Revolutionary Psychiatrist Dr. Amen on Brain Health, happiness & world’s largest database of brain scans

Dr. Daniel Amen is a classically trained, board-certified psychiatrist who is directly impacting the way we treat brain health. Throughout a three-decade career, he has accumulated the world’s largest database of brain scans—over 200,000 on patients from 155 countries. As one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists and brain health experts, his extensive celebrity client list includes Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Pastor Rick Warren. He has been hailed “The number one neuroscience guy on the planet” by well-known life coach Brendan Burchard, and his work has been featured in major media outlets like CNN, Entertainment Tonight, and The Washington Post. 

Deemed “America’s Most Popular Psychiatrist,” Dr. Amen has published over 120 works and produced 15 national public television shows about the brain. By treating the brain as an organ, his approach to mental health differs from other psychiatrists. Classifying his subject matter as “brain health” as opposed to mental illness, he focuses on treating the brain itself to improve a person’s overall well-being. He is well-known for using SPECT imaging to examine brain activity and blood flow. 

Dr. Amen’s studies offer an alternative to traditional diagnoses and treatment, utilizing a combination of nutrition, supplements and medicine to restore and heal the brain. A study he conducted with NFL players in 2008 who had suffered traumatic brain injuries showed a remarkable 80 percent recovery rate. “This has shown that the brain can heal,” said Dr. Amen. 

His recent endeavors include the 30-day Happiness Challenge, which saw over 32,000 participants enroll in a program to reduce pandemic-induced stress, anxiety and depression using prescriptions based on the individual’s brain type. His Influencer Series scans brains of notable figures like Jennie Garth, Jay Shetty, Lewis Howes and Hannah Brown and discusses the results of their mental and brain health. And in his latest book, “You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type,” he educates readers on how to become 30 percent happier in just 30 days regardless of age, upbringing or genetics. 

Dr. Amen’s unconventional methods are creating a paradigm shift in the way psychiatric issues are treated. Seeking to dispel stigmas around the use of the term “mental illness,” he hopes to change the conversation to brain health and create healthier, happier people, one brain at a time. 

THE FUTURE OF BRAIN HEALTH

LASM: Can you talk about the correlation between what you eat and the health of your brain? 

Dr. Amen: For the last 30 years, I’ve been looking at the brain with a study called brain SPECT imaging. One of the big lessons is that your brain is an organ, just like your heart is an organ. When your brain works right, you work right. When you’re anxious, when you’re sad, you’re not nearly as pretty as when your brain is healthy. Diet makes a huge difference to the health of your brain and how you feel, think, and act.

LASM: You have doctors from all these different fields, and everybody analyzes the organ they treat except psychiatrists. Can you touch on that? 

Dr. Amen: I’m a classically trained psychiatrist. I trained at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. I’m also a child psychiatrist. When I fell in love with psychiatry, I fell in love with the only medical specialty that never looks at the organ it treats, and I knew it was wrong. I just had no idea that I’d be part of the change. You go to the doctor and say, “I’m depressed,” and then [they give] you an antidepressant. I’m not opposed to medicine, I’m just opposed to putting somebody on something that will change their brain when you have no idea what the baseline function is. Many people get diagnosed with bipolar disorder or personality disorders when no one’s ever looked at their brain. These are brain health issues that steal people’s minds.

HEALTHY BRAINS DON’T HARM

Dr. Amen: In the spring of 1995, I got a call from my sister-in-law, who said my nine-year-old nephew attacked a little girl on the baseball field that day for no particular reason. I was horrified. 

But I’ve been scanning since 1991 and I suspected he had a left temporal lobe problem, because we had associated the left temporal lobe to violence. When I scanned him, he was actually missing the function in his left temporal lobe. It turned out he had a cyst the size of a golf ball occupying the space. When they drained the cyst, his behavior completely went back to normal. It’s been a 30-year battle, but if you don’t look you don’t know. Many people get diagnosed with bipolar disorder or personality disorders when no one’s ever looked at their brain, and that shames people. Quite frankly, I hate the term mental illness because it stigmatizes people. It makes them not want to get help. These are brain health issues that steal people’s minds.

When Sandy Hook happened, President Obama came out and said we need more money for mental health. I’m [thinking], “No, we need a different paradigm for mental health.” Adam Lanza, the Columbine killers, the Parkland killers, they had all seen psychiatrists. Almost all of them had taken medication. It’s the wrong paradigm. People with healthy brains don’t do that. 

THE ACTIVE PRACTICE OF HAPPINESS

LASM: You have over 32,000 participants in your Happiness Challenge. Can you tell us about that? 

Dr. Amen: Americans are unhappier now than we have been since the great depression. We’re coming out of the pandemic, we need to reset ourselves. Brain health, mental health, is a daily practice, just like eating right and working out. It’s a series of decisions you make over a long period of time. The framework is seven daily decisions. If you can make seven daily decisions to increase the health of your brain, you’re going to be happier. 

DR. AMEN’S 7 DAILY DECISIONS TO INCREASE YOUR BRAIN HEALTH & TO MAKE YOU HAPPIER

1 ) Know your brain type. 

2) Optimize the physical functioning of your brain. The question you should ask yourself every day is, “Is this good for my brain or bad for it?” If you can answer that with information and love, you’re going to start making better decisions. 

3) Nourish your brain. There are supplements that make you happier. 

4) Only love foods that love you back. You’re in a relationship with food. Are you in a good relationship or an abusive relationship? 

5) Master your mind and gain psychological distance from the noise in your head. This is really about not believing every stupid thing you think. 

 6) Notice what you like about other people more than what you don’t. Couples who’ve noticed what they like more than what they don’t are significantly less likely to get divorced. 

7) Live each day based on clearly defined values, purpose and goals. “Does my behavior fit the goals I have for my life?” 

Credit: Amen Clinics
Interview by Tricia Love Vargas

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