Why Women are the Catalysts to Improving the Nation’s Health
The world will be saved by the Western woman.
--The Dalai Lama
The health of our world is in trouble, and we all know it. One out of three Americans suffers from a chronic illness, obesity is outranking smoking as the number one cause of death in the U.S., and four of the five leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and accidents) are preventable through changes in diet and lifestyle. We are seeing an increasing level of mood and neurological disorders from depression to anxiety to Alzheimer's disease. Even our planet Earth is suffering under the weight of unhealthy human behaviors. We now face global warming, deforestation, contaminated water supplies, and more.
How do we change this trend? We all know that without answers to these problems, humanity is facing a serious uphill battle in the generations to come.
I've wrestled with this question for decades, and I think I finally know the answer. Change begins within us. More specifically, it begins in our brains. And I believe the health revolution we need in the 21stst century is going to come from female brain specifically. The Dalai Lama was right. If the world is going to be saved, it's most likely going to be saved by women.
The Day I Realized Women Would Change Our Health
Let me tell you a story. In August of 2010, I joined with my friends Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman to create The Daniel Plan, a health and wellness program that was instituted at Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the world, in southern California at the behest of Pastor Rick Warren.
The concept of the program was simple. Pastor Warren decided to have three physicians, noted in their fields - Dr. Oz for heart health, Dr. Hyman for metabolism, and me for brain health, to advise his parishioners on how to get healthy, not just for a season, but for a lifetime. Together, we outlined the daily steps people needed to take to get healthy, and the participants implemented them in their daily lives, with their families, and through small groups.
Fifteen-thousand people signed up for The Daniel Plan, and over the course of the year, these folks saw a dramatic shift in their weight, health, and brain function. The group lost a total of 125 tons of weight off their bodies! And the participants reported an improvement in every health parameter you could imagine. Blood pressure dropped, cholesterol profiles improved, inflammation was reduced, and their moods and memories were sharpened. By changing what they ate and how the lived, they changed their lives.
This was no real surprise to me. I've seen this thousands of times over the years. What blew me away was one simple statistic our research team shared several months into the program: 85 percent of the participants in The Daniel Plan were women. And when I took a closer look at the statistics, the men who were losing weight and getting healthier, were doing so following the lead of their wives and female partners as opposed to following the lead of their pastor. It was the women who were driving the success of the Daniel Plan.
As I look back on my 30 year career as a psychiatrist and into my personal past, I know that what happened at Saddleback was consistent with my own experience, with social trends and with the data.
Women Are Our Health Leaders
Women typically lead the charge when it comes to health. In fact, I've seen this in my practice numerous times. At Amen Clinics, we actually see more men than women (about 60% to 40%), but it is the mothers, wives, and women who call for help, nearly 80% of the time. When a couple is struggling in their relationship the woman is most often the one who calls our clinic for help, and when a child is having problems it's usually the mother who contacts us looking for solutions even when both parents are working full time.
In our outcome studies, both women and men show high levels of improvement, but females tend to improve faster as they are usually more compliant than males. When women have problems they tend to admit it and reach out for help faster.
Married men tend to live longer than unmarried men, and their wives may very well be the reason. I often see women nudge their husbands to take better care of their health, but rarely see the opposite. Ironically, in some studies, married women do not live longer than unmarried women and may even have shorter lives. One wonders if the stress of taking care of husbands who are resistant to change might be the reason.
I've witnessed this in my personal life as well. I've been surrounded by powerful women all my life. My mother, who is now 81 years old and five feet tall, is still in charge everywhere she goes to this day. She was certainly the health leader in my family growing up. I have five sisters, three incredible daughters, two granddaughters, and fourteen nieces and grandnieces. My wife, Tana Amen, jokes that I came housebroken when it comes to dealing with women. Of course, Tana is a powerful woman in her own right, and she's the health leader in our family. Women are typically the health leaders in their families and in their communities. And new data we are collecting at Amen Clinics is showing us why.
A brain imaging study we recently completed shows that women have more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is particularly important for leadership and guiding change. This increased activity leads to greater strengths in empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control, and appropriate worry--all of which are critical for skills if we are going to change our health as a nation and as a society.
With the rising tide of obesity, diabetes, depression, and dementia, the health of Western society is going the wrong way at a quickening pace. Now more than ever we need thoughtful, intelligent, brain smart women to guide our families and our communities toward health.
That's why I wrote my latest book, "Unleash the Power of the Female Brain." In the book I show women how to fall in love with and unleash the power of their female brain step-by-step. The book teaches women how they can harness their natural cognitive strengths and overcome weaknesses, how to feed their female brain properly, how to balance their hormones for greater brain-power, and even how to optimize their brains now so that they can positively impact their children and their childrens' children.
When women get the message of brain health, they give it away to all the people they love. My sincerest hope is that women will use this book to help unleash the power of their female brains so that they can guide us toward a healthier future. Our world needs them. They are the change we have been waiting for.
Dr. Amen is a psychiatrist and Founder of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, San Francisco, Bellevue, WA, DC, Atlanta and New York. Amen Clinics have the world's largest database of brain scans relating to behavior. Dr. Amen is also the host of 7 popular shows about the brain, and he is the author of 55 professional articles, and over 30 books, including Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Magnificent Mind At Any Age, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, and Use Your Brain to Change Your Age. In February 2013, Crown published Dr. Amen's new book, Unleash the Power of the Female Brain.