A Powerful Protocol Proven to Help Reverse Brain Damage
I’ve been reading a lot about brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in retired NFL football players lately.
While doing so, I came across an interesting study by Dr. Daniel Amen, titled “Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: implications for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse rehabilitation.”
In the study, thirty retired NFL players who had brain damage and cognitive impairment followed a brain-healthy protocol (outlined below).
After following the protocol for six months, the former NFL players had increased blood flow to the brain and robust increases in performance.
Neuropsychological testing showed that they had statistically significant improvements in attention, memory, reasoning, and information processing speed and accuracy.
The NFL players themselves also self-reported subjective increases in memory, attention, mood, motivation, and sleep.
It just so happens that a lot of the supplements and therapies used in this protocol have also improved my mental health and supported my brain after suffering multiple concussions and living in a moldy home.
“We demonstrated that even if you have been bad to your brain, on the right program you can often reverse the damage and improve your life. It’s one of the most exciting discoveries in medicine today. I hope this message finds anyone who played contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, boxing so they can find help because their degenerative conditions can be reversed.” – Dr. Daniel Amen, psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
Why This Research Is So Important
It’s well known that brain injuries are common in professional American football players, and they increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment, dementia, depression and CTE.
A study sponsored by the National Football League (NFL) found that 6.1% of retired NFL players over the age of 50 have received a dementia-related diagnosis, which is five times the national average of 1.2%.
Even 2% of players aged 30 to 49 have received a dementia-related diagnosis, which is 20 times higher than the rate of the general population within that age group.
And in a study conducted on 100 active and retired NFL players, researchers found decreased brain blood flow and a higher incidence of depression, obesity, and memory and attentional problems compared to the general population.
Brain injuries also increase the risk of drug abuse.
Lastly, a study from the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University reported that 96% of former NFL players autopsied had clear evidence of CTE, and that 79% of males who played football at any level had it as well.
But brain injuries and neurological damage don’t just affect retired professional football players.
Millions of people, including soldiers, suffer concussions every year.
In addition, substance abusers also experience high levels of brain damage from the toxic effects of drugs or alcohol, and the higher incidence of brain injuries during intoxication.
But based on Dr. Amen’s protocol, there is hope. And it’s possible to reverse brain damage.
Below is the protocol that the players followed to reverse brain damage and cognitive dysfunction, and significantly improve their brain, mental health and quality of life.
1. Improve Your Diet and Exercise Regularly
Forty-eight percent of players in the initial study were overweight or obese, even after taking into account their large body frames.
So they were encouraged to eat healthier and exercise regularly in order to lose weight.
This is because obesity is associated with dementia and smaller brain size.
For exercise, you should find an aerobic activity that you enjoy so that you’ll stick with it consistently.
This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:
- Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week
- High-intensity interval sprinting 1-2 times per week
- Walk as much as I can (ideally 30-60 minutes every day)
- Run for 20-30 minutes before lifting weights
2. Eliminate Alcohol
Not too surprisingly, the NFL players in Dr. Amen’s study were encouraged to completely eliminate their alcohol consumption.
As a neurotoxin, alcohol wreaks havoc on the brain by raising cortisol levels, disrupting the blood-brain barrier, and increasing inflammation and oxidative stress.
There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal from brain damage. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.
Other than alcohol, the NFL players were also told to eliminate others drugs, including cigarettes.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough high-quality sleep was another key aspect of Dr. Amen’s therapeutic protocol for the NFL players because it’s so important for brain health.
Deep sleep has been shown to slow down cognitive decline, reduce cortisol levels, promote the regeneration of myelin, increase the growth of new brain cells, and support the blood-brain barrier.
That’s why getting at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep is so critical. My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.
But it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of your sleep.
Here are some ways I now maximize the quality of my sleep:
- Expose your eyes to sun in the morning
- Keep a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night
- Don’t eat anything for 3 hours before bed, other than raw honey, bone broth and MCT oil, which are easy to digest and can actually support sleep.
- Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Most people should completely avoid it after 2 pm. Some may have to cut it out even earlier. I can’t have any after 12 noon, otherwise the quality of my sleep suffers.
- Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. You can read more about the problem with blue light here. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights, get red light bulbs, install f.lux on your computer and/or wear Uvex glasses. Uvex glasses block out blue light in your environment.
- Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains or wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance. If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.
- Reduce stress before bed. I supplement with magnesium and lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed.
- Avoid alcohol before sleep, as it prevents getting into the deeper stages of sleep, which is when the body and brain heal.
- Melatonin secretion can be disrupted by EMF exposure, so turn off cellphones, Wi-Fi and other electrical devices while you sleep.
4. Reduce Brain Inflammation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your brain is made up of about 60% fat, so you want to consume high-quality fats in order to continuously rebuild your brain with the best fats possible.
Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain, and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful ways to reverse brain damage.
Dr. Amen gave the NFL players 5.6 grams of fish oil each day, containing 1720 mg of EPA and 1160 mg of DHA.
EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for the optimal functioning of your brain and nervous system. They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
They are also the structural components of synapses, and have been shown to support the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases who have experienced synaptic loss.
It’s important to get enough omega-3s because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.
They are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.
Unfortunately, most people don’t consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.
That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one. I don’t feel as well when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.
I previously wrote about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in-depth here.
5. Get Enough of These Vitamins and Minerals
Research shows that supplementing with a high-dose vitamin B complex, vitamin C and minerals improves ratings of stress, mental health and vigour, and improves cognitive performance during intense mental processing.
So Dr. Amen got the NFL players in the study to take a high-potency multivitamin every day.
6. Enhance Brain Blood Flow
Dr. Amen also focused on increasing blood flow in the brains of the retired NFL football players.
Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. It’s one of the top-selling herbal treatments worldwide, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.
It’s most commonly used to improve brain health, as it’s been shown to increase cognitive function, memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and may also improve mood and mental energy.
It has these effects primarily by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Ginkgo biloba extract is available in supplement form. I’ve taken this one. You can get it here or here. I no longer take it because I found out I’m allergic to the plant.
Ginkgo biloba extract goes well with Vinpocetine, which is a compound from the Periwinkle plant used for cognitive decline.
Like Ginkgo biloba, it enhances blood flow to the brain, leading to improved reaction time, reduced inflammation, and neuroprotective effects. In Eastern Europe, it’s used for age-related memory impairment.
7. Increase Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is considered the “learning” neurotransmitter and plays a key role in the brain’s cognitive processes.
Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It has neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects and helps reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain and supporting mitochondria function.
It is often used as a brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood.
I take 500 mg of this ALCAR supplement as needed. It gives me a boost in mental energy and resilience.
Huperzine-A is a compound extracted from the herbs of the Huperziceae family.
It has neuroprotective effects and cognitive enhancing properties because it increases acetylcholine. It does this by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Because of this, it’s shown promise as a treatment for fighting cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Increase Antioxidants
Another key aspect of reversing brain damage is optimizing your intake of antioxidants, and Dr. Amen doesn’t ignore this.
NAC is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine, and precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.
Toxins and other stressors tend to deplete the body’s stores of cysteine and glutathione, and supplementing with NAC can effectively replete blood cysteine and cell glutathione levels.
This can reduce oxidative stress in the brain and help treat several mental illnesses, including cognitive problems and addiction.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a mitochondrial fatty acid synthesized in the body, and is highly involved in energy metabolism. In supplement form, it is a potent antioxidant compound that has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to neurological decline. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is crucial for healthy brain function.
Several other studies have found that a combination of antioxidants – including NAC, ALA, Vitamin C and Vitamin E – can improve cognitive functioning and decrease symptoms of cognitive decline. This is likely because oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of cognitive impairment and dementia, and these antioxidant nutrients and plant compounds can counteract this.
Antioxidants can also reduce levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.
9. Reduce Cortisol with Phosphatidylserine
Participants in Dr. Amen’s study also supplemented with phosphatidylserine.
Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function.
High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention, learning and memory.
“…consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction”
— Food and Drug Administration
It’s also been shown to reduce cortisol, which can negatively affect the brain at chronically high levels.
I used to take 100 mg of this phosphatidylserine every evening, but now I just take it when I’m stressed.
I no longer take it every day because I take CDP-Choline almost every day, which boosts the brain’s production many phospholipids, including phosphatidylserine.
10. Optimize Important Health Markers
Important health markers were also monitored and optimized to ensure that the NFL players were in the best health possible to support their brain.
Here are some of the markers Dr. Amen monitored in the NFL players:
Weight measures, such as body mass index and height-to-weight ratio (more accurate in athletes) – Over half of the NFL players were obese. Studies report that as a person’s weight goes up, the size and function of the brain goes down. To reduce this problem, Dr. Amen ran an NFL weight loss class where players lost massive amounts of weight.
Fasting blood glucose levels – Normal levels are between 65 and 100mg/dl. But to be optimal, Dr. Amen prefers the higher number to be below 90. Otherwise, there’s a greater chance of developing diabetes in the future, which is associated with depression and dementia. As fasting blood sugar levels increase, blood vessels become brittle and are more likely to break, increasing your risk for stroke, depression and dementia.
C-reactive protein – This is a measure of inflammation, which is associated with many chronic illnesses, including depression, dementia and chronic pain. While the normal range varies between labs, Dr. Amen aims for less than 1mg/liter to be optimal. A healthy diet and nutrients help get inflammation under control.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including cognitive impairment. Normal levels are between 30 and 100ng/mL. Dr. Amen prefers his patients’ levels to be between 50 and 100 because optimal vitamin D levels can help decrease inflammation, improve your mood, and help with weight loss. To boost vitamin D levels, he encouraged players to get more sunlight or take a Vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D3 is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should take for their brain and mental health because most people don’t get enough sun exposure on a regular basis. I take this one.
Ferritin – Ferritin is a measure of iron stores. Too little iron is associated with being tired and anemic, but too much, even high normal levels, is associated with stress, heart disease, and aging. If the NFL players’ ferritin levels were too low, Dr. Amen gave them iron. If they were too high, he encouraged them to donate blood. I personally prefer beef liver capsules as good source of iron instead of taking iron supplements.
In addition to the above strategies, Dr. Amen and his team screened the NFL players for other dementia risk factors, such as hypertension, heart disease, gum disease, alcohol and drug abuse, anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, low thyroid and testosterone levels, and sleep apnea, and encouraged them to aggressively treat these conditions.
11. Reduce Homocysteine with SAM-e and Methylated B Vitamins
This step – and the next two – are not a part of the original study.
However, Dr. Amen says he uses these treatments with his patients, including retired football players.
Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound at high levels, and can contribute to the development of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other mental health disorders.
However, certain B vitamins have been shown to normalize homocysteine levels and reduce the rate of cognitive decline.
As a result, Dr. Amen says that he recommends his NFL patients supplement with methyl-B12, methyl-folate, and P-5-P (bioactive B6).
I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12, methyl-folate and P-5-P.
Trimethylglycine (TMG) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) also lower homocysteine.
I personally prefer SAM-e since it is the most powerful and noticeable.
“For those players who were depressed or demented, we did more. I acted as the psychiatrist for a number of our players or a consultant to their own physicians. For many, I prescribed natural antidepressants, such as SAMe, because it also helps with pain.”
— Dr. Amen
12. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
“A number of our players also opted to do hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which we have seen improve blood flow to the brain. Over the years I have been impressed with HBOT’s ability to increase blood flow to damaged brains.”
— Dr. Amen
Again, this wasn’t included in the main protocol of the study, but Dr. Amen often recommends it to NFL players or anyone else with brain damage.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that enhances the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. It’s a simple, non-invasive and painless treatment.
Under normal circumstances, oxygen is transported throughout the body only by red blood cells. With HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into all of the body’s fluids, including the fluids of the central nervous system, and can be carried to areas where circulation is diminished or blocked. As a result, extra oxygen can reach all of the damaged tissues, including areas of the brain, supporting the body’s own healing process.
Lots of research shows that HBOT improves brain blood supply, reduces inflammation, and enhances neurogenesis, which improves recovery after injury to the central nervous system.
You’ll need to find a practitioner or clinic in your area that provides this treatment.
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that shows you your brain activity in real-time and teaches you how to self-regulate it.
Sensors are placed on your scalp to measure your brain’s activity, and the measurements are displayed using video or sound.
Dr. Amen uses it with his NFL patients.
“In our retired NFL players, we often saw excessively high slow wave activity (excessive delta and theta) and too little fast wave activity (too little beta) in the front part of the brain. Many of our athletes thought of neurofeedback like going to the gym for their minds and found it very helpful.”
It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.
But I also like the Muse headband. It’s a good substitute and gives you real-time feedback in your brainwaves while you meditate.
Researchers used to believe that the brain cannot heal, but they now know that’s wrong.
Brain plasticity is possible, and if you put the brain in a healing environment, it can get better, and brain damage can be reversed.
But the above protocol isn’t just for retired NFL players.
It also directly applies to the larger traumatic brain injury and drug abuse communities.
Or simply anyone who is experiencing cognitive decline, depression or other mental health problems.
The retired NFL players in the study had sustained brain injuries decades previously, but they improved.
If researchers can improve the brains of retired football players – who have had tens of thousands of hits to their heads – imagine the benefit you can get with a brain healthy program.
You don’t have to be held hostage by your bad brain.
You can recover from brain damage, brain infection, substance abuse and toxic exposure.
And Dr. Amen isn’t the only doctor showing the brain’s incredible power to heal.
Dr. Dale Bredesen is reversing cognitive decline and dementia with his own brain rehabilitation program.
This work is incredibly important for football players, soldiers, firefighters, police, and anyone who has suffered brain trauma and damage.
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