Are you feeling a little on edge lately? You’re not the only one.
But be honest now, do you think technology is helping you or hurting you?
These are critical questions, especially in the age of lockdowns and censorship.
But thankfully, we have fellow health crusaders to help us navigate this increasingly fear-based landscape.
Returning to the show this week is Dr. David Perlmutter, a Board-Certified Neurologist and five-time New York Times bestselling author.
I’m thrilled to say that joining us, as well, is his son, Dr. Austin Perlmutter, a Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician and New York Times bestselling author.
- How our health, relationships, and even our thinking has been damaged by modern culture
- How our minds have been hijacked by technocrats
- Easy tips for reclaiming your brain health
- Simple tools to help you think more clearly
- And tons more…
Let’s go hang out with the doctors.
Drs. David & Austin Perlmutter: Reclaiming Your Brain Health
Abel: Alright, folks, returning to the show this week, Dr. David Perlmutter is a Board-Certified Neurologist and five-time New York Times best-selling author.
He serves on the Board of Directors, and is a fellow at the American College of Nutrition.
Joining us as well today is his son, Dr. Austin Perlmutter, a Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician and New York Times best-selling author.
Together, Drs. David and Austin Perlmutter co-authored Brain Wash, a book with an edgy title about detoxing your mind for clearer thinking.
Welcome to the show today, doctors.
Dr. David Perlmutter: We are delighted to be here. Thanks for having us, Abel.
Abel: There’s so much to dig into. First, I just want to say, I wasn’t expecting it, but I really dig the title of this book.
I’m sure some people are like, “What? Brain Wash?”
And it can be a bit off-putting, but it’s exactly what we all need to do right now—to unplug and just get a little bit less scattered and befuddled than most of us feel right now.
Dr. David Perlmutter: That’s true.
When you take a step back for a moment—and that’s what the beginning of the book is all about—to really get your arms around what is happening to our brains and how we are being actively manipulated into bad decision-making.
The choice of Brain Wash as a title was obviously a spin, and got people thinking, hence the soap bubbles on the brain on the cover there.
We have the opportunity to make changes and reconfigure for better brain function, and the ability to be more empathetic and make better choices.
Abel: And if you just follow things as they are and go with what everyone else is doing right now, spending tons of time on social media, in front of devices, and just in front of all this media that our brains aren’t really prepared for, then you can’t help but be in a vulnerable position where you’re not feeling really quite like a whole human anymore.
And you’re being taken advantage of by media that’s meant to make you feel less then.
So, how do you guys put up the shields and teach people to create these barriers and really practice self-defense with our own consciousness?
Practicing Mental Self-Defense
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Sure, well, to the point you just made, most people in the modern day are not doing that well.
The majority of Americans have at least one chronic disease.
We see that rates of depression and anxiety either continue to go up or haven’t gotten any better, despite the fact that we have access to all these foods and all this social media.
So again, if you don’t make a change, things aren’t going to go very well for the average person.
So that’s why in the book we lay out a two-part plan.
The first part is understanding how your brain has been hijacked. How your thinking patterns, how your neurochemistry has been manipulated by the modern world to keep you making poor choices, to keep you from engaging in healthy behaviors.
And so, that’s part one, you’ve really got to appreciate those things before you can make changes.
And the second part is giving the reader the empowering knowledge of how they can wire their brains for good choices.
How they can use such aspects of the plan that we described as nature exposure, and certain exercise protocols, and certain dietary ideas to allow them to wire their brain for good choices.
So that they then reach the things that people care about, which is being a healthy person, which is having good mental health.
We can do this. But again, we’ve got to start by understanding where we’ve gone wrong, and then building a brain for those better choices.
Dr. David Perlmutter: And Abel, if I may, it really centers on this notion of having people ask themselves, “Are the choices you are making day-by-day getting you to your goals?”
If your goal is to be healthier, maybe lose some weight, maybe make better financial decisions.
Whatever your goals are, are you making the right choices?
And a lot of people are not, despite the fact that they watch the Fat-Burning Man show or they read the books, they get all this great information and yet, they don’t implement.
So, we really wanted to deconstruct what goes on in the brain that’s involved in our ability to make good decisions in the first place.
And we first looked at it from a perspective of doctors being frustrated when patients aren’t following through when we give them great information.
We see that’s the biggest breakdown of the system.
It’s not that we don’t learn a lot or try to transmit that information, but it’s the implementation of that information where the system breaks down 50% – 80% of the time.
And I will say that as physicians, there’s a tendency to blame the patient.
“Month-after-month you gain weight, you’re not doing what I told you to do. And what’s wrong with you?”
And that patient points a finger at himself or herself in the mirror saying, “Gee-whiz! Why don’t I do this?”
But it’s well beyond doctors and patients.
Whatever it is, read all the books you want but if you don’t make the choice to implement, what’s the point?Read all the books you want but if you don't make the choice to implement, what's the point? @DavidPerlmutter Click To Tweet
Abel: And with more information out there, more surface-level, flashy information, it seems like we’re more scattered than ever.
It’s like, you’ve either got to be carnivore or vegan, nothing in between because only the extreme sells right now. And only the extreme finds its way to most people somehow.”
Yet, here you are, two doctors who have been giving out the right information that you know works and gets results, if only people put it into action.
So to your point, why does it seem like it’s getting worse instead of better right now?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: I think, as you mentioned, there’s a glut of data.
Everyone’s out there trying to make a name for him or herself with the latest dietary craze.
And so, everyone has their bias that is going to make it hard for them to put out a message that is actually closer to the truth.
And I’d say, you mentioned that we’re putting out the right message. Let me say that I am pretty sure that my message is not 100% correct.
Abel: Sure, yeah.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Because these things change over time, I need to be able to update my priors as evidence comes in.
So if a big study comes out and says, “Actually, people who eat a little bit more of certain red meats have a lower rate of developing Type 2 Diabetes in this study,”
I need to incorporate that information into my database and update my view of the world.
And sometimes, it is based on great evidence.
But then, it’s really hard for them to question how that might be wrong.
And so, what winds up happening, and what we’re seeing right now in the world of nutrition, is that there are these two camps.
Let’s say carnivore and vegan, they’re the polar opposites of the eating spectrum.
And they’re just yelling at each other about why the other person is so wrong.
As opposed to what I think we can objectively say is true, which is that there is information in the middle that we’re missing.
But why is that such a problem?
It’s one thing if you are a health influencer and you are really interested in sertraline pathways or entour or whatever it might be, and you want to be able to apply that to optimize your health; you’re trying to biohack yourself. Fantastic.
But the average American is sitting out there trying to learn, “What is the basic thing that I can do to be able to achieve better health?”
And so, something that I think you’ve done a really good job of is breaking this down to some very key and well-understood steps.
One of the most important being, “Don’t eat sugar.”
There is nobody out there saying, “We need more sugar in our diets.”
Well, there are some people, but you could argue they have their own bias.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: But you look at the fact that 68% of the 1.2 million foods that you find on grocery store shelves contain added sugar.
And then you say, “Well, what is the benefit of that?”
Well, yeah, it makes the food maybe taste a little bit better in the short-term, it makes it a little bit more addictive, but it’s bad for our health.
I think we can all agree about that.
Why does this matter?
It’s because if we’re arguing with each other, whether a pure carnivore or a pure vegan diet is best, maybe it would make more sense to say, “Let’s agree to tell everyone that the first thing that they should do is limit refined carbs and limit sugar in their diet because that’s what the science clearly says.”
And then, if people get past that step and they want to keep moving forward, maybe we can individualize a dietary plan that for some people might involve more red meat, and other people might involve more plants.
But looking at the available evidence, as opposed to sticking dogmatically to these dietary trends that, let’s be honest, aren’t going to work for the majority of people because they’re so extreme.
Dr. David Perlmutter: And let me add to that, that what Austin is getting at is, basically, people listening to each other.
Instead of locking into one mentality, “Let me hear what you have to say, and let me learn from you. And you can learn from me, and we can come up with a new innovative idea.”
And maybe that’s how we move the ball down the field.
What we identified in our research is that, yes, the decision-making apparatus has been hacked.What we identified in our research is that, yes, the decision-making apparatus has been hacked. @DavidPerlmutter Click To Tweet
I want to break that down a little bit for you.
To be simplistic about it—we know that it’s certainly much more complex— but there are two main areas that are getting a lot of spotlight in terms of decision-making.
One area in the front of the brain called the prefrontal cortex that allows for more thoughtful decision-making, thinking about the future, looking at evidence of determining or understanding right and wrong and long-term consequences. Versus another area, more primitive, the amygdala and other areas.
But we’ll focus on the amygdala for now, which really is more involved with decisions that are impulsive and very self-serving right now.
And what we learned is, even as we began to deconstruct the decision-making part, that it also turns out that this prefrontal cortex is also the part of the brain that allows us to do exactly what Austin just said, and that is, experience cognitive empathy.
He’ll listen to other people’s points of view, though they may be different from ours.
And that is a huge issue in our modern world right now. You are either in one camp or another.
As such, you either stay on one type of social media site or another.
And these social media sites are really designed to lock you into one ideology, end of story.
That is in contrast to humanity’s history whereby in the marketplace, the Agora, we would exchange ideas and come up with novel iterations of what people are saying that represents what we call progress.
And when we lock into one mentality, we’re not going to make progress, we’re not going to solve problems.
And we’re only fanning the flames of this tribalism, this us versus them mentality, when we’re behaving more from the amygdala or a more primitive-based part of the brain.
And what we began to explore in writing Brain Wash was how do we connect to the prefrontal cortex?
And how do various trappings of our modern world sever that connection, and more lock us in to behaving from the amygdala, more impulsive, more self-centered, more short-sighted, and more tribal-minded?
Abel: And there’s a tendency to think that more is better, and the busier we are, the better.
But in fact, to engage and develop and nurture the prefrontal cortex and other more centers of advanced thinking, you actually need to step back and unplug and do more passive-type behaviors, don’t you?
Dr. David Perlmutter: Exactly. Who knew that if you want to be able to have great skill in terms of planning for the future, you’ve got to do your best to spend some time in the present each day, i.e. meditation.
That is one of your best tools for reconnecting the prefrontal cortex and therefore gaining this ability to plan for the future.Meditation is one of your best tools for reconnecting the prefrontal cortex and therefore gaining this ability to plan for the future. @DavidPerlmutter Click To Tweet
And for example, there’s this incredible idea that if you want to be productive and creative, you better stay up late at night, burning midnight oil.
And that’s about the worst thing you can do for decision-making and bringing on online higher order brain areas for better executive function, better decision making.
So you’re right, and you are a great personification of what we’re talking about.
I’m not sure if your viewers know exactly about where you live, chose to live.
You chose to live there. It’s important.
But to really disconnect, on the one hand, to allow you to reconnect on the other.
How To Reconnect & Avoid Attention Hijacking
Abel: Yeah, you need to create that space, I think, in order to really take the reins of your own life.
And a lot of people find themselves, especially today, if you’re following an online calendar, or your phone’s bossing you around telling you where to be, what to do, what to think about all of that all day long.
You don’t really create that space to realize that this is your life, this is your responsibility, and in fact, you can eventually, with enough work, set up your perfect day.
That includes those things you talk about, like time in nature and meditation.
I know the two of you, and me as well, are into playing music, the fine dexterity and larger muscle groups, all these things.
So if you could, what are some of the things that you try to pretty much work into every day as a daily practice?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Yeah, well, we’ve spoken, as you just said, about going from being reactive to reflecting, which is so important, so critical, and so missed in a society that wants us to behave impulsively, to click that buy button, to scroll on that social feed.
And so in order to counter this, it is imperative to start designing your own day more than we usually do.It is imperative to start designing your own day. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
And where I think that is most effective is in the morning.
The average American reaches for his or her smartphone in the first 15 minutes after they wake up. It’s about 80%, and that number goes up in adolescence even further.
So, what that means is right off the bat, you’re having your attention hijacked, your schedule hijacked, by whatever is coming through your email, your social media account.
And that’s a problem, because the morning could be, and I would argue should be, the time that you’re investing in yourself.
So, for me and for my dad, this is the time of day where we kind of have our exercise, meditation, mindful moments.
For me, it looks like 20 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning, and usually after coffee.
Abel: Oh, after coffee?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: I find that having a little bit of coffee on board helps me to maintain focus in my meditation, which kind of sounds like an oxymoron to have focused meditation, but in some forms it’s great.
And so coffee, meditation for 20 minutes, reflecting a little bit on how I want my day to go, and then usually trying to get the exercise in first thing in the morning.
I have found that when I allow exercise to be an afternoon activity, there’s always something that comes up that seems to pull me out of that.
And then trying to get a feel in the morning for how the day should go.
Not that it’s going to absolutely abide by what I desire, but if I say I want to read a book for let’s say an hour, I have to carve that out early on, otherwise something else will invariably come out.
So, the goal is to make the day more mindful, more self-directed as opposed to allowing other people, other things, technology, to dictate your action and to dictate your thinking.The goal is to make the day more mindful, more self-directed as opposed to allowing other people, other things, technology, to dictate your action and thinking. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
It seems to be that the average American is allowing mindless media to occupy about 6 hours of the day, and that’s about 4 hours watching TV and another 2 hours on the smartphone.
Now, why does that matter?
Maybe you’re getting something positive out of that experience, but when we’re talking mindfulness and mindlessness, if you’re spending a third of your day in these mindless activities, you’re just losing that time.
That’s a third of your life, a third of your waking hours, I should say that’s kind of gone out the window.
So, really important.
As a take home for me is, to structure your day and to place a priority on that first hour or two after you wake up, because that’s how you set yourself up for an overall successful day.Place a priority on that first hour or two after you wake up, because that's how you set yourself up for an overall successful day. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
Dr. David Perlmutter: And as we said in the book, it’s about making the time for these things, not finding the time.
So, that ratchets it up to a higher level of being an imperative.
If you want to find the time, well guess what?
Your day is going to go by, “I didn’t seem to find the time today to meditate. Oh, well.”
But if you make the time, this is important on the list.
And I think that it’s very clear, a lot of people have to get up and go to work.
So, we’ve constructed the plan in Brain Wash, such that there are things to do even during the workday that can bring about being mindful, that can bring about being in the moment, in the present, and take advantage of all kinds of on ramps to reconnection.
Even putting a potted plant at your place of work, even exposure to just a potted plant, for example, is demonstrated to allow better functionality of the prefrontal cortex, reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, reduces inflammation.Even exposure to just a potted plant is demonstrated to allow better functionality of the prefrontal cortex, reduces cortisol, reduces inflammation. @DavidPerlmutter Click To Tweet
It’s simple, and you can do your job.
And you know what? Your job may require that you spend a lot of time on the computer.
So, it’s not like everything about our modern digital world is negative. We don’t want to give that impression.
We wrote the new book based on the ability we have to resource information from around the globe.
How cool is that?
But we all know that our brain is prey.
I heard you comment something I’ve never actually heard before. I’m probably going to steal it from you.
Abel: Go ahead.
Dr. David Perlmutter: You said mental self-defense or something like that.
And it’s true, we’ve got to be on the lookout for all of these pop-up things happening while we’re online.
The clickbait that wants to take us away from our desired accomplishment online, and harvest our attention because it’s valuable to somebody else. Harvest our time, and actually reconfigure our brains.
That’s what’s going on.
And once you’re aware of it, that’s a powerful first step.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Let me make one more point on that, if I may.
This is a very simple thing that I’m going to describe, but I think it has an amazing impact.
And that is: What we do, our actions, are a reflection of our brain wiring.What we do, our actions, are a reflection of our brain wiring. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
So whether you choose to go to the gym, choose to eat healthy food, choose to call up your friends once in a while, that is a reflection of the way your brain is wired.
But what’s important is your brain wiring is determined by how you interface with your environment.
So, if you’re blindly interfacing with an environment that wants you to make impulsive decisions, your brain will be wired for impulsive decisions, and therefore, you won’t go to the gym, you won’t buy the healthy food in the store, you won’t call up your friends.
And instead, watch TV for several hours.
That is the way the modern world profits, that is the way corporations profit. So that’s the default state.
This is why it’s so important to understand this model because when you understand it, you can appreciate that it’s not about forcing yourself out to the gym.
It’s not about forcing yourself to choose the healthier option on the menu.
It’s about getting upstream of that whole thing, and it’s about taking control of the way your brain is wired, so then you’re no longer sitting on the couch and trying to motivate yourself to get up and go do some push-ups.
Instead, you and your brain are then on the same team.
So when you go buy that bread, you say, “I don’t want to eat that.”
And your brain says, “Of course. Why would we eat that?”
Or when you’re sitting on the couch about to start another couple of episodes of the TV show, you say, “Why not go to the gym?”
And your brain says, “Of course, that’s what we do.”
As opposed to, again, the default state, which is that you’re fighting against your brain, trying to force it into making these better choices.
So that, I believe, is a complete shift in the paradigm of decision-making that is so empowering for people listening, because it gets you outside of all of this motivation willpower stuff, and helps you to build a brain that facilitates healthier decisions.
Dr. David Perlmutter: And stop the self-blame, “Why in the heck can’t I blank?”
Fill in the blank: “Exercise, eat right, go to sleep on time, stop checking my feed? Why can’t I do these things?”
And I think, as Austin said, when you get the realization that you’re being manipulated, you say, “You know what? My best defense is a good offense. And I want to be proactive here and do things to regain control.”
This prefrontal cortex is really the adult in the room.
And what we describe in Brain Wash is how we can bring that adult back in the room to facilitate our ability to make these good changes in the first place.
Austin and I, more Austin than I, are going to be working with a physician wellness program. Not just for the wellness of the physician, but to help how she or he is able to interact with their patients.
Again, recognizing that there’s such a high percentage of time that patients don’t follow through with good information that they’ve received.
And we’re proposing that at the first visit with this patient who needs an aggressive diet for his or her diabetes or for weight loss, that at that first visit, we don’t concentrate on the diet.
But week one, we talk about making the brain, as Austin was describing, changing the brain so that it can be a better facilitator of the decisions that we will then layer on in the future.
But maybe week one, we don’t even talk about that, but we talk about sleep.
Who knew that sleep, or lack thereof, is probably one of the most powerful ways that we either connect to the good decision-maker or we lock into the amygdala, and our decisions are absolutely impulsive.
So, that might be the on-ramp that somebody might need.
Abel: Now, we live in this illusion that we’re constantly and consistently progressing.
But when we look at humanity and culture and our communities, we’re not really seeing that.
How do we help save the people who still have a chance?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Well, to your point, we’ve seen that people are dying earlier in the United States in the last several years, we’re slipping backwards.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: I think that people have this assumption that the world is set up for us to be successful, and it really isn’t anymore.
Not that it ever was exactly set up for us to be successful, but it was set up for us to evolve and to better manage our environment.
But now that people are dictating our environment for us, so it’s no longer enabling us to modify what we do for our success, because people are hacking into our thinking, such that we no longer really have as much choice as to what is or isn’t good for us.
And when we talk about helping those who need it most, I think this is really what our research for this book comes into play for. And that is appreciating that in conditions—for example, diabetes, obesity, addiction disorders—what we see consistently is a dysregulation in the brain circuits that allow people to make good decisions.
And that’s one thing to say. You go, “Okay, well, why is that helpful?”
Then maybe we can stop blaming people for making good decisions or making bad decisions, and instead ask or say, “This is just a reflection of the way your brain is wired.”
But the next step beyond that, which is far more empowering, is understanding how we have these levers that we can make interventions to our lives that affect our brain wiring, our brain neurotransmitter balance, the connectivity patterns of our brain, and therefore support people for better decision-making.
The Impact of Inflammation On The Brain
One of the things that we talk about in the book is inflammation.
And the reason that both my dad and I are so excited about this is because recent data has shown us that it may be inflammation itself that is altering our thinking patterns.It may be inflammation itself that is altering our thinking patterns. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
So we talk about inflammation and a variety of diseases. We talk about inflammation as a factor contributing to everything from coronary artery disease to diabetes, but we also talk about inflammation as a factor that might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
So then we say, “Wait a second, inflammation may affect my joint and cause me to have pain in my joint. Inflammation may affect my heart and cause me to have heart failure. But inflammation in the brain might lead to dementia. Okay, that’s kind of interesting.”
Because then, it means inflammation might affect our thinking, given that dementia is characterized by worst memory, changes in our thought patterns.
Then we look at the research that shows how inflammation can actually induce changes in our mood.Inflammation can actually induce changes in our mood. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
So, this is a far more short-run problem than dementia, which develops over decades.
And saying that exposure to chronic inflammation makes us feel depressed.
So then we say, wait a second, maybe mood isn’t just something that’s a problem with willpower or a problem with a person’s ability to fight the problems with their mood.
It’s now a representation of inflammation’s effects in the brain.
But what we talk about in the book, which is literally coming hot off the press and is absolutely fascinating, is that when you induce inflammation in humans, when you give them an intervention, like injecting them with LPS, which is a part of a bacteria, or certain types of vaccinations, which cause short-term inflammation in the blood, you see that these people not only have higher levels of inflammation, but these things are also correlated with more impulsive decision-making.
So, it’s putting all this into perspective, and then try and get them, bring that to bear into an intervention that you could give somebody who’s making poor decisions.
So what does that look like?
Well, we know that exercise and moderation lowers inflammation.
We know that moving away from a diet high in refined carbohydrates lowers inflammation.
We know that nature exposure lowers inflammation.
We know that mindfulness and meditation practices can lower inflammation.
So now you’re saying, “Let’s get past all of these problems with decision-making as something we’re going to blame you for.”
Instead, label that as an outgrowth of what’s going on in your brain, and that we can intervene by lowering inflammation.
And so now, you say, for all those people who are out there making poor decisions that we’ve given up on this, they don’t have enough willpower to do anything differently, we say, let’s help fix your decision-making through changes to the brain, through interventions like dietary change, through recommendation of a little bit more sleep or a little bit more exercise, and finding what fits for the person.
So it’s not always, “I can’t exercise. I refuse to eat that newer diet.”
It’s saying, “Let’s maybe do a little bit of nature exposure,” because again, that lowers cortisol, that lowers inflammation, that helps reset the brain for better choices.
Dr. David Perlmutter: And all these are on-ramps to better decision-making.
Basically, getting our foot in the door that we hope, then, will pave the way for the next round of decision-making improving skills, that people can then be much more likely to implement now that there’s a crack in the door.
We live in a world where 7 out of 10 people die from a chronic degenerative condition, which by and large, means a disease based upon lifestyle choices.
These are not genetic issues, they’re not infectious agents traveling the world. It’s not war.
By and large, what people are dying from, at earlier ages, is related to their lifestyle choices.
So again, we’re back at this central player here, this pivot point: Your decision-making, what you choose to eat.
And it takes your breath away when you realize that what Austin just said is that inflammation threatens your ability to make good decisions.
Inflammation is brought about by eating a poor diet, a Western diet, a diet that’s high in processed foods, ultra processed foods, and highly-refined carbohydrates.
That is becoming the global diet.
So, what is happening with the global spread of this Western pro-inflammatory diet is that there is this corruption of decision-making ability spreading around the world.
And it’s not just decision-making, as we’ve talked about.
It’s degrading our ability to be empathetic towards each other, it’s degrading our ability to plan for the future.
As a matter of fact, as that relates to thinking about climate change, for example.
So, not just to focus on food, but yes, just to focus on food for a moment.
It’s a very, very existential consideration that what is happening with this globalization of our food purveyors by just a handful of companies, making us only really ultimately think that what we should be eating are these foods that are shelf-stable, and therefore pro-inflammatory.
It has implications that I think have never been considered.
Yeah, we’ve talked about it in terms of diabetes and chronic degenerative conditions, but to realize that this is also threatening our ability as a global population to make good decisions, for example, as they deal with the future, let’s say relate to the future.
It really makes the food, it looks at food through a very different but certainly important lens.
The Curious Case of Phineas Gage
Abel: And it is very promising that our brains can heal, they can come back from some incredible things.
And you tell in your work the story of Phineas Gage with whom a lot of people are familiar with.
But I wasn’t familiar with how it actually turned out in the end, where he was able to recover, at least to some extent.
So, if you could just share his story, it’s amazing.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Well, we’ve been talking about Phineas a lot.
And Phineas Gage was this railroad worker couple hundred years ago who was doing pretty well, everyone liked him, he was an affable chap, to use the vernacular at the time.
But he had a really unfortunate day one day, and one of the rods that they were using to lay this railway track actually blew up, and it went through his cheek and came out the top of his skull, and literally blew a piece of his brain 100 feet away.
And so yeah, he had a bad day. And immediately after this unfortunate event, there was a physician present who said, “I can see the pulsations in this person’s brain on the top of the head.”
And afterwards, he was seen to really change in his behavior.
So, he was seen to become more capricious. He was seen to be more unkind to people.
He was more irrational, more impulsive.
And incidentally, what they know now from reconstructions of his skull and from looking at his actual skull, is that this steel rod actually went through and blew out a part of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that enables us to be more rational, be more considerate.
So this all makes sense, and that’s helpful for us in being able to explain it.
It’s one of the instances that we can say, “Here’s how we know what the prefrontal cortex does.”
Because you would never do this in a lab experiment but sometimes, in the course of human history, you get these natural experiments.
And while that was interesting, the piece that we talked about in the book, which I think was much more empowering, is that this gentleman who had obviously a very rough go was able to become a stage coach driver in Chile, and was doing pretty well, and had gained back some of his social roots.
And so, it’s an example of neuroplasticity, in that the brain is able to respond to its environment to rewire itself to improve even after such a devastating event.
And we look at this as an example of what we call in the book disconnection syndrome, which is a severing of the connection between the prefrontal cortex—the adult in the room—and the more impulsive, stress-based, fear-based, anger-based, Russian-based amygdala.
And so, we talk about Phineas Gage as having an acute disconnection syndrome, which was induced by this rod going through his head.
But if he’s able to start reclaiming some of that connection, reclaim some of the power of the prefrontal cortex. All of us sitting here have a bit of disconnection syndrome, and we don’t have to overcome nearly that type of barrier.
So, if you’re out there making poor choices, you’re feeling more impulsive, you’re feeling more aggressive, you’re feeling more stressed, and you don’t want to do this anymore, know that there is definitely a precedent to make positive changes.
And to start engaging that part of your brain that’s going to enable you to make better choices and to connect with other people, and to be much more likely to reach the outcomes we care about.
Which is really what it’s all about, is being able to be healthy, have a life of wellness, good mental health, and to be connected.
The Value of Music, Nature & Gratitude
Abel: One thing I would love to ask you two about is—and Dr. David, we’ve talked about this a little bit on the show before—the value of music as a practice for brain health and maybe for lifestyle, as well.
But I know that for me, some of the best mental exercise I do is playing different instruments because those small moves, the quick moves and things like that are a great compliment to the deadlifts and the big push-pull movements and the sprints that so many of us know that we should be doing.
But there is a lot of value to those fine motor skills, and also the listening that’s involved in music.
Dr. David Perlmutter: Well, that’s right.
In children, we call this the Mozart Effect, because it’s been shown that when kids learn to play an instrument and especially when they learn to read music, their mathematics skills, their creativity skills, and certainly their literary skills improve. So it is.
The main thing that music offers up is a powerful connection between extremely varied parts of the brain.Music offers a powerful connection between extremely varied parts of the brain. @DavidPerlmutter Click To Tweet
And that’s, in that whole activity, I think, is extremely valuable to get those super highways primed and ready, built because we can utilize those highways for other purposes.
The ability to relate between the hemispheres, the ability to bring on visual areas with auditory areas with analytical areas; that is all amplified by the music experience.
Plus, what is the value of the pleasure?
We talk about it in terms of, for example, of food, there’s an upside to being more open with dietary ideas, is also talked about because there’s some value to the pleasure of that.
But music is very underrated.
You know what? We didn’t include music in the book because some people are not able to engage music.
They can certainly listen but in terms of playing an instrument, that would be great.
“Hey, learn another language while you’re at it.”
We focused on eight key players, and created a 10-day plan.
The ninth day is taking stock, and the 10th day is about how do we then take those eight ideas and move forward?
So, we wanted to provide on-ramps.
Everybody sleeps, everybody moves around, everybody eats. So those are the obvious go-tos.
But beyond that, people may not understand the extreme value of nature, the critical value of exercise, the value of engaging empathy and expressing gratitude.
And that’s what we came up with. But again, it’s really all about how do you choose to start?
You don’t want to hit somebody with all eight levers at one time.
They’re going to say, “Yeah right. That’s just not going to happen.”
They’re not going to do all of these things. Let’s just choose one.
Let’s just choose one. Even if it’s first in a doctor-patient relationship, just to get that patient to move forward in making better choices.
But the truth of the matter is in our modern day, we can all do with a little better in terms of the decision making that we’re experiencing, because frankly, the deck is totally stacked against us.
It’s not just that this is passive, there are active influences in our lives every day, and we all know that this is happening, especially when we’re online.
Active attempts to hijack our attention for the betterment of those who would hijack us and certainly not necessarily for our benefit.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Let me say one thing on that, as well. I grew up around music with my dad and my sister.
And my dad many times throughout childhood would bring over his friends for guitar night.
And so I grew up learning to play guitar, playing some piano.
And I think that there’s some interesting research as to the benefits of music on our brain on our happiness.
But maybe what is more important for me right now is appreciating how dissimilar playing music, engaging with music is from what people are doing for the majority of their waking hours.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: When you consider how mindless most of our activities are, sitting in front of the TV barely moving, scrolling through a social media feed without engaging with any of this, and how these things kind of create polarization, create stress.
And then you think about what it’s like to play music, to listen to music, and how that is activating, as my dad said, multiple regions of the brain.
It’s developing expertise, it’s developing dexterity.
And especially if you’re playing music with other people, that’s promoting connection.
We may not be able to communicate with other people who share dissimilar view points, that might be too much for somebody.
But we can engage with music, it’s like a way to bypass all of that.
And it’s a shared language that doesn’t bring in all of this unnecessary stress and bias.
So, I think that if people are looking for an activity that is directly counter to the mindless behavior and that has become the status quo, playing music, going to a concert, and especially doing these things with other people is an absolutely wonderful way to get started.
And in making a commitment to rejecting the status quo as it that relates to mindless activity and becoming more mindful in what you do.
Abel: I love that.
And it’s becoming, unfortunately, such a lost art to some degree, as we have all of this technology and the steady stream of entertainment, no longer do we have our grandmother playing piano during dinner time, and stuff like that.
As a little kid, I used to play clarinet for the whole family for the holidays.
And look, I’m still doing it, because that little kid grows up and continues to do those things, hopefully, as a whole human being.
One of the things, watching you two on the round of interviews together, that I’ve watched you do in the past few weeks and months, is that you’re excellent listeners.
Oftentimes, when there are two people being interviewed, they’re talking over each other a lot of the time, and maybe they’re talking over the host.
But I’ve noticed that you are some of the best listeners.
And I can only think that that’s because of the relationship, and the music, and the listening. Because you guys have had so much practice doing this forever, right?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Yeah. And again, coming back to the central message of the book here, well, one of the central messages is that we can’t assume that we’ve got all the information.
I would say, as much as I’ve learned from the book, I also realized how much I don’t know.
And the problem with not listening is that you’re not able to continue to learn.
It assumes that you’ve already got everything that’s important to say and that the other person has nothing to engage.
And this is absolutely an issue with the way that modern life is set up is that people don’t listen unless it’s somebody who’s already saying what they believe.
It’s one of the core challenges with social media is that we wind up in these tiny little echo chambers, these silos, where everyone is Republican, everyone is Democrat, and they just yell about how terrible the other side is.
And it’s just not of benefit.
If you were able to take a slightly more objective perspective and imagine that 50% of the country is Democrat and 50% of the country is Republican, then you have to either believe one of two things.
One is that 50% of Americans are absolutely out in left field or in right field, depending on which side and have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re just fundamentally wrong.
The other part is maybe they have a point, that’s the other perspective.
“If you’re the type of person who’s willing to listen to the opposite perspective, you can grow so much faster.If you're the type of person who's willing to listen to the opposite perspective, you can grow so much faster. @austinperlmd Click To Tweet
Because now you’re taking in data that is going to be dissimilar to what you know, and it’s going to pull you closer to truth.
So, as it relates to my conversations with my dad, and in interviews, and with others, we’ve always had long form conversations about the stuff that we care about.
And the listening piece has been absolutely wonderful in that he has expertise in things that I don’t.
And especially as it relates to this cross-generational divide, I guess, which doesn’t really seem to be so much the case, is appreciating that there are things that my dad’s generation can teach me that I won’t be able to get from other people my age.
And similarly, there are things that I can teach him about that he won’t necessarily get from other people his age. But it’s got to be openness to appreciating the world is bigger than what we now understand.
And that, for me, having gone through traditional medical training, that is not the entire picture.
That maybe occasionally making a food-based intervention is a reasonable thing in addition to whatever anti-hypertensive medication I learned about in my program.
Also understanding there’s a time and place for that anti-hypertensive medication.
But if you can appreciate that you don’t have all the answers now, then you can get so much closer to the truth.
And it’s just hard for, I think, a lot of people to grasp that when media wants to polarize us into becoming angry with the opposite faction as opposed to asking, “What can I learn from them?”
Dr. David Perlmutter: But my sense is that people are really kind of looking forward and appreciating when opinions are shared and we do hear the other side of the conversation.
I’ll tell you an interesting experience I had several months ago, it might have even been a year ago.
I interviewed a man, he gave me that book at the top right there, Eat Wheat.
And we interviewed Dr. John Douillard, and he wrote this book, and this book is called Eat Wheat.
Now, I wrote a book called Grain Brain, which isn’t necessarily supportive of wheat, to be kind.
But I interviewed John Douillard who believes that we should be able to eat wheat at certain times of the year.
We had very opposing views, and we each were able to quote science that was supportive of our views.
We had our time together, posted the interview, and the response we got from people had nothing to do with the content, but was so supportive of the fact that we were listening to each other and that we were respectful of each other’s views. Which were diametrically opposed, without question.
And it was, I think, seemingly very, very refreshing for people to see that, “You know what? You don’t have to be aggressive and mean towards other people.”
I was on a show not long ago called CBS This Morning, and it was a national show.
I had rewritten Grain Brain. And when the segment started, each person around the table took a shot at me, came in an extremely angry, aggressive way.
And I was thinking, “What happened to television?”
I have done these shows for years.
And it was, “Thank you for coming up to our show, Dr. Perlmutter. What can you tell us?”
Saying, “We talked to the sugar industry and they said that you’re loco, and that we should all be eating a lot of sugar.”
And it got worse from that then on.
And I kept a smile on my face thinking, “You know, you invited me to be a guest in your home here on TV.”
But anyhow. I think you asked the question earlier about resigning ourselves to the fact that the world’s going downhill, and it is.
But the motivation here, I think, is still, “Let’s light that single candle. And be aware of the darkness, that’s for sure.”
Things are going, I think generally, not in a favorable direction as it relates to climate, as it relates to humanity, as it relates to other relationships we have with the natural world and how that’s impacting us.
But it’s the job of Abel James, it’s the job of each and every one of us to do that tiny bit that we can to maybe change the direction that the ship is moving in by half of one degree.
If we can, it’ll delay what may be coming.
Where to Find Drs. David and Austin Perlmutter
Abel: And it’s a big responsibility, one that oftentimes we don’t take seriously enough.
But I think if people really want to clean up their lives, and incorporate habits that build your perfect day, like you said, one at a time, one step at a time, your book really will help people get there.
So, speaking of time, we’re just about out but before we go, can you please tell folks where they can find Brain Wash, as well as what else you’re working on?
Dr. David Perlmutter: Well, Brain Wash is available, oddly enough, at BrainWashBook.com.
All the major book sellers, all the minor book sellers; in that effect, we noticed when we walked to the airport, there it was.
So that’s the best resource, I think, is BrainWashBook.com.
What was the second question?
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: What are we doing? What else are we working on?
Abel: Yeah, what else are you up to? I know you guys are pretty busy over there.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Yeah, well, we alluded to this earlier, but the goal is to take this framework where we say that our decisions are a reflection of our brain, and we can modulate our brains for better decisions and apply this to the medical care model.
So to help providers appreciate the significance of this statement and also, to help them use this for their patients.
Because we said this early on, most of the time, patients don’t stick to the advice recommended by their provider.
And despite this, providers keep hammering at this, trying to give more information, trying to convince the patient that if you don’t lose weight, you’re going to have heart problems.
People know this. People know that it’s not healthy to eat donuts. People still eat donuts.
So it’s time to move beyond that.
And what we’re trying to do is create a template, create a framework that enables providers and enables patients to have these types of tools to allow them to question why they make the decisions they do, get rid of the blame, and start wiring their brains for better decisions.
Abel: Right on. Well, I am very glad that you Perlmutters are multiplying because we need you more than ever.
Thank you so much for coming on the show once again.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter: Thank you very much.
Dr. David Perlmutter: Thank you for having us.
Before You Go…
In a time when our health, it seems, is being assaulted from every direction, it’s encouraging to know that we have some friends out here helping each other.
And hopefully, the information that we’re sharing here on the Fat-Burning Man show helps to clear up some of the confusion and build up your resilience and adaptability in an increasingly challenging time.
And if you want to know the completely unsolicited and uncensored truth about what I think about all of this and what’s going down, check out my new book, Designer Babies Still Get Scabies.
Hopefully, it’ll give you a few laughs and giggles to help you cope with these modern times.
I’ll share some of the reviews that have come in that I appreciated. This one is from Kelly, she gave it five out of five stars.
She says, “Everyone and their mother needs this book. I read this book in one day and loved every minute of it.
I laughed and cried at all of the truths told in these poems. Everyone and their mother needs to read this. Gifting my family this.”
Thank you, Kelly.
Here’s another one from MA Doyle, five out of five stars…
“Oh so funny and pointed. Smart and funny with a sharply honed point. Also that voice! ! !”
Thank you for that, MA Doyle. I did actually put a lot of work into the audiobook.
And of course, as a musician I kind of sing when I talk. I have a lot of fun with all of this.
And also, fun fact that you might not be aware, one of the reasons I speak with a radio voice like this is because when I was younger and started showing up on the stage for various performances in music and theater, and that sort of thing, no one could hear me. I had this low voice.
And it wasn’t until I really learned how to sing and project on stage that I learned how to get some endurance with speaking.
Because if you speak wrong, with a wrong technique, your voice will start to sound like this and go away really quickly and you won’t be able to last very long.
So for these very extensive recording sessions, making audiobooks, making podcasts and that sort of thing, it’s important that you be in shape and it’s important that you keep your breath and your voice in shape, as well.
But to all of those creatives out there, this is a very difficult time, my heart is with you.
Look forward to me reaching out to you, my community, a lot more in the weeks and months ahead.
I’ll have a lot more time on our hands with this latest move behind us and now that we won’t be traveling a whole bunch.
I’m looking forward to doing a lot of Ask Me Anythings with you, livestreams, responding to emails, chats, and much, much more.
So this new book, Designer Babies Still Get Scabies, in some ways, is an invitation to you, fellow creators. Let’s collaborate.
If you’re bored, if you’re looking to do something, drop me a line.
You can sign up for the newsletter, respond to my email. I read as many as I possibly can.
We’ve had a lot of creative and wonderful projects and partnerships that have come out of people getting in touch over the years.
So don’t forget to reach out or drop a comment below.
And if you’d like to support us, please go to designerbabiesbook.com to find my new audiobook and book.
What did you think of this interview with Drs. David and Austin Perlmutter? How do you design your own day? How do you balance technology and the internet in your own life? Drop a comment below!