Highlights from Jonathan Otto's interview with Dr. Daniel Binus, for the Depression & Anxiety Series.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:28:43 Well the reason that conscious walking is going to work so much better is because when you're trying to change the pathways in your brain, especially when you're trying to engage the frontal lobe to help with that, focusing on what you're doing actually engages the frontal lobe. And so, it's going to make it a lot more efficient to start forming those new pathways if you actually focus and are aware on your body and where your body is in space, and what you're doing.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:29:11 One of the things that we need to think about when it comes to exercise is we want to actually avoid these really repetitive type movements. For example, just getting on a treadmill or one of these exercise machines is actually not the best for neuroplasticity. It's still good, like cardiovascular fitness and somewhat for your brain, but if you really want to get the most benefit out of exercise, you want to do things that are not so repetitive. If you're walking, for example, you want to try to walk on somewhat of an uneven surface. Or if you're jogging, you don't want to just jog on a treadmill, you want to go on a trail, or something like that, so that your brain actually has to work a little bit more, and you can be more present in the moment instead of just not even paying attention to what your body is doing and kind of disconnecting your body with your brain.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:30:02 And so it's actually important not just that we exercise but how we exercise. I do think it is very possible that animal based products can actually increase aggression in people. And the reason I say that is because inflammation by itself, which is triggered by eating animal products, will in turn increase the activity in the limbic system, and that in turn ... the emotional part of your brain ... and that in turn will increase the potential for violence and loss of self control. Plus, you think about it too, in animal products, you have hormones, and if you get the wrong balance of hormones in your body, that affects your brain in a huge way, and could potentially lead to impulsivity and violent acts if someone was prone to more violence.
Jonathan Otto: 00:41:28 You're a medical doctor. You're trained in psychiatry, you're working as a psychi ... you know, you're doing these things with people, and then you're recommending and having them ingest things that are essential oils that would be considered woo woo.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:42:19 Yeah, one of the interesting things is that people can often use essential oils topically, and that can be helpful. For example, lavender, other people use things like Frankincense, pepper oil, so there's all sorts of essential oils that people are using for different things. One of the ones that we found that is often helpful for treating anxiety is actually lavender, but not just using it topically, but also ingesting lavender orally. And what we found is that that often does help anxiety. And one of the things that we use to help wean people off benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax and that sort of thing is giving them lavender oil orally that they can ingest. That can help them to actually decrease their benzodiazepine use.
Jonathan Otto: 00:43:12 Really, so it's almost like it's working like a medication.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:43:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Otto: 00:43:16 Do you see what I'm seeing?
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:43:19 Yeah, I mean I do see that clinically, that it often helps people to actually lower their anxiety and feel calmer, and frankly, I'm not exactly sure how it works, but we do know it works. People don't have side effects. They don't get addicted to lavender, and it doesn't make them cognitively dull like these benzodiazepines. And so I think it's a fantastic tool that we have in our arsenal now that we never had before.
Jonathan Otto: 00:43:46 And what's the derivative that you use of lavender?
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:43:48 Lavela is often very helpful, and that's the one that we've used successfully.
Jonathan Otto: 00:43:53 Can people get that online, or from a health store?
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:43:56 Oh yeah, you can buy it on Amazon, or online very easily. I think a lot of health food stores have it as well now.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 00:59:40 One of the things that can be very difficult when we're starting to change anything is just that it's a habit. It can be very difficult to change habits, especially under conditions of stress. One of the most important things when we're trying to change a habit is to actually start practicing when we're not stressed because if we're trying to do it when we're feeling pressure or stressed, it's almost impossible. What we want to do is we want to find a time where we can feel a little bit more calm and practice self-awareness. What are my thoughts telling me right now?
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:00:17 What's going through my mind? What's the self-talk that I usually tell myself? Then once we've identified and become aware of what I usually tell myself, then we have to start saying, "Okay, well, what's a healthy way of thinking about these things and start replacing that?" Again, we want to make sure we're doing it at a time with low stress and practicing that over and over again so that under periods of higher stress, it can start to become automatic, and we can still be thinking healthy thoughts.
Jonathan Otto: 01:00:52 Go back to when you were talking about the neuroplasticity because I know some people have these beliefs that "This is just the way I am, and I can't change those processes." Some of the research you were talking about, especially even in older people.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:01:10 Well, one of the interesting things is that when we talk about neuroplasticity, there's one particular neurotrophe, and it's a molecule. Well, let me put it this way. Let me start this again. When we talk about neuroplasticity, there are neurotrophins in the brain, which are chemicals that the brain releases to actually help the brain to grow. One of those neurotrophins is BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. You can think about like brain fertilizer because it helps the nerve cells to grow. It helps them to make healthy connections. One of the important things to understand about BDNF is that it's not formed as BDNF.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:01:55 It's actually formed as proBDNF. BDNF is brain fertilizer, but proBDNF actually kills brain cells and kills the connections between brain cells. What makes the difference whether proBDNF exists or it gets cleaved by an enzyme to BDNF to actually become brain fertilizer? Well, the difference is the activity in that particular area of the brain. In other words, if we are using a certain part of our brain, then there's an enzyme that comes and cuts that proBDNF into BDNF, and that will actually help to enhance that particular part of the brain. That particular part of the brain will grow.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:02:46 If we don't use a certain part of the brain, then that enzyme will not be there, and proBDNF will stay as proBDNF. That part of the brain will actually start to slowly degenerate and be destroyed. There's the saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it," right, and that's exactly why. If we're talking about changing our brain and changing our thoughts, then it's all about which part of the brain we're activating. In other words, if we're thinking down a certain pathway, like "I'm a really wonderful person, and I have a lot of self-worth," then boom, that part of the brain is going to be cleaving and cutting proBDNF into BDNF.
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:03:28 That part of the brain is going to be enhanced. On the other hand, if I'm thinking about, "Oh, I'm such a worthless person, and I'm horrible," then again, that part of the brain, BDNF is going to be activated, and you're going to be enhancing that. The good news is if you are used to thinking of negative, dark thoughts all the time, then if you stop and you start thinking positive thoughts, then those old pathways will actually start to slowly shrink because proBDNF will take over and actually cause atrophy in those old pathways. You don't have to be stuck with who you were.
Jonathan Otto: 01:04:08 Can you do that even if you're older or you've had these thought processes for 20 years?
Dr. Daniel Binus: 01:04:15 Absolutely. That's the really exciting thing about especially the human brain as it ages, it continues to be plastic. It continues to be changeable. What they found is that even in older human beings in the hippocampus, which is the memory area of your brain that really is important for learning, that there's 700 new nerve cells that are being born every single day. To me, that gives me a lot of hope because even as we get older, we can continue to change. We can continue to learn and grow and actually achieve optimal wellness for the rest of our lives.