The Most Important Lesson from 160,000 Brain Scans

The Most Important Lesson from 160,000 Brain Scans

The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on so many people. To try to battle it, we’re spending trillions of dollars, making people stay home, and damaging our mental well-being. But what’s really irritating is that nobody is talking about the really big issue. Why are there more deaths in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world? Japan has 126 million people and less than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19. Why does the U.S. have over 70,000 deaths?

The Bible verse John 8:32 is applicable here: “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

COVID-19 is attacking us because as a society we are sick. We have damaged immune systems due to the Standard American Diet (SAD) and because dermatologists won the battle and have made us afraid of the sun. This has resulted in low vitamin D levels, which drains the immune system.

On top of this, what other society’s population is 72% overweight and 40% obese? Amen Clinics has published two studies showing that as your weight goes up the size and function of your brain go down. Excess fat on the body produces inflammatory cytokines, which can be a problem with COVID-19. With COVID-19, people develop pneumonia, which sparks an immune response, and this inflammation can cause what’s being called a “cytokine storm.” If you’re already inflamed from too much fat on your body, your chances of surviving that storm are a lot lower.

That’s not all. Half of the people in America are diabetic or prediabetic. And 60% have hypertension or prehypertension. These underlying chronic health conditions make you more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19. Rather than spending trillions of dollars and scrambling to find a vaccine, we should start putting in the effort to get healthy as a society. That would be a much better use of our resources.

That’s just one of the things we’ve learned at Amen Clinics from 160,000 brain scans.

Here are the other most important lessons brain imaging has taught us.

Lesson 1. Current psychiatric diagnostic models are outdated because they don’t assess the brain

The typical way most people are diagnosed and treated for mental health issues is by going to a professional and telling that person their symptoms. If you have 5 of 8 symptoms that are listed in the DSM, which is like the Bible of psychiatry, you get a diagnosis. For example, if you tell them you’re depressed, then they give you a diagnosis with the same name as what you just told them. And then they give you antidepressants, which in large-scale studies work no better than placebo. (When we target the right medication to the right brain, it works better.)

Or if you say, “I’m anxious,” you usually get an “anxiety disorder” diagnosis and end up with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepines that increase your risk for dementia later in life. Or you say, “I can’t concentrate,” and they say you have ADD and give you a stimulant but without asking why you have trouble concentrating. Is it because of a head injury or something else?

Or, my favorite diagnosis to explain the insanity of the current diagnostic model is if you have temper problems, and you explode intermittently. There’s a diagnosis called intermittent explosive disorder, or I.E.D. What the heck does that mean? Quite simply, it means you explode intermittently. The acronym is ironic, and these people often wind up in anger management classes or on any number of medications. But brain imaging shows us that this is usually from a   head injury to the left temporal lobes.

The current model is not based on any underlying neuroscience. It will tell you what it is, but it won’t tell you what causes it or what to do to fix it. That’s the first thing imaging taught me —that I had learned an outdated system.

Lesson 2. All psychiatric diagnoses are not single or simple disorders; they all have multiple types, and each requires its own treatment

Autism is not one thing. ADD is not one thing. I wrote a book called Healing ADD about the 7 types of ADD that sold about 500,000 copies. Brain imaging shows us that healthcare professionals need to stop giving everybody Ritalin. It’s a miracle for some people but a nightmare for others.

Lesson 3. Looking at the brain decreases stigma, increases compliance with treatment, and completely changes the discussion around mental health.

This is why I wrote my book The End of Mental Illness. I hate the term mental illness. And you should too. It’s wrong. They’re brain health issues that steal your mind. The term mental illness is stigmatizing, it’s shaming, and it causes people to not seek help because no one wants to be labeled as having a mental illness. But everybody wants a better brain.

Lesson 4. If what you’re doing is not working, look at the brain.

I had this one boy who had seen 6 psychiatrists, he had been in residential treatment and failed, and he had been in drug treatment and failed. After scanning his brain, it turned out he had a cyst the size of a tennis ball in his frontal lobe and temporal lobe. Do you really think psychotherapy is going to fix that? Is medication going to fix that? No! We had to drain the cyst, then work really hard to rehabilitate his brain.

Lesson 5. Looking at the brain completely changes the discussion about good and evil

It’s easy to call people bad. It’s a lot harder to ask why. I’ve scanned about 1,000 convicted felons and over 100 murderers. I published a study on murderers and most of them had very low activity in the frontal lobes. Does that mean they didn’t do it? No. Does that mean they aren’t responsible for it? No. But when you judge them you need to consider the biological underpinnings of why they did what they did.

Lesson 6. Looking at the brain helps to prevent mistakes.

Seeing the brain helps manage people’s cases by helping find the right treatment solutions and by seeing how the treatment is working or if it needs to be adjusted.

Lesson 7. Mild traumatic brain injuries ruin people’s lives, and nobody knows it.

Most psychiatrists never look at the brain, so they don’t realize that symptoms may be caused by underlying damage to the brain. One of my favorite patients had everything in life—he was good-looking and wealthy—but he woke up one morning with panic attacks. He went on Xanax, but it made him worse. Then he went on antidepressants and got even worse. Then he started having suicidal ideation. When we scanned him, you could see that he had suffered from a brain injury.

I asked when he had a brain injury, but he said he’d never had a brain injury. I pressed on, asking if he had ever fallen out of a tree, fallen off a fence, or dived into the shallow end of a pool. Then there was an a-ha moment. He recalled that two weeks before his first panic attack he’d had a bike accident on a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, and he cracked his helmet. He didn’t lose consciousness, but he didn’t feel right for a couple of days.

Repairing his brain repaired his life. How would I have known that his brain needed repair if we didn’t look?

Lesson 8. Toxins can prematurely age the brain.

Drugs and alcohol age the brain. Marijuana is legal now, and there are some medicinal benefits, but I’m not a fan of rampant use. At Amen Clinics, we did a study that shows it prematurely ages the brain.

Other things that cause premature aging include mold exposure and anesthesia. I saw this first-hand when my assistant had to have surgery for an aneurysm. We had scanned her brain previously, and she had a beautiful brain. But after the surgery, she seemed sadder and not as sharp as usual. Her SPECT scan showed that the anesthesia had damaged her brain. We helped rehabilitate her brain, and she was much better. But nobody tells you when you have surgery that it may harm your brain.

Our SPECT brain imaging work shows that people in certain professions—such as firefighters, who are exposed to carbon monoxide from fires—are more prone to having brains that look toxic.

Lesson 9. You’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better. I can prove it.

This is the most important lesson I have learned from 160,000 brain scans. I’ve done thousands of before-and-after SPECT scans, and they clearly show that the brain can improve. We did a study on over 300 NFL players, and over 80% of our players saw improvement after just two months of following the program we gave them. We’ve seen the brains of firefighters, police officers, soldiers, adults, elderly people, and children.

Even if you’ve been bad to your brain, if you get serious about making it better, you can change your brain and it will dramatically change the trajectory of your life.

You can find out more about how I got hooked on brain imaging and what we’ve learned from it in my book The End of Mental Illness and in this video below.

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. Thank you so much for all the wonderful work that you do.
    I would love to have one of your brain scans but live in the UK. I am 73 years of age. Fit and healthy. Perhaps when we can travel I will come over to one of your clinics. I am a mentor and RTT therapist who helps people with all kinds of issues. I follow all the advice in Dr Daniel Amen’s book End mental illness and recommend this book as the No 1. Must have book. I listen to all your podcasts to pass on your valuable information.

    Comment by Lynda Cant — May 6, 2020 @ 2:26 AM

  2. I love everything Dr Amen teaches and believes in. However, the average American can not afford out of pocket expenses for his type of treatment not even using the financial credit card they advise u to use to make payments. How can you really want things to change in America if you don’t address how the healthcare system works because if it’s not affordable most Americans aren’t going to your clinics so America will remain the same. Scans need to be more reasonable. Makes me so sad that there’s possibly help out there but because you can’t afford it you can’t get help. So the cycle continues. May God place it on your heart Dr. Amen to find a way to make your clinics and theory more affordable to All not just the upper class, the famous, and wealthy. Please don’t email me back to call the office. I know how much it cost

    Comment by April — May 6, 2020 @ 5:23 AM

  3. Dr. Amen:

    I was in your clinic/Chicago on 12/17/18. I had an evaluation by Dr. Michael Easton and SPECT scans. I have lost 75 pounds (on purpose, I needed to lose the weight) and have maintained my current weight for the last 9 months. I cut out grains, dairy and most sugar and feel great, physically. However, I am still struggling with my memory. This is very disturbing to me. I am taking recommended supplements, pre and pro biotics. I did begin taking an anti-depressant (Lexapro) about 3 months ago. My husband passed away in October 2019 and I was his caregiver for the previous 2 years of his life. This caused much stress, anxiety, sadness and irritation in me. I am still stressed, anxious and depressed, following his passing. I have tried reducing the dose of Lexapro, but felt worse, so went back to the full 20mg. dose, for now. My goal is to get off of this med ASAP, but need to get through this time, with its help.

    I follow you with your emails and the website, videos, etc.

    I am seeing my D.O and a neurologist. The neurologist has ordered an MRI, looking for mini strokes, but it was negative. He has now ordered a QEEG but I need to wait until COVID-19 settles down to schedule. I am hoping this test will tell him something. I have shared my SPECT scans with him, but he seems to dismiss their medical validity. I don’t.

    Do you have any suggestions? Could you review my scans and give me your thoughts on next steps that might help me?

    Thank you,
    Nina Arndt

    Comment by Nina L Arndt — May 6, 2020 @ 7:36 AM

  4. my daughter is 11 years old. last year she got injured at school. the school district tried to cover it up and Caliptoma will not approve any kind of brain scan. do you have any funding for very low income families?

    Comment by Pamela Perez — May 6, 2020 @ 7:56 AM

  5. Excellent article.

    Comment by Dr. Sharon — May 6, 2020 @ 8:09 AM

  6. John 8:32…Meaning is that if you continue to have a constant and living relationship with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit would lead you to Discipleship.. In .John’s Gospel chapter 16 it says when He the spirit of truth comes…the Holy Spirit is truth Himself…Excellent to realize you confirm the power and honesty of Spirituality…Genesis 1:29 “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” This is far removed from the Standard American Diet…Congratulations, for pointing out the illness brought on by consuming the Standard American Diet…
    Also, for admitting psychiatric diagnostic models are fallacious and dangerous for gullible patients who believe an education makes one an expert…I have always stressed to students…certified does not always relate to qualified…

    Don’t fear, when teaching in China in 2005 and 2006, I witnessed the American marketers populating bit cities in China with fast-food, processed meat garbage…The Chinese are loving it….In a couple of years the Chinese will be just as fat and unhealthy as those in the U.S…

    Enjoyed the video…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — May 6, 2020 @ 9:34 AM

  7. Hello,

    I need assistance with myself and my wife of 50 yrs.

    I am a wheelchair bound, disabled Vietnam veteran. I was diagnosed in 2003 with a slowly degenerative, sub cortical brain disease, OPCA; determined to be the result of my exposure to agent orange and neurotoxins in Vietnam. I also suffer from PTSD and a number of other ailments all related to my exposure.

    My wife, is having difficulties sleeping, paying attention and maintaining focus on tasks. Although she is rather defensive about this.

    What would be involved in obtaining a more thorough and accurate diagnosis and plans for the treatment of both of our difficulties. We live in Algonquin, IL, 60102.

    Thank you, stay well, and God bless,
    David Felten

    Comment by David Felten — May 6, 2020 @ 9:55 AM

  8. Hello David, thank you for reaching out. We’ll reach out to you directly. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 6, 2020 @ 12:06 PM

  9. Hello Nina, thank you for reaching out. We will reach out to you directly with options to assist you during this part of your journey to wellness and brain health. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 6, 2020 @ 12:07 PM

  10. 4 1/2 ago I suffered TBI after a fall and are still having huge probles this day due to a specific pathway by medical practitioners I have seen to date and have had so look for solutions myself because for that. I have anxiety as a result of TBI and this has affected in me getting the help I needed. One of the practitions tested me 2 1/2 ago for brain function and and the memory test showed a very low result to the level of someone that has dementia and need full time care. The practitioner noted I was frustrated and put the low score to me trying to overstate my problems. I now at last have seen a practitioner that has decided that somethigh is not right and I need to see a neurologist and ear, trough and nose specialist to get a proper diagnoses. This been a long tedious road with a lot of frustration.
    Articles like yours has made me more determinate to find the answer to my on goings problems.

    Comment by Karin O'Kennedy — May 6, 2020 @ 12:36 PM

  11. I agree totally!! We have a 29 yr old son who grew up diagnosed and medicated for ADHD and anxiety. He had begun to self medicate as a teenager and struggled in and out of recovery since! I met Dr. Amen at a Nerium convention and have followed ever since but it is way too expensive to private pay for his treatment-maybe one day??? I pray!!

    Comment by Patty — May 6, 2020 @ 1:52 PM

  12. I’m reading your revised book again. I believe it will save my life. I read the original several years ago, but didn’t follow through. Now I am 80 and I agree with so much of what you have said and prescribed. Thank you, Dr. A. By the way, I know 80 is olld but I’m in good health with few symptoms of the American Illness profile. But I’m on my way. I don’t feel old, and don’t act old, but my body is definitely slowing down. And my memory is deteriorating. That’s a reason to follow your prescription. Thank you.

    Comment by Norine Silverstein — May 6, 2020 @ 2:36 PM

  13. April I agree with you 100%. When I first heard about the Amen clinic, I thought, I thought I found the light until I called his office and was told about the cost. ,then I lost interest.
    What’s so sad is the healthcare system we have in the USA. With that many people needing the mental health treatments here, why are they not updating these treatments? Why are they playing with people’s health more in the wrong direction?
    I have epilepsy since I was 18yrs old, now 58. They put me on medication called “Dilantin”. This med, along with all others for this purpose, have a very long list of scary side effects, but my body accepted it. My neurologist(s) all they do is recommend to change this med because it’s too old. I listened to them 3 times and every time was a nightmare for me. Side effects were suicidal, depressive, inability to focus, make decisions, mobility difficulties ( suddenly my brain stopped cooperating with my fingers), I lose balance for no reason. I had to beg my neorologist(s) to put me back on the Dilantin. Last change was in September 2019 and my brain is not the same still today. I am in a dilemma now. I checked myself to the emergency room yesterday for unbearable pain in my left leg. Turned out a blood clot that broke off and reached my lungs. You would think no big deal, blood thinners can take care of that.. well it’s true but the only thinner I can use is the warfarin (Coumadin) because of the bad reaction of the better thinners out there with the Dilantin. I hate the warfarin (used it for 10 years) before because have to go draw my blood to check theINR level, which is a pain in the behind and because of all the diet restrictions I have to follow. So you see, I can’t change the Dilantin nor the coumadin. I wish someone can find the magic solution.
    Sorry for telling all this, but I needed to get it out of my chest. We are becoming so dependent on medications and conflicted opinions from doctors that u don’t know who to believe anymore. When it comes to medical care, humans are used for experiments for these medications just like rats and monkeys. Thanks for reading this, if you did.

    Comment by April — May 6, 2020 @ 3:07 PM

  14. Hi is there anyway to get help in Australia. Have had 2 mild traumatic brain injuries and told exposure and i can’t get my brain functioning like it used to.

    Comment by antony — May 6, 2020 @ 4:42 PM

  15. I live in Western Australia. Do you have the name of someone here who does what you do Dr Amen?

    Comment by Sue — May 6, 2020 @ 4:45 PM

  16. Hi. I’m 57. I have OCD, depression, & anxiety. I’m on 80 mg/ day of name brand Prozac. I’m doing well, but would like to be on a lower dose. The Prozac has some unpleasant side effects:( Should I have a brain Spect scan or just stay on Prozac? Thanks:)

    Comment by Brenda Duggin — May 6, 2020 @ 6:37 PM

  17. How can your letter senders afford your services they needed.
    You need to nd have to tell the president, leadership of the country re your thoughts making our society healthy.
    Thank u

    Comment by Gilda — May 7, 2020 @ 1:12 AM

  18. I have been following Dr Amen for a few years now, and I believe i am a good candidate for a brain spec. Even though it has been asked, i am not sure I know how much it would cost.

    Comment by Cathy — May 7, 2020 @ 6:23 AM

  19. Having had a bad concussion when I was 18, I’m beginning to wonder if such an injury can show negative affects now that I’m 73.My memory has gotten quite bad in recent years and wonder if it’s just “getting older” or if it should be addressed some how to keep from getting worse or possibly improving it.

    Comment by Phillip Johnsen — May 7, 2020 @ 5:10 PM

  20. I have a dear friend who was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia last year. Her recollection of words is worse each time I call her, is there any treatment or recommendations that would help her?

    Comment by She — May 19, 2020 @ 9:07 AM

  21. Agree !!

    Comment by Robert Aprea — May 20, 2020 @ 6:28 PM

  22. What is the cost of the brain scan? The expense was mentioned several times in the comments. My son has been using drugs to help him cope for years.. I would be interested to see if this could help..

    Comment by Carrin Jankowski — August 11, 2020 @ 8:32 PM

  23. Hello Carrin, thank you for reaching out. We offer many different types of consultations and evaluations, we also offer financing options. Our Care Coordinators can assist you with additional information and cost depending on the needs of your son to start treatment with us. For more information, please contact our team here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 20, 2020 @ 10:18 AM

  24. I am interested in getting an overall brain scan pls. The issue is I live in the UK. Any chance you have a clinic or an affiliate here in the uk pls? Thanks

    Comment by Lucy — March 7, 2022 @ 12:26 PM

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