How to Maximize Your Family’s Brain Health

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By Dr. Daniel Amen

Have you ever considered that a healthy lifestyle for you and your family may start with each of your individual brains? The world’s largest database of brain scans shows that the way you think, act and interact with others is dependent on how your brain functions. Being more aware of what your brain’s tendencies are may help you to build stronger relationships and know what is best for your mental health. 

What’s Your Brain Type?

After studying more than 160,000 SPECT scans of brains, it’s clear that not all brains are the same. SPECT is a brain imaging tool that measures blood flow and activity and shows areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or not enough activity. 

In our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics, we began by looking for patterns that could help us diagnose and treat mental health conditions, such as ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. But as we studied more and more scans, we also realized that certain brain patterns corresponded to personality types.

Based on our research, we have identified five primary brain types that influence who you are, how you behave, and how you relate to others. It’s also why giving everyone with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue a one-size-fits-all treatment plan will never work.  Finding the right diet, the best supplements, and the most effective exercise for your needs depends on your brain type. 

Brain Type 1 — Balanced

Brain Patterns:The balancedbrain shows full, even, symmetrical blood flow in most areas.

Personality: This is one of the most common brain types. If you have Brain Type 1, you’re likely to be focused, flexible, and emotionally stable. You’re one of those people who gets things done on time, shows up on time, follows through on promises, and copes well with life’s ups and downs. In general, you aren’t much of a risk taker and you prefer to follow the rules. 

Career: Type 1 individuals tend to be good employees, managers, and project coordinators in just about any industry.

Learning: Because you’re focused and organized, you usually do well in school or on-the-job training. 

Relationships: You tend to play well with others and have drama-free relationships.

Potential problems: If you eat a junk-food diet, drink too much, become a couch potato, and spend hours on social media, you can set yourself for mental health problems.

Brain Type 1 support: Support your balanced brain with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and take multi-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.

Brain Type 2 — Spontaneous

Brain patterns: This type typically has lower activity in the front part of the brain in an area called the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Personality: With this brain type, you love trying new things, have a wide range of interests, and would rather do things on the spur of the moment than have a set schedule. You think outside the box, don’t believe that rules apply to you, and are typically late for appointments. Organization isn’t your strong point, and you’re such a risk taker that your behavior might get you into trouble. 

Career: Having the spontaneous brain type is very common among entrepreneurs, entertainers, politicians and realtors.

Learning: This type is easily distracted and struggles with organization, so even though you may be really smart, it can be hard for you to perform up to your potential.

Relationships: Because you like excitement in your life, you may have a tendency to create drama in your relationships. 

Potential problems: You may engage in risky behavior, such as drinking too much, taking drugs, or having extramarital affairs. This type is vulnerable to ADHD, depression and addiction.
Brain Type 2 support: Engage in lifestyle strategies that boost activity in the PFC, including eating a higher-protein diet; taking supplements, such as green tea, rhodiola, and ginseng; and doing cardio exercise. 

Brain Type 3 — Persistent

Brain patterns: People with this brain type often have increased activity in the front part of the brain in an area called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG).

Personality: You like to get things done. You tend to be strong-willed, refuse to take no for an answer, and think it’s your way or the highway. You thrive when you can follow a routine but can get bent out of shape when plans change suddenly and have trouble going with the flow. You may be a worrier who has trouble letting go of past hurts, and you tend to be argumentative. 

Career: The Persistent Brain Type is common among chief operating officers, project managers, and web engineers.

Learning: You perform best when you have options, so you may want to stick to classes and training that gives you some leeway in how you learn material.  

Relationships: You can be stubborn and tend to remember every fight you and your partner ever had. 

Potential problems: When the brain’s ACG is overactive, it means you can get stuck on negative thoughts, which can be associated with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Brain Type 3 support: To calm an overactive ACG, boost serotonin in the brain with healthy carbs (such as sweet potatoes and hummus), salmon, turkey, eggs, nuts, and seeds; supplements like 5-HTP and saffron; and burst training.

Brain Type 4 — Sensitive

Brain patterns: This type often has increased activity in the limbic system, the emotional centers of the brain.

Personality: Having the Sensitive Brain Type means you tend to have great empathy for your friends, family, fellow humans and even furry animals. You can be deeply moved by music, movies and other art forms. Violent films, hateful social media posts, and the nightly news may be too much for you to handle so you tend to shy away from them. Many people with this brain type struggle with moods, can feel overwhelmed, and are likely to have lots of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). 

Career: The Sensitive Brain Type is common among therapists, healthcare professionals, social workers, as well as creative types.

Learning: Because noisy places can be overwhelming for you, search out places to study that are quiet and make sure you have earplugs. Seek out counselors, mentors, or professors who are supportive.

Relationships: You’re so tuned in to others that it’s easy for you to tell when your partner needs a hug or needs some space. Because you’re so sensitive to external stimuli, you sometimes need alone time to recharge, which your significant may take personally.

Potential problems: Being highly sensitive can make you more vulnerable to depression, addiction, and cyclic mood disorders like bipolar disorder.

Brain Type 4 support: Calm the emotional centers of the brain with healthy fats, such as avocado, almonds, and salmon; take omega-3 fatty acids, s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), and vitamin D; and do physical activities like dancing or team sports.

Brain Type 5 — Cautious

Brain patterns: Heightened activity in the anxiety centers of the brain—such as the basal ganglia, insular cortex, or amygdala—are seen in this type. This is often linked to low levels of the neurotransmitter GABA.

Personality: If you have the Cautious Brain Type, you’re likely to feel anxious, which typically makes you more prepared. People with this type tend to have such busy minds that it’s hard to relax. You may have a tendency to expect the worst and have a fear of failure that prevents you from going for your dreams.

Career: You like security and tend to have an analytical mind, so you may gravitate to jobs in accounting, research, or data mining.

Learning: You’re likely to go the extra mile to study class material, but despite being well-prepared, test-day jitters may cause you to underachieve on exams.

Relationships: You may have a fear of rejection and seek constant reassurance from your partner, which can come off as being needy or clingy.

Potential problems: People with this brain type are more vulnerable to anxiety and addictions.

Brain Type 5 support: Soothe the brain’s anxiety centers by avoiding caffeine, booze, and sugary sweets; supplement your diet with GABA, magnesium, and B6; and try calming activities like yoga.

Share your brain type with your loved ones and have them take the Brain Health Assessment so you’ll know their type. Knowing each other’s brain types will allow you to make better health decisions for yourself and your family.

Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, “The End of Mental Illness,” is slated for release in March 2020. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries.

Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discovermagazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” 

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