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Mark Hyman, MD

Healing the Broken Brain Syndrome

March 2009

By Donna Caruso



Not too long ago, it was thought that you are born with certain genes and you are simply stuck with them. Now, we are beginning to explore the world of “gene expression,” finding that we can often control the way our inherited genes manifest themselves. Dr. Hyman finds this discovery both challenging and significant.

“There’s a whole new emerging science called nutrigenomics,” he says, “And it’s extremely exciting to see that changes in the diet can have extraordinary effects on changing the way your genes are working or not working.” He cites a recent study that put two groups of obese men and women on diets with identical calories, but different sources of carbohydrate: one group ate wheat, oats, and potatoes, while the second group ate rye and pasta. “Rye has unique properties called phytonutrients,” he explains, “And they actually improve insulin sensitivity.” After 12 weeks on these diets, the scientists looked at DNA expression patterns and found that about 60 genes that promote obesity, inflammation, oxidative stress, and diabetes were turned on in the group that ate wheat, oats, and potatoes, while the group that ate rye and pasta had more than 70 genes that did the reverse.”

Dr. Hyman points to this study as important evidence that we can use food and nutrients as medicine, and use them very effectively for the prevention of many health disorders.

Staying Young

Balancing hormones is also a part of Dr. Hyman’s program. He notes that in the US, there are three big epidemics of hormonal imbalance: too much insulin (from sugar intake); too much cortisol and adrenaline (from stress); and not enough thyroid hormone. He says that all three interconnect and affect our sex hormones.

“I believe that most of the symptoms of aging we see are really symptoms of abnormal aging or dysfunction that are related to imbalances in our core body systems,” he concludes. Dr. Hyman recommends bioidentical hormones, which he says can be “life-saving” when used correctly.

How the Doctor Stays Well

As a physician who is strongly motivated to solve medical puzzles, Dr. Hyman has paid close attention to his own health since his bout with mercury poisoning. “I have the unique benefit of knowing my particular genetic potholes,” he says, “And I also know I had chronic fatigue and work very hard, so I take a number of supplements to help me deal with that.”

Dr. Hyman’s personal supplement program includes the following:

  • Multivitamin

  • Fish oil

  • Vitamin D3

  • Magnesium

  • Coenzyme Q10

  • Acetyl-L-carnitine

  • Methylating nutrients (such as vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid).

Dr. Hyman’s overall wellness plan? “I keep my gut healthy, keep myself free of toxins, and keep my mitochondria healthy. I exercise at least four or five times a week, get enough sleep, eat whole, real food, keep my sugar intake at a minimum, enjoy alcohol as a treat once in a while, and make sure I hit the pause button every day or two.”

A Life With Goals

In The UltraMind Solution, Dr. Hyman writes, “My goal for all of you is to live your life as you were meant to live it—a life full of energy, vitality, pleasure, and happiness.” Noting that, “The brain is not disconnected from the rest of the body as many practitioners of conventional medicine would have you believe,” he hopes to change the way we treat mental problems and help us realize that the causes often lie in places where we haven’t been looking: our diet, nutrient deficiencies, and toxins that have invaded our bodies.

“The future of medicine is personalized treatment, not ‘one size fits all,’” he explains. In his campaign to bring the principles of functional medicine to a wider population, Dr. Hyman recently met with senators from the working group on health care reform in Washington. He hopes the results will be evident in the new administration’s approach to health care.

A Life With Goals

“I told them that we have to keep up with the rest of the developed nations, in which we are 19th out of 19 in all health care outcomes,” he says. “We have to stop pharmaceutical advertising on television, we have to stop junk food marketing to children, because 40% of the time, when patients are in their doctor’s office and request something they saw on television, they get it. The government has to protect us from that and I think it’s a critical issue that has to be dealt with.

“The other thing is that we need to retrain our doctors and train a new generation of doctors to think and practice in a way where drugs will be one tool, but not the only tool. I’m concerned about using the right tool for each person at the right time.” Dr. Hyman adds that, “Our goal in medicine should be to find the right ‘medicine’ for each person, without prejudice, whether it is a drug, a nutrient, diet change, detoxification, a hormone, exercise, or exorcism!”

In addition, Dr. Hyman has been helping to train physicians in functional medicine. “The Institute for Functional Medicine has trained over 1,000 practitioners, including 50 academic physicians and fellows from 20 major medical schools who are going through the program,” he explains.“We have research projects starting at Harvard and we’re putting together a certification program in functional medicine.” For Dr. Hyman, spreading the word through books, lectures, seminars, and meetings is the easy part.

“The hardest part of being a doctor is helping people connect to why they want to heal,” he says. In this pursuit, Dr. Hyman tries to understand each individual, what that person wants, what is important to him or her, and what provides “meaning and purpose.”

In his latest book, Dr. Hyman offers a new and revolutionary way of seeing brain disorders in a positive, encouraging format that is readily accessible to anyone willing to try it. He constantly reminds us that we need to forget the old idea that the cause of a “broken brain” is totally within the brain and can only be helped through psychotherapy and drugs. He tells us that we need to think in a new way and realize that most of these difficulties are caused by biological imbalances that can be corrected. “What you do to your body you do to your brain,” Dr. Hyman says. “Heal your body and you heal your brain.”

Dr. Mark Hyman is the founder and medical director of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous books including The UltraMind Solution, The UltraSimple Diet, and UltraMetabolism.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Health Advisor at 1-800-226-2370.

Dr. Hyman’s Nutritional Recommendations


Nutrients that support the synthesis of serotonin or norepinephrine help promote happiness and well-being:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Tryptophan

  • Phosphatidylcholine

  • Phosphatidylserine

  • Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid

  • Tyrosine

  • Magnesium

  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)


Nutrients that increase the inhibitory neuro-transmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) help promote relaxation and may soothe anxiety:

  • GABA (as a dietary supplement)

  • Theanine

  • Taurine

  • Inositol

  • Vitamins B3, B6, and B12

  • Magnesium

  • Valerian

  • Passionflower

  • Hops

Memory Disorders

Nutrients that increase acetylcholine may help support memory, learning, and focus:

  • Vitamin B5

  • Choline

  • Phosphatidylcholine

  • Phosphatidylserine

  • Glycerophosphocholine

  • Huperzine A

  • Ginkgo biloba


Nutrients that support the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine help promote focus, concentration, and motivation:

  • Tyrosine

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Phosphatidylcholine

  • Phosphatidylserine

  • Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid