Keeping Your Brain Healthy, with Cholet Josué, M.D. | EDB 178

Psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and physician Cholet Josué, M.D. gives tips for a healthy brain.

(23 minutes) In this episode, Dr. Hackie Reitman talks with Dr. Cholet Josue, a psychiatrist, a neuroscientist, a physician, and author of the book “12 Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child”. Join Hackie and Cholet as they talk about Cholet’s unique journey to the States, the three things we all need to live a good life, and how we can maintain proper brain health and sharpness by forming new connections throughout the course of your life.

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Meeting Cholet Josué, M.D.

HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today, we’re very excited to have Dr. Cholet Josue from the Washington, DC area, down there, Washington DC, Maryland… This guy is a psychiatrist, a neuroscientist, a physician… he’s everything. He’s going to tell you all about it. Cholet please introduce yourself more properly.  

CHOLET JOSUÉ, M.D. (CJ): All right, Dr. Hackie. Hi, everyone. I am Cholet Josue. I am a physician, I practice medicine in the Washington, DC area and I’m glad to be here so I can share my knowledge with everyone.  

Cholet’s journey to America

HR: Well, thank you so much for coming. You’ve had such an exciting life and I want you to know I’m up to page 70 of this exciting book “12 Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child: Cholet Kelly Josue” and I gotta tell you, you’ve been to the prom! You did it. You came over here in a boat… now you’re of Haitian extraction but you were born in the Bahamas, is that correct?  

CJ: Yes, my parents, they migrated to the Bahamas, and I was born there. Then they took me to Haiti when I was four years old.  

HR: And then, you ended up on a boat coming over to the United States.  

CJ: Yeah. You know, those parents, they decide what to do with you until you’re an adult, so one day, they just told me to pack up and leave everything, and you have to do what you’re told.  

Studying neuroscience

HR: How did you gravitate toward neuroscience?  

CJ: You know, interestingly, I… when I got to Florida, of course, I was depressed leaving all my friends, asking myself, “Why? Why couldn’t I live in my society, given that we know… I know potentially we’re all equally smart?” So when I went to medical school I said, “You know, I need to know something about human behavior.” I concluded that it had to do with human behavior, so it was between neurosurgery and something in neuroscience. I love cutting, I love surgery, but I was more interested in finding answers for myself. Why do human beings… why do we behave certain ways? So that’s how I went into psychiatry and neurosciences.  

Growing up as an immigrant

HR: Well, you had, you know… and your book tells the story, but tell our audience, you know, the journey how you got from the Bahamas to Haiti to the United States.  

CJ: Well, my parents, as I mentioned, they’re originally from Haiti, and in the 1960s, Haitians were going to the Bahamas to find work, and they had us there, but knowing they needed a community to raise their children, they took us to Haiti, which has been the greatest gift of my life because I grew up in a very wholesome village. Then, the country started becoming destabilized with political turmoil, although we – I mean, I was young; I was a kid; I just wanted to be with my friends – the adults knew we had no future in Haiti, and my mom had already been in Miami, and I was the boy. I was supposed to go and I was destined to be somewhere outside Haiti. If it weren’t for the Bahamas, it would be in the US, so one day, my uncle, with whom I was living when my mom left, decided when to ship me out.  

HR: So how old were you when you got in the boat?  

CJ: I was 16. I was just turning 16. Yeah, I had never been… actually we lived… my city is like a few yards from the ocean. I had never been on the ocean before, so it was an adventure, but you know, I trusted, you know, my parents and my uncle, so yeah.  

HR: Now, as a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, I’m very proud that the Boys & Girls Club played a big part for you.  

CJ: Well, yeah, you know, like we’re saying in what we know about the human brain, no, science says we all need three things to live a good life: good health; food, water, and shelter; but one of the most important things is community. A community supports you, and so when I got here, a new country, no culture, I actually was crying for the next… for six months, and I had my cousin then, who lived a few blocks away from the Boys & Girls Club, so the Boys Club basically became my instant community, actually, although I did not know a word of English, and you know the greatest thing about the Boys & Girls Club: the kids didn’t treat me any different from them. And so, you know, that was my savior from… I didn’t want to stay at my mom’s house because there was no one I knew there, so I hang out with my cousin’s, his house is next to, almost a few blocks from the Stephanis Boys and Girls Club, so it was my home away from home.  

The developing brain

HR: Now, I want to read an excerpt from you book here which struck me, and I’d like you to comment on it.  

CJ: Okay.  

HR: In “12 Unending Summers” on Page 71, Chapter 9, quote, I’m just reading here, “Resilience, perseverance, optimism, self-control, and a sense of shared values in a collective community: all are indispensable in building a foundation of emotional stability for a child to move forward into adulthood.” Expound upon that if you could.  

CJ: So, here’s what we know about the human brain: when we’re born, the act of being birthed into the world, being born into the world is actually very tragic, scary stuff. As children, the world is very scary, and so, we need the comfort of the environment of the people around us. So, a little child goes somewhere and knock his or her head against a wall. They’re going to run to the people that comfort them, that give them food and water and shelter, so nature has it that way. The brain is… the world is new and scary, so if you’re comforted against obstacles in the world, and the people there, where you grow up, they reinforce it, that builds resilience. That teaches you the world is not totally bad. So growing up in Haiti, we didn’t have the luxury of first world. But what kids needed – need – is a community, people to make you believe in yourself, and I was fortunate by the time I was 11, I knew could rule the world. My parents taught me to respect people, to be kind, but also to believe that it’s not only about you. Then, once you know that and you – growing up – and you didn’t know you were going to overcome obstacles, but what the early nurturing gives you – that the world’s not totally bad, that there are good people. You know, there are bad things that happen, but that nurturing that’s ingrained in your brain early makes you believe in people in the world.  

HR: Well, now we’ll fast forward to now. Tell us about your practice.  

CJ: So let me tell you my practice. I went into medicine to heal people. I came to Maryland at Sheppard Pratt to do a fellowship in neuropsychiatry, and I was fortunate to meet my mentor, who told me one day – he changed my life; one day, he told me – he’s from Greece – he told me that your doctor should be a priest, a healer, and a teacher. From that day on, my life was changed. My goal is to help people, to heal people. So I am a Scientist; I have a BS in chemistry; I totally believe in science, but I believe in healing the human body: mind, body, and spirit. So, I’m moving towards integrated medicine, meaning that use food as medicine, to make sure that – and use modern medicine also – to help people to live the better life. So, when I meet people in my practice, I tell them about how to maintain physical brain health, ’cause the brain is the only thing we have  

Understanding the human brain

HR: Well, you’re on a roll. Let’s keep going about the human brain.  

CJ: Okay. The human brain, when I… The human brain’s the only thing that we have to absorb the world, the universe. So, when I mention that we need three things to live a good life: food, water, and shelter, financial stability; good health – ’cause if you and I are in pain here, we wouldn’t be able to listen to each other – and a nurturing community. Those three resources, the only organ in our body that houses them is the human brain. Now, how do we get the tools that we need to get them the right way? We have 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell; those are the informations; those are by which we receive informations, to get the informations into our head, so we can get the resources. So, it’s paramount that we learn to maintain the physical health of the brain.  

Tools for a healthy brain

HR: Let’s talk about… I want to focus – as we do here at – we focus on tools that are helpful and do good. Now, you know a lot about the diet that’s good for the brain, anti-inflammatory, you know, healthy kind of diet. Let’s start with the diet and nutrition, and you might want to start by talking about your interpretation of the gut-brain connection.  

CJ: Okay. So, we know that… we’ve been doing research; we know that we have normal bacterial flora in our gut that affects, literally affects, I mean, the blood in our gut travels everywhere, so the bacteria in our gut, good or bad, it affects our sense of mental wellness, so through that, we have treated patients who have anxiety with probiotics by missing the bacteria in their gut with good bacteria that we have created in probiotics. Probiotics, basically, it’s replacing – good bacteria which we create in the lab – to replace the flora of bacteria that are not healthy in our gut. The reason: there are a lot of receptors in our gut. In fact, serotonin, most of the receptors, a good number of the receptors in our body is in our gut, so we know there is a link.

So, if there is a link – and now we have to talk about where is the connection – between the brain and the gut and to know what bacteria affects them and to treat them both equally because we, in fact, it is known that most of our illnesses originate from the gut. So, we’re now creating, having a lot of experiments, we know that the strong correlation between diseases of the brain and the gut. For the other thing I will tell you is that our mouth, that we have just discovered is that flossing is one of the most important thing we can do to maintain our health but help out with the brain because the bacteria in our teeth, they now are thinking that it may be causing cognitive decline including dementia. So, those are the link that we’re now establishing between the brain and the gut, but what we know now is that most, a lot of these processes have inflammatory processes, so then, we are now telling patients to include in their diet anti-inflammatory ingredients. So, those are the link between the brain and the gut.

A brain-healthy diet

HR: What are some of the foods that are best for anti-inflammatory?  

CJ: Okay, I did research following some of the best researchers. The most powerful anti-inflammatory are turmeric, garlic, ginger, actually, all the good spices, but surprisingly, red bell pepper had the highest concentration of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is also a very powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient, and so all the spices, but we now know that turmeric has a lot of powerful anti-inflammatory active ingredients. Clove, too. Clove is actually one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients, so a lot of the spices have anti-inflammatory ability. So…  

HR: Now, in addition to good diet, what are the other tools you use for your own brain?

CJ: Well, so I was thinking last night we have five senses to have input, so what I do… say that we… our eyes, our sight: It is good to keep our sight active with the brain. For instance, I sometimes drive and I take time to look at the flight path of an airplane. It’s really to keep the… all the senses are very linked to a certain specific part of our brain, so I use sight, sometimes I take time to see the color of the Moon. Take time to see things that normally we don’t have time in our busy, busy fast lives…  


HR: Well, that’s kind of a segue into mindfulness.  

CJ: Yes, but it’s also creating connections. One of the… so what I do also is music. I play piano and some guitar. What I do with specifically with the brain sometimes, so I will be listening to music – reggae for instance – I will take the bass and follow it from the from the beginning to the end, and I would do three instruments; I would do four instruments. That way, I’m keeping the parts of my brain that’s listening to complex music active. Smells – that we know now – that one of the first signs of cognitive decline, dementia is loss of smell. I’m getting more into essential oils ’cause we know that the most stimulated part of the brain for smell, it’s also linked to memory. And so touch: one of the things I do… I used… I’ve been dance… I’m doing dancing, social dancing. Social dancing is known as the most complete exercise for the brain ’cause it has a cognitive part, it has a social part, it actually has also… cognitive, social… it also… exercise, so that’s one of the most complete exercise we can do for the brain. So I try to, and also what I’m doing now, I’m starting to learn new things that I didn’t learn before. Chess, I have some chess… I’m going to start learning them, even solo or with people.

So the goal is to try to learn new things, and one of the other important things is to talk to people who are critical thinkers, who don’t think like us, hopefully think about good things, ’cause it forces us to create new circuitry in the brain, so it’s really about learning new things that creates new, like, parallel circuitry in the brain that keeps not only our brain active, sharp, but also that prevent cognitive decline. We know those things work.  


HR: That’s great. That’s very helpful. Are there any topics we haven’t covered so far today that you would like to cover in regard to the brain?  

CJ: Okay, one of the topics we haven’t covered is talking about how to maintain brain health, sharpness. So I’m actually writing one of my next phase in my professional life is to talk about the three most important tools that we need to live a good life: Self-compassion, which tells us to have… to show care and concerns for ourselves, to accept our imperfections, that’s also very important brain tools to lower our stress because we know that chronic stress and anxiety affects us physically, cardiovascular, it increase inflammation, and the more stressed we are, it acts on our cognitive ability.

So self-compassion, to practice self-compassion to accept ourselves… ’cause when we do that, we are more at ease with ourselves, we’re more comfortable, we don’t compete with other people, so it reduces our stress. The other one is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence teaches us to learn to speak to other people in a way for all of us to gain, both individually and collectively. So speaking to people is one of the most important way of maintaining our brain sharpness. And the third thing is critical thinking. Active critical thinking is a very important brain exercise, to make sure that you are looking at things in multiple ways, that you know you are aware of your cognitive biases… things that I actually believe in subconsciously, I fight against. So those three tools, actually… If we talk about brain health, we have to include them because they influence our health, they influence our financial stability, and they very much influence who we have around us.  

HR: Excellent summation. Well, how do our viewers and listeners… how do they learn more about you? What’s the best way? What’s your website?  

CJ: My website is, I am… that’s my personal website. I am on Facebook, I am on Twitter, and I will be blogging with you guys, Different Brains, but if you’re interested in seeing the blogs I’m blogging – I’ve been blogging for the past 11 months; a lot of them are about brain science – check my website and also my Facebook, my Twitter page, I have Instagram also. And the other thing I’m interested in doing: talking about healing. One of the things I want to do as far as being a physician and a healer is start becoming a storyteller, to go out and speak about self-compassion, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking in a storytelling way but with my drums, in a way to have conversation with people in a healing way. So I’ll be… look for me, look out for me in a place nearby. I’m looking forward to coming down South Florida. I’m in the DMV on the Washington District area, so that’s the way you can contact me.  

HR: Great, that’s great. so the website and this book “12 Unending Summers”, excellent, and it’s a “Memoir of an Immigrant Child” by Cholet Kelly Josue, MD. You’ve been a pleasure to talk with you today…  

CJ: Thank you.  

HR: … and we look forward to having you back. You keep up the good work because as you say, the brain is where it’s all happening. That’s where it’s happening.  

CJ: Okay, thank you. Thank you, thank you for having me and I definitely look forward to coming back to South Florida.