John Mekrut's Broken Brain Interview Part 1

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As previously seen on Hilber Psychological Services, “Broken Brain," Mark Hyman MD is Director of Clevland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The Ultra Wellness Center, and a ten-time #1 Ney York Times Bestselling author. At the peak of his career, he suffered a broken brain, causing him to turn into someone he no longer recognized. He felt like he suffered from depression, ADD, and dementia all at once.” Mark Hyman MD created a docuseries, Broken Brain, revealing what conditions like Alzheimer’s, Dementia, ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, and Brain Fog have in common. John Mekrut interviewed Mark Hyman MD related his docuseries to neurofeedback.

Mekrut’s initial journey with neurofeedback began when his daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As early as kindergarten and first grade, he began noticing her interactions around the world were different than most children. She was disruptive and rebellious, acting in dangerous behaviors, such as running into the middle of the street. Mekrut decided it was time to get help. After seeing doctor after doctor and trying many medications, his daughter’s symptoms were reduced, but to an extreme extent. After watching his daughter suffer from weight gain, lethargy, complete absence, and much more, Mekrut realized that pharmacology was not the answer. His next attempt to help his daughter was neurofeedback.

Mekrut explains, “Neurofeedback trains the brain to reduce its fears and manage its own behaviors”. He saw these results in his daughter as she became more interactive with others and acquired proper skill sets, such as handwriting. This success was the gateway of his own journey into neurofeedback.

There are 5 different types of neurofeedback, all which work, claims Mekrut. He focuses on infra low-frequency training. Neurofeedback works, because every system and organism responds to feedback. Whether the feedback is good or back, our brain is constantly responding to the feedback it is receiving. Unlike biofeedback, such as measuring skin temperature or sweat glands, neurofeedback EEG signaling as a feedback mechanism to understand what is going on in the brain. The feedback that is provided to the brain is giving information to the brain to help it make the best decision. Rather than changing the brain, Mekrut explains that it “trains the brain in self-awareness and self-regulation”.

One of the best aspects of the brain is its plasticity. This is what allows the brain to be trained and acquire self-regulation. For example, someone with PTSD detects threat frequently. Instead of reacting to the constant threat, neurofeedback teaches the brain to “recognize its own patterns, understand that it’s its own, and then do your organic best to self-regulate”, says Mekrut. The proof of this, is that the brain is not a constant, it can be changed.

Neurofeedback is great for everyone, because it doesn’t matter if something is wrong with your brain or not, you brain can always be trained to be better. Imagine training your muscles after therapy compared to training your muscles to run a marathon. In both scenarios, you are training something to make it better. Regardless if you have a mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety, or if you’re a SEAL Team Six, your brain can always be trained to be better. This is performance training.

Mekrut explains the importance on keeping your brain active. Doing brain exercises is a great way. There are many apps you can get, but even simple activities, including soduku, crossword puzzles, or even dancing, constantly keeps your brain interactive. In order to enhance your brain performance, find an activity you enjoy and go do it rather than participating in mindless activities.

In part two, we will focus specifically on infra low-frequency training and more of the connections between neurofeedback and Mark Hyman MD’s Broken Brain docuseries.

Contact us for more information on how Neurofeedback can help you and your family find the focus you need to function at your best.

~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference: Mekrut, John. "Broken Brain". Hyman Digital, 2017.

What Exactly IS Neurofeedback?

It is not uncommon for individuals to have many questions regarding neurofeedback. How does it work? How long will it take? Will it “fix” my problems? Before we get into whether it works for you, let’s start with the basics of what the process looks like.

Neurofeedback specialists use an EEG to observe brain waves. It does not inject anything into the brain, it does not use electricity to stimulate the brain, and it does not read one’s thoughts. It is merely a way to see brain activity. Think about what happens when a pregnant woman goes to the doctor for an ultrasound. The doctor starts by putting gel on the woman’s belly. An image is then projected for the doctor (and patient) to see the baby. It does not hurt the baby, it does not put anything in the woman’s stomach, it just produces a picture. An EEG is a similar process. A specialist in neurofeedback will begin by placing a gel on three specifics points on an individual’s head based on symptoms. Then a type of “paste” will be applied to the electrode to act as a conductor to get a good reading of the brain. Unlike getting an ultrasound, EEG’s do not produce images of the brain, but instead produce a picture of the person’s current brain waves.

Neurofeedback looks to observe what the brain is currently doing and to strengthen areas of the brain that are not being fully utilized based on a reward system. The individual will either play a game or watch a movie and will hold onto a teddy bear. The screen the individual is watching will alter in various ways, such as shrinking in size or greying out the colors of the image; the volume may get louder or softer; and the teddy bear may vibrate at certain points. By experiencing these alterations in the individual’s movie or game-playing experience, the brain learns what it needs to do to keep the screen looking “normal.” The brain is thus “rewarded” via the cues it gets from the screen, the volume, and the teddy bear when it is at an optimal functioning level. The individual does not need to do anything but watch the screen. A person cannot strain their brain or use their willpower to make the screen look a certain way; it is a process the brain does on its own.

This is the basis of neurofeedback.

Now that there’s a better understanding of what the process looks like, the question may still be lingering: “How can it help me?” Multiple studies have indicated that neurofeedback can improve many symptoms that individuals may face on a daily basis including the following:

  • Sleep (falling asleep, staying asleep, difficulty waking up, nightmares)  

  • Headaches/migraines

  • ADHD (poor concentration, difficulty completing tasks, hyperactivity, verbal expression)

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Seizures

  • Mood Swings

  • Impulsivity

  • Pain (low pain threshold, chronic aching pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia).

Neurofeedback is symptom-based. That means that when you present with a specific symptom, say migraines for example, different “sites” or electrode placements target that symptom. If you suffer from a diagnosis with multiple symptoms, such as depression, each symptom (sleep, mood, body tension) is looked at separately and treated as such. As a result, in one neurofeedback session, you may be targeting three different symptoms via three electrode placements.

For more information on neurofeedback, check out previous blog posts Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 1) and Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 2). Be sure to tune back soon for our upcoming entry, "How Do I Know Neurofeedback is Working?"