Ask for A Brain Health Checkup

04/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

One of the indisputable facts of science is that our head is attached to the rest of our body. However, most doctors seem to forget all about your head, or the brain that it houses, when you seek treatment for any type of medical condition, complaint, or symptom. I strongly believe that they are wrong.

As a doctor who has been focusing on brain research and treatment for more than 30 years, I know that when your body is not working properly, the first place to examine is your brain. The brain's health controls the body's health. Yet every day, millions of people are diagnosed with a host of ailments from heart disease to depression, headaches to cancer, insomnia to obesity, without taking brain health into consideration.

Today, scientists and doctors are just beginning to uncover the mysteries that lie deep within the brain. Medical care is finally moving away from the model of treating symptoms related to individual organs and body systems, and beginning to look at the whole human body as one living system. However, most physicians still use the words 'brain' and 'mind' interchangeably -- they don't recognize the distinction between anatomy and psychology.

Brain Health Began at NYU

Dr. Rodolfo Llinas, a world-renowned researcher of brain function, and my mentor at NYU Medical School, was the first to pinpoint the electrical roadmap to the brain-mind-body connection, which proved that brain biochemical imbalances could cause disease. He called this concept the Edge Effect, and demonstrated the physical point where the brain and the body connect electrically. At that point, all of the electricity of the human body reaches the brain and is processed into four brain chemicals: dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, and serotonin.

The Edge Effect multiplies small electrical imbalances into bigger health problems. It requires that all four of these brain chemicals be processed in the correct order, and in exacting amounts.

Neurological specialists in the 1980's confirmed the connection between brain chemistry and electricity. They identified four key measures of the functioning brain, attributed to specific brain lobes and neurotransmitters:

• Voltage -- Dopamine -- frontal lobes (Energy or Metabolism): Is the brain getting the necessary nutrients to function?

• Speed -- Acetylcholine -- parietal lobes (Memory): How well is the brain processing information?

• Rhythm -- GABA -- temporal lobes (Calm): Are the four primary waves in balance?

• Synchrony -- Serotonin -- occipital lobes (Mood): Are the left and right hemispheres functionally connected?

Brain chemistry can become unbalanced when the brain is not able to process the electrical cues correctly, which leads to one or more of the brain chemicals becomes deficient. These deficiencies directly lead to decreased physical and mental health, ranging from obesity to heart disease, osteoporosis to Alzheimer's. No matter what your current medical condition is, I guarantee there is a brain component that is being overlooked.

To my mind, the Edge Effect can be viewed as having a total spectrum of reactions. On one side, biochemical deficiencies will lead to poor health. On the other hand, a normally balanced brain will not only give you good health, but is mandatory for maintaining a sound mind and body.

The Brain First Approach to Medicine

The majority of symptoms -- both physical and mental -- that require medical attention are related to either an interruption or overload of brain circuits. A brain health assessment enables us to effectively treat the causes of disease -- not just the symptoms. By recognizing the first and most subtle shifts in the balance of brain health, we are able to address both prevention and the earliest possible treatment of existing disease and illness throughout the body.

You can get a good sense of your brain health by taking my Brain Quiz featured on my website, Your unique brain chemistry (the combination of the brain chemicals acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, and serotonin) controls how you think, feel, and behave. The results of this quiz will show you which brain chemicals you are deficient in. By addressing your deficiencies you will be on the path to a healthier, younger you.

Give the results of your Brain Quiz to your doctor, or ask if you can create a quantifiable profile of how your brain is working by using a variety of standardized tests. Next time you see your doctor, ask if they can give you at least one of the following tests to determine your current brain health:

• Test of Variable Attention (T.O.V.A.): measures responses to visual stimulus, with scores for consistency, impulsivity, inattention, and speed of response

• Weschler Memory Scale (WMS): tests of brain recall in four areas: working memory, verbal memory, immediate memory, and visual memory

• Millon IQ: assesses four types of intelligence: abstract, emotional, creative, and perceptual

• Type and Temperament: assesses behavioral temperament and personality

Your Health Lies Your Head

Effective, long-lasting treatments are the ones that incorporate the brain in both diagnosis and restorative recommendations. Being aware of brain-based symptoms that are related to specific anatomic/functional areas -- and the biochemicals related to them -- enables us to look at health in a completely new light.