How to Naturally Heal Your ‘Drained’ Brain According to Dr. Mike Dow
Do you often feel anxious, frazzled, and, basically, drained? In our busy world, these feelings are not only common, but often shrugged off as we keep pushing through the day.
You might think there’s nothing really wrong with you’re feeling — after all everyone else is experiencing it too, right? — but, according to Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D. Ph.D., your 24/7 exhaustion is actually the result of a drained brain.
Thanks to our dependence on smartphones and processed foods, our busy schedules, and the common practice of working late at the office, Dr. Dow believes the long-term effects of our hectic lifestyle can not only be harmful to our brains but is also life-threatening.
Dr. Dow knows a lot about our brains and how we can heal them. He also wrote “The Brain Fog Fix”, “Healing the Broken Brain”, and “Diet Rehab.”
As our go-go-go world continues to consume us, and prescriptions for anti-anxiety and sleeping pills continue to subsequently increase, Dr. Dow sought to create a plan designed to help us naturally balance our brain.
Organic Authority spoke with Dr. Dow about his new book and how we can heal our drained brains.
OA: You’ve written other books on the brain. What compelled you to write this particular book?
MD: I was backstage at “Dr. Oz” and one of my friends (a producer there) had a near panic attack after the Paris terrorist attack. TV producers are used to high levels of stress and she said to me, “I think I need a prescription for Xanax or something! I just can’t take it.”
I realized that nearly everyone in the world was feeling this way. My friends felt this way. My patients. But people with anxiety are also caught between a rock and a hard place. My friend didn’t really want an prescription for Xanax. Like most people, she needed something that worked and didn’t want to take a prescription, but she also questioned if natural remedies really work. I knew I was called to write this book in that moment.
OA: What do you mean by a “drained brain”?
MD: A drained brain is one that is running too high in the three “brain drainers.” These are the stress hormones adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. A drained brain is running too low in the feel-good neurotransmitters that helps the brain to recover from these “brain drainers”. I call these neurotransmitters the “brain balancers” and they include GABA, serotonin, acetylcholine, and melatonin. Brain drainers are associated with a brain stuck in fight or flight (the sympathetic nervous system). Brain balancers are associated with the rest and digest response (the parasympathetic nervous system).
OA: It seems that we are suffering from more “drained brains” now than ever. Why do you think that is?
MD: We are. Statistics in the book prove it. We are more stressed out than in any other time in modern history. Our world is more unpredictable than ever. Look at the last election. Look at these horrific terrorist attacks. Look at how one economy collapsing (Greece) affects the stock market in America. In research, the brain doesn’t like unpredictable danger. It would prefer that it knows when a shock is coming than getting a shock at a random time. In our modern world, we wake up and we get “shocked” 24/7. Plus we now have smart phones that shock us nonstop. Furthermore, news outlets operate from a “if it bleeds it leads” philosophy so you see mostly sensational and negative news.
OA: You believe that basically everything we do — how we sleep, eat, and live — is profoundly affected by the brain. How so?
MD: Absolutely. The brain affects how we sleep, eat, and live — and vice-versa. The modern American diet is literally shrinking our brains.
I talk about the way chronic stress has been shown to shrink the prefrontal cortex. Sugar shrinks the hippocampus. Not sleeping enough causes plaques to build up in the brain which can eventually spike your risk for anxiety and even dementia. We need to shift to the diet I recommend in “Heal Your Drained Brain.” Eat omega-3 superfoods to shift to an anti-inflammatory state. Prevent brain shrinkage and natural energy with B vitamin-rich foods.
OA: What was the most revealing discovery you made while writing the book?
MD: Namely natural remedies work as well as prescriptions. I have a chapter on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), and it’s extremely effective for insomnia. Probiotics (in the form of kefir and all the fermented food recipes in the book) may be the “new Paxil” because they work really well in reducing anxiety, but very few people know about how effective they are. There are also a lot of great tools – like self-hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenic training — that work too. I’ve had well-educated friends who read up on yoga ask me what [these tools are], so I know people need to know more about all these effective antidotes.
OA: Can we truly heal our drained brains?
MD: We can, but we need to be intentional about it. We need to be cognizant about taking the time to balance. Imagine a see-saw. That see-saw represents the “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” sides of your nervous system. If the modern world or your stressful work life tilts it towards “fight or flight,” then it’s up to you to tilt it back towards “rest and digest.”
You can do this in many ways. For one, you can eat the foods I recommend. For example, foods containing probiotics have been shown to reduce anxiety. I have recipes in the book that teach you how to make probiotic-rich foods. You can also use practices like the ones I mentioned: mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, and autogenic training to shift your brain into that rest and digest state.
OA: Lastly, what would you like people to understand about the brain that the general population might not realize?
MD: The brain is your most precious organ. If you’re not intentional, it’s almost as if the modern world will drain and shrink your brain. The modern diet, draining electronics, and our modern world will rob you of the peace you were born with. However, with a few simple swaps and switches (and even a few hacks like a clinically proven 10-minute workout I recommend when you’re short on time), you’ll be well on your way to healing that drained brain.
Writer, personal trainer, healthy eating coach, vegetarian, Oprah devotee, overall wellness freak. Brianne's byline has been featured on HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Thrillist, among others. Check out her online training programs at: briannehoganfitness.com