Derek Sivers

Making a Good Brain Great - by Daniel G. Amen

Making a Good Brain Great - by Daniel G. Amen

ISBN: 1400082099
Date read: 2010-07-28
How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

About the care of the physical brain - the goo in your skull - from a doctor who scans brains and has linked specific behavior to brain chemistry.

my notes

Early childhood experiences do not just create a background for development and learning, they directly affect the way the brain is wired.

More people (of all ages) die from home falls than from home fires.

I recommend the following cocktail for most adults:
• Acetyl-L-carnitine - 500 mg once a day
• Alpha-lipoic acid - 100 mg once a day
• Fish oil - 1,000 mg twice a day
• Phosphatidylserine - 100 mg twice a day
• Super multiple vitamin with high-dose B vitamins
• Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) - 100 mg twice a day
• Vitamin C - 250 mg twice a day

The prefrontal cortex houses our ability to learn from mistakes, make plans, and match our behavior over time to reach our goals. When the PFC works as it should, we are thoughtful, empathic, expressive, organized, and goal-oriented. The PFC is often called the executive part of the brain, like the boss at work. When it is low in activity, it is as if the boss is gone, so there is little to no supervision and nothing gets done. When the PFC works too hard, it is as if the boss is micromanaging everyone.

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.” - Albert Einstein

A glass of wine once a week or once a month, but not daily - may reduce dementia by up to 70 percent.

Even small amounts of daily drinking lowered overall brain size.

As little caffeine as possible.

Strive to eat fewer than eighteen hundred calories a day,

The more fish in a person’s diet, the longer the person was able to maintain their memory. Once or twice a week is a good policy. High-quality, purified fish oil is another option.

Monounsaturated fats are preferred over the polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, nuts (such as almonds, cashews, and pistachios), canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. Polyunsaturated fats are found in safflower oil, corn oil, and some fish. The polyunsaturated fats found in salmon and mackerel, and the monounsaturated fats found in canola oil and soybean oil, are high in the essential fatty acids (EFA) called omega-3 fatty acids. EFAs cannot be made by the human body and therefore must be obtained from diet (hence the name essential fatty acids).

It is hard to get enough omega-3 fatty acids into our diet.

Cardiovascular health is enhanced in weekly fish eaters when compared to those who ate fish only infrequently. Don’t forget: Whatever is good for your heart is also good for your brain!

Good sources of vitamin C are tomatoes, fruits (especially citrus and kiwi), melon, raw cabbage, green leafy vegetables, peppers, sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage. Important sources of vitamin E are grains, nuts, milk, egg yolk, wheat germ, vegetable oils, and green leafy vegetables. Blueberries are an especially good source of antioxidants.

THE BEST ANTIOXIDANT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES (ACCORDING TO THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE) Blueberries Blackberries Cranberries Strawberries Spinach Raspberries Brussels sprouts Plums Broccoli Beets Avocados Oranges Red grapes Red bell peppers Cherries Kiwis

The book Super Foods Rx by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews, which lists fourteen top food groups that are healthy and reasonable in calories.

Mixing colors (eating from the rainbow) is a good way to think about consuming healthy fruits and vegetables. Strive to eat red things (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, red peppers, and tomatoes), yellow things (squash, yellow peppers, small portions of bananas and peaches), blue things (blueberries), purple things (plums), orange things (oranges, tangerines, and yams), green things (peas, spinach, and broccoli), and so on.

Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts. Great recipe: soak walnuts in water and sea salt overnight, drain and sprinkle with cinnamon (a natural blood sugar balancer), and low-roast four hours at 250?F - it makes them easier to digest.

Doing the things you have always done is not helpful for the brain, even if those things are fairly complicated.


Dedicate yourself to new learning. Put fifteen minutes in your day into learning something new. Einstein said that if someone spent fifteen minutes a day learning something new, in a year he would be an expert.

Learning to see, hear, feel, or taste subtle changes will enhance your sensory ability and stimulate brain growth.

Exercise also reduces damage to neurons from toxic substances from the environment and enhances insulin’s ability to prevent high-blood-sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.

Table tennis is the best brain sport ever. It is highly aerobic, uses both the upper and lower body, is great for eye-hand coordination and reflexes, and causes you to use many different areas of the brain at once as you are tracking the ball, planning shots and strategies, and figuring out spins. It is like aerobic chess.

Juggling may be a particularly good exercise for the brain.

Brain Gym exercises. You can learn more about this technique at

Work to enhance your cerebellum through coordination exercises. Not only will it help you think more clearly and faster, it will help improve your judgment, attention, and overall brain health.

The left side is more involved with language, logic, details, and planning, while the right side is more associated with music, rhythm, creativity, social skills, and spirituality. A number of studies have found that the right hemisphere, along with the limbic system, is involved with sexual pleasure and orgasm.

People are unaware that they are controlled not by events or people but by the perceptions their brain makes of them. I once heard the following story: at the turn of the last century, a shoe company sent a representative to Africa. He wired back, “I’m coming home. No one wears shoes here.” Another company sent its representative, and he sold thousands of shoes. He wired back to his company, “Business is fantastic. No one has ever heard of shoes here.”

Balancing your brain through diet, exercise, music, stress reduction, and supplements will help your perceptions.

Cognitive therapy (teaching people to correct negative thought patterns and to think in more rational, positive ways) enhances brain function.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (ITP), which teaches people to get along better with others by improving social support, communication, conflict resolution, and assertiveness training, to be an effective cure for depression. ITP also helps to reset brain function, enhancing prefrontal cortex activity (improving focus and judgment) and calming limbic activity (making one feel more


Since your mind takes what it sees and makes it happen, it is critical to visualize what you want and then match your behavior over time to get it. Too many people are thrown around by the whims of the day, rather than using their prefrontal cortex to plan their lives and follow through on their goals.

Five primal sounds: saa, taa, naa, maa, and aa. Meditators chant each sound as they consecutively touch their thumb to fingers two, three, four, and five. The sounds and fingering are repeated for two minutes out loud, two minutes whispering, four minutes silently, two minutes whispering, and two minutes out loud.

We performed SPECT scans on the participants when they were at rest one day, and then after meditation the next day. We saw marked decreases in the left parietal lobes (which showed a decreasing awareness of time and space) and significant increases in the prefrontal cortex (which showed that meditation helped to tune people in, not out).

In a study of approximately 7,500 students at a university, music majors had the highest reading scores of any students on campus. Learning a musical instrument, at any age, can be helpful in developing and activating temporal lobe neurons.

People with a family history of diabetes should have a fasting blood glucose test once a year after the age of forty.

I take high-potency multiple vitamins every day, along with extra vitamins C and E, ginkgo biloba, alpha-lipoic acid, phosphatidal serine, acetyl-l-carnitine, CoQ10, and fish oil.

After age forty, when cellular energy production and antioxidant levels in the body naturally are lower, most people will also benefit from acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and CoQ10.

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) has been reported to improve mental focus, enhance energy, and slow aging. Consider ALC if you suffer from tiredness, mental fatigue, memory loss, or attentional problems. The typical dose is 500 to 1,500 mg a day.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that increases the potency of many other antioxidants. Consider taking ALA if you are over forty and are at risk for dementia or other memory problems, cancer, or stroke. The typical dose is 100 to 200 mg a day.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also known as ubiquinone, is a powerful antioxidant. The solubilized softgels are claimed to give higher absorption. CoQ10 is best taken with food. The typical dosage is 30 to 200 mg per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids. The two most studied fish oils are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Favorite sources of fish oil supplementation. One is a supplement called Coromega, made by European Reference Botanical Laboratories; see Dr. Sears ( makes a high-quality fish oil product, as do Nordic Naturals and Omega Brite. The typical dosage of fish oil is 1 to 2 g a day for prevention.

Ginkoba and Ginkgold (Nature’s Way) are brands that have been compounded to reflect EGb 761. The usual effective dose is 60 to 120 mg twice a day.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a naturally occurring nutrient that is found in foods such as fish, green leafy vegetables, soy products, and rice.

L-theanine is an amino acid mainly found naturally in the green tea plant. L-theanine supplements are available for the promotion of relaxation and the modulation of mood. Doses used are between 50 and 200 mg, as necessary.

Take 100 percent of the B vitamins every day. Make sure you take at least 400 mcg of folate and 500 mcg of B12 a day.

Vitamin C intake of 250 mg twice a day for adults.

The kind of vitamin E you take matters. Mixed tocopherols, including alpha and gamma, seem to be more effective than alpha-tocopherol alone. Alpha-tocopherol is the most common form sold in stores. Because of the relatively short duration of action of the tocopherols (two to four hours), taking them twice a day gives better cellular protection