Better Brain Health With Dave Kenney and Living Longer and Healthier With Daniel Kennedy Contreras

The way we treat our bodies and how we keep our mind healthy directly affects our decisions and creates our habits. In this episode, Dr. Diane Hamilton is joined by Dave Kenney, the Co-founder and Executive Director at Emergo Recovery, private residential recovery and wellness center focused on the brain-first approach specializing in Actualized Recovery. Dave tackles brain function, neuroplasticity, dopamine and how it impacts human behavior, and how you can achieve better brain health.

Our health can be the result of our daily habits and diet, but it can also come from our family history or genetics. Dr. Diane Hamilton talks with psycho-oncology counselor Daniel Kennedy Contreras of the Oasis of Hope Hospital to discuss the correlation of genetics with our physiology and health. Daniel also shares how having curiosity is important in health care.

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health


We have Dave Kenney and Daniel Kennedy Contreras. Dave is a brain health expert. He’s a professional life coach and speaker. Daniel is a psycho-oncology counselor. He’s the CEO of Oasis of Hope Hospital. This episode is going to be interesting because we’re tying in some medical research that ties into the business. It’s fascinating.

Listen to the podcast here

Better Brain Health With Dave Kenney

I am here with Dave Kenney, who is the Cofounder and Executive Director at Emergo Recovery, a private residential recovery and wellness center focused on the brain-first approach specializing in Actualized Recovery. He’s dedicated his extensive career to helping individuals reclaim their life after struggles with addictions, anxiety, depression and other debilitating challenges. It’s nice to have you here, Dave.

Dr. Hamilton, I’m excited to join you. I look forward to our discussion.

I wanted to get a little background on you. This is a little different area than I focus on. Sometimes I have a little medical focus because I’ve worked in pharmaceuticals and different areas. Can you give us some background on you?

We’re going to find that we align a lot. There are a lot of synergies and we approach things from more of a natural intrinsic point. It’s about human performance. That’s where I work. I’ve got a Master’s of Education and been in the field of education and human performance for many years. I’m getting my PhD in Psychology and Neuroscience at Canterbury University in the UK as well as my day job. I fell into this several years ago when working for a private school. I saw some kids struggling and I don’t like seeing kids struggling and teachers and people going, “We can’t help them.” Whether it’s a learning challenge, behavioral outbursts, maybe they’re smoking weed on the weekends.

Before I knew anything about neuroscience, I said, “Why can’t we change the brain?” It made a lot of sense to me that if students are struggling academically or behaviorally because of brain-related issues, let’s fix the brain. This went off for about a year. My wife and I would talk about this and casually would have a cup of tea and chat about the opportunity if you could reprogram a brain. I stumbled into a PBS show. A bug came out of my skin because there was a guy named Dr. Daniel Amen who is a neuropsychiatrist and I’d never heard of such a thing as a brain psychiatrist. His PBS show back then, and he still does some of them, was Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. I immediately dove in not just the show but my learning. My curiosity became, “I’ve got to learn more about this.”

Making assumptions is absolutely detrimental to moving forward because it does impact your brain. Click To Tweet

As I learned more about neuroscience, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, the brain’s ability to change, meaning what I have now doesn’t have to be what I have tomorrow. I can improve and enhance it but that also means I can make it worse. I started on this journey of helping individuals reclaim their lives and actualize their lives as to what they want. It becomes a real shame-free approach. Think about it. If you’ve been struggling in life because you had a bad liver or a bad kidney, we wouldn’t have shame around it. Why do we have shame around the fact that I’m struggling because my brain is in an imbalanced state? Now, it’s been several years, over 1,000 families and Actualized Recovery has grown out of all of this. It’s a brain-first approach to human performance.

You covered a lot of cool things there. I’m interested in talking about neuroplasticity. We know a lot of that came about with emotional intelligence research, which I wrote my dissertation on. A lot of what you study ties in well to the things I study. We know that curiosity triggers dopamine and dopamine is a big part of what makes us feel good, but it can impact human behavior. I’d like to hear your insights on that.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It’s a brain chemical or it’s nicknamed as a feel-good chemical. It has the power to change behavior, good and not so good. Dopamine plays a major role in choices or behavior. It can impact things. It’s a reward-motivated brain chemical. Think of drugs. There’s a quick one that cocaine will enhance that, but also activities like gambling. I don’t have to take anything to have a hit of dopamine. My brain will like it, especially if my brain is in an imbalanced state. When a brain is stuck and I get a shot or multiple shots of dopamine and I feel good, I keep chasing that regardless of the negative consequences in my life.

Smartphones and social media are onto this. They use social engineers. Social engineers are people who design casinos. They know how to optimize a casino and optimize the experience and experience is dopamine. The more dopamine I have, the longer I’m going to stay, the more money I’m going to spend. They now use the same social engineering for social media. The thumb on various social media is different worldwide. Facebook has different thumbs around the world based on cultures and ethnic backgrounds because they want to and they’ve beta tested this. They want to maximize dopamine, which means I’m going to come back and use their platform. They’re good at addicting our brains and rewiring our brains and usually not in a good way.

You brought up something that’s interesting to me, which ties into what I talk about a lot in other situations about gamification and tying people into wanting to keep playing and doing things, the dopamine response. How do you avoid a negative curiosity? How do you recognize if you’re going down the wrong rabbit hole?

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: Social engineers are good at addicting and rewiring our brains, and usually not in a good way.


We all do and we’re not happy with our lives and we go back to this. It is about identifying what’s going on and creating a brain-healthy lifestyle. If I’m doing something and making choices in my life to get relief from pain, I’m going to continue to do those unless I begin to rewire my brain and live a brain-healthy lifestyle because overall, the brain drives everything. If my brain is in a parasympathetic dominant state, it is like the brake is on. Think of paralyzed and physically unable to move, parasympathetic is emotionally unable to move. When my brain goes through some trauma, I can be stuck in this state. That’s the paradigm I see the world in. If I’m stuck there, I do certain behaviors and I get relief, I’m going to continue those behaviors until I begin to help my brain release. There’s the opposite, which is the gas pedal. That’s the sympathetic nervous system, which is a high-stress state to live in. That’s the fight or flight state we’ve all known.

We learned a lot about that when I was a pharmaceutical rep. It seems a lot of people get stuck in that sympathetic over-hyper response and reaction. I found that interesting in my work in perception and how we all can have the same stimulus and yet one of us will respond completely different than somebody else. I’m curious when we’re talking about brain function and how it impacts us, can it limit your level of curiosity? How does this brain function impact how we respond to what our normal level of curiosity might be?

Not only it can but it does. You’ve identified in your book and in the Curiosity Code Index, the test that you have online, the four blocks: fear, assumptions, technology and environment. Certainly, three of those four hit my sweet spot here. I’m not going to come to my boss or maybe my boss asks me top questions when I’m in a state of fear. We teach assumptions through the four agreements, impeccable with your word, don’t take things personally, always do my best and don’t make assumptions. Making assumptions is absolutely detrimental to moving forward in your environment because it does impact your brain. I want to talk about your dissertation as well as this part about the environment.

Dr. Marian Diamond in the 1960s was one of the first female neuroscientists in North America. She and her team set out in the ‘60s and they were testing rats and brains. They put them in an impoverished environment. She’s the first neuroscientist attributed to finding neuroplasticity, but because she was a female in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, her work was dismissed. It’s terrible and unfortunate but it’s true. She discovered that when rats were in an impoverished environment, so a rat in a small cage. They weren’t given any love and touch. There are no toys and no social connections. They were given food and water, but their brains shrank in size. They put other rats in an enriched environment, a larger cage, tunnels, toys, wheels, friends, sex and social connection. Their brains grew in size and it’s the first time in mankind that there is an experiment and it has been duplicated many times successfully. We realized that we could change not just the size of the brain, but how it functions and thus the quality of life. You want to talk about emotional intelligence and your work about the environment, the impact of the environment on individuals in workplaces, is it ever big?

It’s a huge thing. It’s interesting to look at some of the studies. I’ve read a lot of case studies and things on emotional intelligence and different things. Phineas Gage’s story was interesting about determining what part of the brain relates to emotions and all these things. They’ve learned quite a bit about the brain. How is this changing? How are we changing the brain? When you talk about neuroplasticity, can you explain what you mean by that?

Sleep is massive to brain health and, thus, your performance and your happiness. Click To Tweet

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire specifically around environment and experiences. If I have a negative thing happen, if I’m sexually abused, my brain can rewire. Typically, it’s doing that because of fear and it’s keeping me in a safer place. Also, my brain can rewire in a positive environment and I can have more of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Think of your computer’s ability to relearn new processes and new things. It functions better and I feel better. There’s another one called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to regrow new cells. If you think about it, I can do that everywhere else on my body. If I cut my skin or break my arm, I can grow new cells. It’s the same thing with the brain. I have to do certain things to enhance that. If I can make a positive impact, that also means I can make a negative impact.

You brought up Carol Dweck’s work when we’re talking about mindset and her fixed versus growth mindset. She does have great information and I often cite her work in a lot of talks I give. A lot of what you’re saying is environmental. I gave a talk to 50,000 people as part of an International Project Management Day. One of the questions that came up about that was, is this something we can fix? Is this a genetically stuck thing? They wanted to know. In Carol’s work, if you talk to young children and you say, “You’ve done something or you’re a natural at that,” people are going to have this thinking that they don’t have to work hard. They don’t have a growth mindset. They have more of a fixed mindset. If you tell them, “You worked hard at that. You’ve worked hard to accomplish this,” they have more of a growth mindset because they think that working hard will get them a better outcome. In our work setting, we have many people saying things to us. As an effective leader, what would you tell somebody of how they communicate with others to help give them better brain health?

To get better brain health, it is more than just communicating. You have to physiologically embrace some things like food, nutrition and sleep. There are fundamental things that we have to embrace and we can create a culture around that area. Huffington Post has done that with sleep pods. I would encourage people to look at something like that in a work environment or even meditation rooms. We follow Ziva meditation and transcendental meditation. Meditation has been known to have five times more positive effects than sleep.

A twenty-minute nap will help the brain and help people respond better to stress. Take twenty minutes out of your day. At the end of the day, you’re actually more productive than if you try to grind it out. Even meditation has the ability to help people. From a leader’s point of view, it’s about creating a culture that understands and puts brain first health as a priority. From communication, I love your work. It is about as a leader becoming more of a coach. Helping people is a short-term benefit, but coaching and using deep provocative questions of curiosity and beginning to work collaboratively with each other will enhance an environment.

You brought up something that was interesting to me. I’ve never researched it much and you probably know much more about napping. I’m one of those people who can’t nap no matter what. You might as well hang me upside down. I’m not going to sleep. If I go for 3 or 4 days of heavy-duty meetings where I get no sleep at night, I may fall asleep for a minute or two, but then I will never sleep again because my body thinks, “That’s it. I slept my night and I’m done.” Is there a way to train yourself to nap? The few times I have napped, I always felt worse. Are there some people who do better with naps than others? I’m curious to hear a little more about napping.

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: When your sleep’s been compromised and you’ve been under great stress, you will have more of brain fog and not be as crisp and sharp.


I can talk about sleep in general. Sleep is massive to brain health and thus your performance and your happiness. I think happiness gets a bad rap because people go, “I want to be happy.” Happiness is the result of what you’re doing throughout the course of a day and that includes sleep. If I’m sleep-deprived, the attainment of happiness, productivity, all of that goes down the tubes. Here’s one of the things. None of us are that special. We, as humans, need 7 or 8 hours of sleep. If you think you can survive on five hours of sleep, then go ahead. You can’t cut sleep throughout the week and then regain it at the weekend. It’s not a bank account. It doesn’t work that way. Here’s why. We have the lymphatic system in our body, which cleanses our body.

Something that’s new in neuroscience is the glymphatic system. The glymph in the brain and it has been the latest discovery. It’s a waste-cleansing process. It’s like a power wash to your brain. It removes extra proteins while we’re asleep and toxins from the brain. Sometimes, like the days you’re talking about where your sleep has been compromised and you’ve been under great stress, you will have more of brain fog and not be as crisp and sharp. It’s important that we treat sleep as an important element of our health but that doesn’t mean, “I’m going to go to bed at 10:00.” It doesn’t work that way. I would encourage you to set an alarm clock for 9:00 or maybe even 8:00, but certainly 60 minutes before you intend to go to bed, an alarm goes off in your house and eventually, you won’t need to do it. You’ll reprogram your brain.

Treat that last hour as a prep for bed. Turn off all tablets, all phones, TVs because they send a blue light. Blue light tricks your brain. The blue light goes into the lens of the eye to the back of the brain and it shuts down melatonin because blue light is processed as a sunrise. Our brain thinks the sun is coming up. You’re getting tired, your brain sees something different and so your brain is wired. If you want to get ready for sleep but you have to use these technology things, sometimes I’ve got high-quality blue light glasses that I wear. I’m helping my brain prepare for sleep. That first hour is critical. Always go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time even on a Sunday, Saturday and your biorhythms will be reset. Your circadian rhythms will be reset for sleep. A twenty-minute nap is wonderful in resetting the system. People who struggle with that, typically, their brain is in an overactive state. They’re, “Go, go, go.” You may find that’s where you’re at. I would encourage you that instead of sleep, use the exercise.

Are you saying exercise at night?

During the day, like you’re saying, “Hang me upside down. Take my eyes shut. I’m not going to go to sleep.” Your brain loves great nutrition, water and oxygen, which is exercise, even if that’s a walk. Before our interview, I went for a fifteen-minute walk outside. I wanted to wake my brain and my body up. If that’s the case, if you’re feeling sluggish, instead of people reaching for coffee or God forbid one of the Red Bull energy drinks, don’t do that. Take a nap, meditate or use the exercise.

Your brain loves great nutrition, water, and oxygen, which is exercise, even if that's a walk. Click To Tweet

You brought up a few things that are interesting. My cousin Gigi Mortimer created a company called EyeJust, a blue light blocker. I know a lot of people have issues with that keeping them up at night. I learned a lot. I remember studying circadian rhythms as a pharmaceutical rep. A lot of people have a certain peak in the morning. A lot of heart attacks occurred at 5:00 AM because of a certain peak that we have. We have this certain rhythm that we have. What I find interesting is I went to an event, Harvey Mackay did a mentoring day with us. He works on a board of advisors with me. He’s the famous author of Swim with the Sharks.

He said, “I know how much sleep you need.” He has the answer for everybody. What he said was, “Don’t set the alarm,” and then you’ll find out how much sleep you need was his answer. There is something to that. What’s interesting is I’ve never had to set the alarm. It doesn’t matter what time I have to get up. I wake up early, but if I had to wake up earlier than usual. Nothing will wake me. I have this natural inclination to wake up prior. Do you set an alarm?

I do usually set the alarm at 6:00 AM, but I’m waking up before that. The only reason why I set the alarm is I want to make sure that my morning routine doesn’t get compromised. I have a routine in the morning and I know when I cut a corner by 15, 20 minutes, I feel off. That’s important, but it’s more important that we go to bed also at the same time. There’s a technology called an Oura Ring. I believe it’s sold online because it’s in Europe. We’ve tested all sorts of sleep technology. It’s phenomenal. You’ll see a sleep rhythm and it’s an amazing thing.

I’ve learned if I eat any little treat or snack two hours before bed, my heart rate does not calm down. It makes sense now because I’ve put food into my system, my digestion is working and so my heart has to pump harder. I don’t get a deep sleep, but I needed the feedback from this technology, from the Oura Ring to be able to connect those dots with, “That makes a lot of sense.” I encourage people, if they want, to also use some sleep technology. That’s the one that has been great for us, but there are others out there. Begin to track and record your sleep and you’ll see the light sleep, which is most of our nights, deep sleep and REM sleep, which are parts of our night.

Is this something you wear on your body? I tried those UP24s and all those things. It would keep me awake sometimes because I’d be thinking, “Now, it’s tracking and I’m awake. I better go back to sleep.” You start thinking about this thing tracking you and then you wouldn’t sleep. Is this a ring that you put on your hand?

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: Overusing smartphones is disruptive to sleep and overall brain health.


It’s a ring. It’s on my second finger on my right hand. I’ve got a matte black ring and it has a Bluetooth Wi-Fi thing in it which you can turn off. In the morning, I put the ring on my phone while I’m doing my morning routine and it downloads onto my phone. I turn the Wi-Fi off on it. I don’t want that going all day long. The charge lasts almost seven days, but I charge it about twice a week. I’ve got a stylish looking ring I’m wearing.

I worry a little bit about having devices near you while you sleep. I know a lot of people sleep with phones and all that. My husband is a plastic surgeon and he was telling me about a lot of women put their cell phones in their sports bras when they exercise and then they’re getting breast cancer worries about that. He said that your devices should be at least eight feet from your bed when you sleep. Do you have to be near something too close to your sleep for that thing to work?

That’s why I turn it off and it collects the data. It doesn’t emit anything. That’s why I turn that Wi-Fi off. There’s none of that electrical currents and frequencies being sent. You bring me to cell phone stuff. Please turn your phones off before bed and at the very least airplane them. If you happen to have that as your only phone in the home, even though it’s on an airplane, you can set your phones for families to call and emergency calls can come through and you block everything else. One of the worst things for sleep is our addictive nature welcome the dopamine again and people are overusing smartphones. It’s disruptive to sleep and overall brain health.

This has all been helpful. Do you work with helping people as a life coach? What is your main focus? If somebody wanted to contact you, what do you do at Emergo Recovery?

We’re a residential wellness program. We have 2 and 3-week executive wellness programs. We have 4 to 6-week recovery programs. Some people come for substance abuse and use issues. A lot of people come for depression, anxiety and PTSD issues as well. All of those are brain health-related issues. We do coaching by Zoom or by phone as well and so we can help people. Sometimes the coaching is about dietary stuff. We follow the Whole30. Melissa Hartwig created that and it’s a 30-day reset. It’s fantastic. It falls under the paleo umbrella. It is about eating natural foods and making sure that they’re good and clean food. Sometimes that’s the most important change people can implement.

We have a lot more to say about the quality of our life and our health than we think we do. Click To Tweet

Dave, do you want to share how people could reach you?

We’re at There’s email, phone numbers and text there. That’s the easiest way. If people want to text or call us, that’s (249) 877-8776 and somebody on our team will answer. A lot of times we guide people and give them some advice as to where to go. There are some great resources out there in the world, but I’m happy to connect with people whether that’s distance coaching or whether we’re looking at shorter or longer-term recovery programs here at Emergo Recovery.

Thanks, Dave. This has been interesting. I enjoyed having you on the show.

It’s been a hoot, Diane. Thank you so much. Our worlds of human performance, curiosity and brain are aligned. I value your work.

Thank you.

Living Longer and Healthier With Daniel Kennedy Contreras

I am here with Daniel Kennedy Contreras who is a psycho-oncology counselor who served as Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chair of Oasis of Hope Hospital since 1993. His grandfather, Dr. Ernesto Contreras, Sr., founded the hospital in 1963. For many years, he’s had counseling and ministering that he’s delivered to patients. He has three Master’s degrees in counseling, ministry and business. It’s nice to have you here, Daniel.

It’s my honor.

Your highlights are impressive. You’ve worked with some of the top researchers in the world. I noticed the Max Planck Institute, but also the World Health Organization, Cancer Research UK, Shizuoka University in Japan, the Beijing University, University of Delhi and the Institute for Genetic and Biomedical Research in Sardinia. Do you travel that much? Are you doing this virtually? How are you doing all this?

I’ve been traveling for the last few years and I’ve been pursuing the mission of finding out how we can live longer but also be healthy because the life expectancy in the United States now is about 79 years. The healthy life experience is only 68 years, which means the last ten years of life are spent in sickness, pain, suffering and crushing medical bills. My family has been no exception. My father died in April of 2019. He had 81 years of life, which sounds great. That’s not bad. He outlived the life expectancy. Unfortunately, those last ten years were full of surgeries, pain, falls and medication.

In a way, I was rather driven from my own father’s and my grandmother’s stories to get out there and find out for myself what can be done to improve the quality of life, to avoid illness, and then change that in my epigenetics. I’ve already had children, but what could they pass on to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. To put it into your show’s context, you could say I was curious about what is out there that we’re not learning because we’re so sick as a society. There’s got to be something out there more than this.

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: We can pass on better genes when we reproduce through epigenetics.


You brought up a few things that are interesting to me. I’m sorry to hear about your father. I think 81 is a long life. It’s challenging when you have all these health issues. I’ve been fortunate. My mom is 86. Other than a knee replacement, she’s been absolutely perfectly healthy. That’s unusual for a lot of people. She can walk me to the airport. It’s nice though when some people have a nice healthy life. My father died at a younger age, 74, of heart failure. His last years weren’t as good, but I was pretty fortunate that both of my parents didn’t have the suffering of that much. I hear a lot about it. My best friend turned 79 and I was talking to him about this. He’s like, “You see people are dying in the obituaries at 78 and 81.” He’s in that realm. It had to be scary at that point. When you’re talking about some of the things that you deal with, epigenetics is interesting to me. Anybody who’s seen The Ghost in Your Genes, a series on YouTube, that goes into that. It’s worth watching to see what it is. Can you explain what epigenetics is?

Epigenetics is information that sits on top of the genes, but it can send signals to your body so it will cause biological and physiological changes. The interesting thing is that when you make a change in your lifestyle, it can change the epigenetics. Many times we go through life thinking, “It’s in my genes. Either I’ll get cancer or I won’t. Either I’ll get diabetes or I won’t.” That’s the wrong information. That’s the wrong mindset. The way we live, even our emotions will change the signaling inside our body and then we can pass on better genes when you reproduce through epigenetics.

I think of it as a light switch, whether you turn on something or turn it off, everybody’s got the same light switch. It’s what we do with it. Is that a good way of thinking of it at all?

Absolutely, and another example would be like road signs. Hormones and all kinds of molecules are going through our bodies. Depending on our lifestyle, our diet, our exercise, our attitudes and our belief systems, the road signs change. There are road signs that will regulate certain hormones or down-regulate. All of this will manifest itself in your health. The thing that I’m finding out as I go and I interview all of these world experts is we have a lot more to say about the quality of our life and our health than we think we do.

You talked about interviewing these world experts. You’ve created this documentary series, Healthy Long Life, and all those places around the world. Tell me a little bit about that.

You need to choose who you're listening to because there is a lot of contradicting information out there. Click To Tweet

I set out to get the best information that I could. I was fortunate to have a friend that had the passion too and helped me financially travel and get a great camera crew. We filmed a seven-part documentary series. In fact, in December of 2019, Netflix executives are watching it and telling us how much they’re going to get behind it or not. We’ll have some news out soon of the release date for that. That was the purpose of how we can increase the healthy life experience. We went to longevity capitals of the world, also known as the blue zones. That’s why we filmed in Sardinia. Not only did we interview the director of the longevity study in Sardinia, it’s called ProgeNIA, but we also interviewed two men that were in their late-90s or early and one man that was 102 years old.

We asked them, “What are you doing?” By the way, why men? Sardinia is the capital for men over 100 years old. There are more men over the age of 100 in Sardinia than anywhere else in the world. What I found was that these men are active. The two brothers that were 96 and 92 years old were at their work in a cafe when we interviewed them and they started talking about their family farm. I said, “I’d love to see that.” They said, “Come with us.” I got in their car and my camera guy got in their car while they were driving and they took us to their farm that they still work. They said, “We don’t shop. We grow all our own food for our family.” These guys are in their 90s working in the garden. I learned more from these longevity heroes than I did from the researchers to be honest.

Sardinia is a large Italian island. I am Sicilian on my mom’s side. Maybe I have some good epigenetics from all of that. Maybe all of that hard work and all that will come through, I’m hoping. That is fascinating. I had an aunt who died in 2018, she was my uncle’s wife. She wasn’t a blood relative. She made it to 103. The last ten years were not great because she can’t do anything. Everybody has to take care of her. All these people who say they want to live for so long, I think about her and I think, “She probably would have been better off if she didn’t make it to 103 mentally with everything she had to go through.” She could have been healthy to make it to 103. What are these causes of illness? Is it all because of the sugar? Is it all because we ate Teflon and we didn’t know it from all this stuff? What is it?

I love that you bring up sugar and Teflon because we all ate a lot of Teflon and we didn’t know about it. We’re all eating a lot of sugar and we do know about it. I like to start with what we do know because the unknowns will probably be a source of anxiety, fear and conspiracy theory for now. What we do know is absolutely what we’re eating is the number one factor. In fact, it’s more important what we’re eating than exercise. Exercise is right following up. It’s alarming the reports on obesity in children because they’re looking at their phones all day long. They’re not getting exercise anymore. Whereas in my generation, if we were inside the house, we’re in trouble, “Get out there, go play.” For the next generation, we’ve got to get our kids active but diet is important. I remember when George W. Bush was in office, he put out a statement on cancer and it was based on facts provided by the National Cancer Institute. It said that 50% of cancers could be prevented by eating more fruits and vegetables. I was like, “Wow.” The government knows this, but few people are doing anything about it.

We hear some contradictory things. It used to be fruit was good, but orange juice is almost all sugar and then they’re saying sugar is causing inflammation. Inflammation is what’s causing heart disease. How do you know what to eat anymore?

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: Curiosity absolutely is one of the greatest assets you have for your health.


You do need to choose who you’re listening to. There is a lot of contradicting information out there. You’re 100% right on the orange juice. There are experts out there that say, “We’re not supposed to be drinking any extracts or anything that’s pressed or squeezed.” We’re supposed to be eating our foods as a whole. Whole-food plant-based, that’s the most nourishing to our bodies. Even the experts that are not telling you, “You have to be vegan or vegetarian,” they will hold up studies that will say, “You need to limit the amount of animal product that you are doing.”

You mentioned the Max Planck Institute. I went there to interview one of the top experts in their Department of Biological Mechanisms of Ageing. I was speaking to Dr. Sebastian Groenke. He was sharing with me their data and what they have found is that caloric restriction or smaller portion size is the number one factor to being more healthy and living longer. I asked him, “What calories should we be eating?” He said, “Our findings talk about eating less no matter what it is. Also, because inflammation is the gateway to all illnesses.” That information is starting to get out there. He said to reduce animal products like meats, dairies, and things like that will also give you a better advantage. I like to share that information because I’m not preaching to everybody. You have to be plant-based whole foods to live a quality of life.

In an interview that I had with Dr. T. Colin Campbell from Cornell University, he’s the researcher that published the China Study. Basically, the lowest incidence of cancer is in China where the people were not eating any meat products. I asked Dr. Campbell, “Are you telling me you have to be a vegan?” He said, “No, but the data supports that the closer you are to that, the less incidence of disease you’ll have.” I love the way he said that. It’s like, “You don’t have to be, but here’s what the data support.”

My husband reads all this stuff because he’s a physician. Being a plastic surgeon, he doesn’t deal with it in the same way as other people. He likes to read a lot of this and he talked about how a lot of the research shows that we wouldn’t have made it to where we are as a society if we weren’t eating meat. That if you stuck to a completely vegetarian diet, your brain wouldn’t have developed in certain ways. Every time I talked to him, he’s got new research and new things, but the things that seem to be staying constant is sugar is going to cause inflammation and is going to kill you. I said, “Are you sure?” That one seems to be held by a lot of people. I think the high carb diets are probably not as good for you as others. I can’t buy into this, it’s good to eat lard type of thing. I know that they’re saying a lot of them are this high fat, but I guess it’s my instincts that go, “That doesn’t sound right.” How do you feel about that?

Personally, I do lab work quarterly. If I make any dietary changes, I document what happens. Even looking at the basics like my glucose levels, my triglycerides and my cholesterol, since everything else you have to be a medical doctor to have a clue what that is. Maybe we might understand hemoglobin. I don’t want to be anemic. What I can tell you, the surprising thing is that, for example diabetes, everybody says, “Sugar, watch out.” The reality is it has a lot more to do with oil than it does with sugar. When you’re eating a diet that’s high in fats, your insulin receptors in your bodies become blocked. If you’re eating close to zero oil, you can enjoy all the fruit you want, not juices because that’s too concentrated, but whole food fruits you can eat them to your heart’s desire and not have problems with diabetes. There’s a lot of misinformation and I would even say disinformation. One of the things I set out to do with the documentary was to cut the gap between commercial information about health and the actual research. That’s why I’m grateful God opened the doors to a place like the World Health Organization to interview the Director of Nutrition. It was interesting. That’s what people can look forward to seeing in the documentary series called Healthy Long Life.

Caloric restriction or smaller portion size is the number one factor to being healthier and living longer. Click To Tweet

You talked about how curiosity is important in healthcare. We were talking about your curiosity to interview all these people, but how do you think curiosity ties into what people can do to feel better?

Curiosity is important because there’s a bunch of information that could be easier to shut down and not investigate or take whatever your primary care physician tells you as being the absolute truth. To start, I would say that nobody is the owner of absolute truth. Nobody owns that. The biggest expert in the world that sounds right, you should be curious and you should look further for yourself. I think curiosity is one of the greatest assets you have for your health. It’s asking questions like, “Is it the sugar or is it the oil? Is it the lard or is it this?” Let’s check it out.

One thing I tried to do in the documentary is I shared many points of view. I’m not sure if I’m going to make a lot of people on different sides of issues happy or upset with me because I didn’t try to edit. I went out and tried to document and talking about veganism. I live in a world surrounded by researchers on the sites of the whole food plant-based. I love that philosophy. When I went into these societies like Sardinia, they were eating animal products and they were eating a lot of olive oil and they’re living forever. In my curiosity, I’m like, “This goes against what I’m reading and it goes against my belief system.”

Did they cook on Teflon?

I did not see any Teflon, that’s for sure. I saw them working in their own garden. I saw them not using cow milk, but they had a couple of goats in their backyard. They would go and they would milk the goat. Since it took all that work to get a little bit of milk, they weren’t drinking that much. They just made the cheese, they weren’t buying. It was goat cheese.

TTL 644 | Better Brain Health
Better Brain Health: Love yourself and love that body enough to look at your lab work and do something about it.


Was there any ice cream in there?

Not while I was there, but I was only there for a week. Italy is famous for gelato, but up there in the granite mountain of Sardinia, I didn’t see any gelato going on, not to say they don’t. The goats for them living in a day’s gone by. They’re still living like probably they were 100 years ago. They’re not slaughtering the goats every day because that’s their source of cheese. They weren’t eating all of these processed nitrate-full deli meats and things. They were eating goat a couple of times a month. They have this balance.

Was there a lot of pasta?

A lot of vegetables, a lot of pasta, we had some homemade baked bread. The family took us into their home and they had their own fire oven inside the house. The guy went out and got branches from his garden to fire it up. It was amazing to be honest with you. I ate the olive oil there and it was amazing.

You hear the pasta and bread, and then you think carbs, and then they say carbs cause inflammation. You hear about Asian diets being good, but they eat so much rice, and again we’re back to carbs. That’s why you’re not supposed to eat white. You’re not supposed to be colorful. It’s hard to know what it is. People might read all this and still not know. I think it’s good to formulate your own opinions based on getting more than one source. It’s easy to buy into somebody’s book because, “You could eat all the ice cream you want and lose ten pounds a day.” I want that diet.

Everybody's body style and form are beautiful. We should celebrate that. Click To Tweet

To me, I’m going to measure the success of my documentary by going, “Did I spark curiosity in people to go find their own answers?” That’s why I tried not to provide just the answer, but I try to provide something that would capture your interests like, “I’m going to take a look at this.” To comment back on carbs, pasta, and all of that, you can’t reduce it to one thing. You have to look at the whole of their lifestyle. What I would say is that in those societies, they’re not overeating. Their portion sizes are a third of what is on the plates here in the United States and they’re active. They’re eating pasta, but it didn’t come from a box. I went where they were growing their own grain. If it’s coming in a box and a package, it’s been processed. In these societies where they’re living longer, they’re making stuff by hand on a daily basis and they’re eating less because it takes a whole lot of work to make it. Their lives aren’t centered around just eating. They’re centered a lot more around family relationships and hard work.

I got back from London and every time I go to different countries, you look at how the size of human beings is in terms of overweight in other countries versus the United States. It’s so apparent here. Anybody goes on a cruise, you see large, overweight people attending and they’re always from the United States. We have this different idea of how important food is. It’s interesting. You mentioned the calories. As we talk about calories, it makes me think, does everybody have the same needs? Is it boiling down to calories or the combinations of food? I require a lot more calories than other people. I’m hyper, I burn through food faster it seems like some other people. Is there blood type? Is there any of that? Does all that have any place in this?

I don’t know a lot about blood type. That didn’t come up a whole lot, but I’ve read books, Eat Right For Your Type and things like that. I couldn’t comment much on that. I would say that each person’s body and metabolism is different. The concept of being born with the metabolism, there is some truth to that. The other thing that’s wild is that the intestinal flora is different in people. You may be able to eat three times as much the carbs as another person because your intestinal flora can deal with that. Science is going toward transplants of flora to people to help them lose weight.

We have this big push in society to not body shame. Everybody’s body style and form are beautiful. I would say on the emotional side we should celebrate that. If you’re sitting there in a body that you know is way overweight, you could love yourself and then you could say, “Is this going to lead to increased medical bills and unnecessary young death?” If so, maybe I don’t look in the mirror to judge myself, but I look at my lab work, I look at my heart rate and I make a decision to do something about that. It’s not because I want to look better in the mirror. Love yourself. Love that body no matter what size or form it is, but love it enough to look at your lab work and do something about it.

A lot of people could learn a lot from your work and I hope that your documentary series, Healthy Long Life, is something that people check out when it airs. In the meantime, how can people reach you or find out more?

Please visit our website, which is That’s pretty easy to remember. Our tagline is “Healthy long life, want one?” If your answer is no, that’s another website you should go to. If your answer is yes, visit us at You can find us on social media like Facebook @HealthyLongLifeFilm or it could be @HLLFilm depending on whether it’s a Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Our website is a great place to start. We put a bunch of resources on there. When you’re watching the interviews and you think, “What Michael Greger said resonated with me.” You can go on our website and find Michael Greger and get connected to his website, which is We’re trying to make the documentary and the website a place where people can start and go find their own answers. I’m not trying to provide answers, I’m trying to provide pathways for you to find your own answers.

Thank you, Daniel. This was interesting. I hope a lot of people check out your site. I appreciate having you on the show.

I enjoyed it very much. It was great to hear a little bit about your family as well and to meet Dr. Hamilton, who’s the hyper doctor that helps people.

I’d like to thank both Dave and Daniel for being my guests. We get many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to You can find everything there from the radio show to Curiosity Code information and more. Please check it out and please join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Dave Kenney

TTL 644 | Better Brain HealthDave Kenney is the Co-Founder and Executive Director at Emergo Recovery, a private, residential recovery and wellness center focused on a brain-first approach specializing in Actualized Recovery®.

Dave has dedicated his extensive career to helping individuals reclaim their life after struggles with addictions, anxiety, depression and other debilitating challenges.


About Daniel Kennedy Contreras

TTL 644 | Better Brain HealthDaniel Kennedy Contreras is a psycho-oncology counselor who has served as chief executive officer and vice-chair of Oasis of Hope Hospital since 1993. His grandfather, Dr. Ernesto Contreras, Sr., founded the hospital in 1963.

For the last twenty-seven years, he has counseled and ministering to patients. His three master’s degrees are in counseling, ministry and business.


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