal balances, such as too much cortisol, can actually alter brain function, impairing memory and causing brain fog.

  • D

D is for what Dr Amen refers to as ‘diabesity’ — a combination of diabetes and obesity — as research has shown being overweight or obese, especially in midlife, is associated with dementia later in life.

  • S

Finally, S is for sleep. Without sleep, we can’t form or maintain the pathways in our brain that let us learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly during the day, too.

So…. cut out coffee and smoking, get an early night, keep learning, embrace positivity, brush and floss and move your body?

Sounds like a tall order, but if we want to keep our marbles as we get older, maybe not so bad after all!