I am Dr. Daniel Amen, psychiatrist, brain disorder specialist, founder of Amen Clinics, and New York Times bestselling author. The updated and revised copy of my 1998 bestseller, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, is on sale November 3rd: http://changeyourbrainbook.com/

Here’s my proof: http://imgur.com/pERwrOc

Over the past 25 years, I’ve performed over 115,000 brain SPECT images on patients from 111 countries, and studied the brains of 175 active and retired NFL players.

Today I’m here to answer any of your questions on brain health, optimizing your brain, or how you can, in fact, change your brain and change your life! Let’s chat. Ask me anything.

Thank you for all of your wonderful questions this afternoon. It has been a pleasure talking to you all about brain health and changing your brain. While I have to sign off, we can continue this conversation anytime on Twitter: @DocAmen

Comments: 432 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

DocDanielAmen52 karma

Thanks for this question. on www.amenclinics.com we he have 3,000 scientific abstracts about SPECT in psychiatry. I have published 60 papers, which report we have the best outcomes on complex psychiatric patients and that SPECT changes what doctors do 8 times out of 10. If you read the Washington Post article you will notice many of my colleagues who refer and support our work. 40% of our new patients are referred by our own patients. The critics in that article have never come to the clinics even though I have invited them. I stand behind our work and have done so for 25 years.

pm_me_your_abc78 karma

What's wrong with Donald Trumps brain?

DocDanielAmen143 karma

It is a fascinating question. I wrote an Op Ed piece for the LA Times on whether or not we should scan presidential candidates. I have my suspicions about all of the candidates. See this link.


taylorj47446 karma

What do you think of the new Will Smith movie coming out about brain injury in the NFL? Did you encounter any political problems when you began researching NFL players?

DocDanielAmen93 karma

Love the movie. Powerful, clear and very scary. Was a consultant for it. The NFL was not happy about our work, but there was great enthusiasm among players.

hartmanwhistler43 karma

Marijuana seems to be an effective medication for seizures/epilepsy, depression, anxiety, ADHD etc. Have you done any research on the effectiveness of marijuana as a medication for these or other disorders and conditions? What is your stance on marijuana as a medication?

DocDanielAmen112 karma

I have scanned literally thousands of brains on marijuana. It shows toxic effects on scans. Yes, it can help with anxiety, but often makes depression and ADHD worse. Xanax helps with anxiety but is toxic to brain function. I think of marijuana the same way. Perhaps CBD by itself will be helpful. I caution my patients about its use.

fedxc14 karma

What do you mean with "toxic effects"?

DocDanielAmen83 karma

It makes the brain look older than the person is. It is a pattern we see with alcohol and infections. Not a good thing.

Lufernaal37 karma

I enjoy daydreaming about torturing and killing all sorts of people, even people I like. Do I need to worry?

DocDanielAmen95 karma

This is a fascinating question. As long as your frontal lobes are OK and you can control your behavior, you can keep these thoughts in check and stay out of jail or hell. The brain is a sneaky organ. We all have weird, crazy, sexual, violent thoughts that no one should ever hear. Your brain acts as a filter. Keep it healthy.

Fisted_by_a_Midget35 karma

I read something, somewhere about low fat diets causing decreased brain function. Is there truth to this?

DocDanielAmen80 karma

Yes. 60% of the solid weight of the brain is fat. Cholesterol levels under 160 are associated with depression, suicide and murder.

long_dickofthelaw23 karma

I know a lot of people who take SSRIs who claim to have serotonin deficiency in their brain. Is there a way to actually measure serotonin levels in the brain, and if so, why isn't it being used as a diagnostic tool for treating depression?

DocDanielAmen21 karma

A lot of people use urine testing to measure serotonin levels. Unfortunately, no one has shown what is in your urine is matched with what is in your brain. When we do brain imaging with SPECT we have shown low serotonin levels are associated with increased anterior cingulate activity and worried, rigid, inflexible thinking. I talk a lot about this in my newly revised book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

bellatango22 karma

Hi Dr. Amen. Can a person who has taken high doses of benzodiazepines for many years (over ten) ever recover their short term memory? Once going off of all benzodiazepines is there a chance for brain function to go back to the level it was at when the person started taking the prescription? Thank you.

DocDanielAmen26 karma

Yes, that is the most exciting news from my work. You can heal troubled brains by putting them in a healing environment.

lockd0wn20 karma

Assuming I dont get an infection, would eating the brains of my enemies make me smarter?

DocDanielAmen57 karma

No evidence that this will help.

Gamefool6320 karma

What do you consider to be the singles greatest threat to long-term brain health?

DocDanielAmen40 karma

There are many, but if I had to choose 1 it would be diabetes and pre-diabetes, which damages the brain and now affects 50% of the population according to a recent study in JAMA.

Gamefool6314 karma

So would that mean the highest impact lifestyle changes we can make to better our brain are things like diet and exercise?

DocDanielAmen25 karma

You bet. I play this game with my daughter called Chloe's brain ... Is this good for my brain or bad for it?

Twerty19 karma

Dr. Amen:

I know that you've had some focus on ADHD in particular in your clinical and SPECT work, and I imagine that because of your notion of 7 types of ADHD, you are likely aware of some of the newer research within the last few years suggesting Sluggish Cognitive Tempo as a third axis for diagnosis alongside Hyperactivity-Impulsivity and Inattentiveness.

What are your thoughts on how SCT fits in with your current ADHD diagnosis model? Have you scanned patients that would fit the criteria for SCT, and how do you classify them within your system?

DocDanielAmen18 karma

Yes, there are many types. Sluggish Cognitive Tempo patients usually go with low overall activity. the question we should ask is why? Head trauma, toxic exposure like mold, vascular disease, marijuana exposure, etc.

Twerty4 karma

That makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

Just one quick follow-up question: Have you had any more luck making SPECT scanning available to the average patient in terms of healthcare coverage? I know it's hard to justify to health insurance providers such specialized diagnostic treatment.

DocDanielAmen14 karma

Still working on it. Most insurance companies don't see psychiatric issues like other medical issues.

Coral704a17 karma

How can someone with Hashimoto's improve their brain function, memory, stamina and overall health?

DocDanielAmen10 karma

We see this a lot. Make sure you get your thyroid levels optimized, then do all the other great things for your brain I discuss in the new book, such as diet, exercise, simple supplements, and avoiding obesity, diabetes, hypertension, insomnia.

Coral704a6 karma

Thank you. Do you notice thyroid deficiency affecting a particular part of the brain in Spect scans?

DocDanielAmen9 karma

It tends to have a global negative effect.

345879015 karma

You mentioned diabetes and the brain. How does diabetes affect it?

DocDanielAmen29 karma

Diabetes damages blood vessels and the brain uses 20% of the blood flow in the body.

sixpacshaqur14 karma

What's the one brain disease you are most afraid of getting?

DocDanielAmen30 karma

ALS, because there is no cure yet.

poonhounds14 karma

Do you think the brain creates consciousness, or does consciousness exist externally and interacts with the brain?

DocDanielAmen21 karma

I think that consciousness and the brain interact on each other.

newpath_slowfeet14 karma

What is the optimum amount of sleep for a 19 y.o student? Trying to get myself into a good routine where I can keep up with the work load and stay refreshed to keep my drive going. Also any tips on how to promote getting to sleep easier? I'm a lucid dreamer and once I've had a dream (particularly bad) I get really anxious and stressed and sleep sort of goes out the window!

DocDanielAmen14 karma

7-9 hours is optimal. I'd try to get 8 if you can. Avoid things that hurt sleep (light, gadgets, warm rooms, noise, alcohol or caffeine) ... do things that promote it (dark, relaxation, warm baths, melatonin)

briskovich0111 karma

Why do SSRI medications cause the inability or difficulty to achieve orgasm?

DocDanielAmen8 karma

Serotonin also works on nerves outside the brain to delay orgasm. It can also lower desire.

bobdilbertson11 karma

Has any patient's scan caused you to fear them or for them?

DocDanielAmen5 karma

Some scans are cause for great concern to make sure our patients take brain health seriously or they will experience bad consequences.

Texasmls10 karma

What is your take on how vitamin deficiencies play into brain function and mood disorders? --e.g. low B-12, low D?

DocDanielAmen10 karma

They are connected. I test all of my patients and optimize them.

ScienceLabTech10 karma

My family has a strong history of Alzheimer's/severe dementia (no official diagnosis due to lack of autopsies), especially on the female lineage. I would very much like to avoid this fate, and help my mother as much as possible as she gets older. Other than diet and and a healthy lifestyle, what suggestions do you have for keeping your mind healthy? Are there any potential treatments in the future?

DocDanielAmen10 karma

Definitely go to http://changeyourbrainbook.com/. There is a whole section in the new book on how you can proactively do everything you can to attack your Alzheimer's risk.

rooowdy10 karma

Mr. Dr. Amen do you think we'll cure schizophrenia in the, say, next 15 years?

DocDanielAmen21 karma

It depends on the cause of schizophrenia. It's just not one thing. If the cause is Lyme, then it can be cured. If it is mold exposure it can be helped. If it is gluten allergy it can be helped. Unfortunately, no one looks at the brains of most schizophrenic patients so doctors think it is one thing and only use antipsychotic meds.

rooowdy11 karma

Why do you think it's not common to examine their brains properly?

DocDanielAmen33 karma

It's not part of our tradition. It goes against the DSM-V driven paradigm that symptoms = diagnosis = treatment. No other medical professionals act that way.

rooowdy8 karma

One more quick follow up question: Let's say I know somebody who has schizophrenia who came into contact with cat's excrement due to a bet, how likely would it be that toxoplasmosis caused the schizophrenia? Should he tell this to his attending psychiatrist, even if it's now 5 years ago that the illness broke out?

DocDanielAmen21 karma

Yes, toxoplasmosis is a cause of psychosis and should be checked.

insanethrownaway10 karma

Hey Dr Amen, I've been diagnosed with many mental illnesses, the diagnosis keeps changing based on what I view as primitive methods of diagnosing. I don't believe I have any of the illnesses I was diagnosed with except maybe a mild case of autism (I was diagnosed with ADD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizoaffective, bpd, MDD, and a bunch of others).

I'm hypersensitive to medications in general, and while receiving anti psychotic medications (when the good doctors at the VA thought I had schizoaffective disorder), I became dissociated/depersonalized, or "lost my feelings," as I describe it. I can't feel time pass, I can't feel anything positive, I can't feel anything but negative things, and even those are "muted" in a weird way, it's like it's not me experiencing them. It's been years like this even though I've done every kind of therapy there is and tried every prescription medicine offered for mental health.

I'm going to Amsterdam in the next few months to try MDMA, heroin, and ketamine because I've concluded from my readings that they might do the trick.

I just want to feel again, and I know that it's like an on/off switch that is currently off. I know I'm not giving you enough information, but based on what I told you, what do you think will turn it "on"? I would like to experience time and positive feelings and just be me again.

DocDanielAmen9 karma

I'd get a scan and see what is going on. All those treatments are just more darts in the dark, which worry me.

dean337 karma

Im taking fish oil every day, im exercising 3 -4 times per week for about an hour, im taking B complex. But im drinking a coffe near every day because im still studying and have a lots of obligations....Is this enough for a brain health lifestyle? thanx Dean

DocDanielAmen2 karma

It's a good start. The new book will tell you more ways. http://changeyourbrainbook.com/

Hongkie7 karma


DocDanielAmen16 karma

No, the ketogenic diet has some healing properties for the brain. Sugar is more harmful than ketones.

Always diet first. It is the most important thing you can do for your brain.

mlurve7 karma

What was your path to becoming a brain disorder specialist like? It sounds like a super interesting, but difficult field, I'd be really curious to learn more about how you got into it.

DocDanielAmen33 karma

It was quite a journey.

Infantry medic ... x-ray technician ... medical school ... fell in love with psychiatry after someone I loved tried to kill herself ... But psychiatrists didn't use imaging ... My x-ray background caused me to want to look ... So I pushed myself and my colleagues to start looking at the brain of psychiatric patients ... I am still pushing them. :)

Lagcaster6 karma

When I was a child, I got diagnosed with depression. My parents never did anything about it past that point. Now that i am an adult i went out to seek help and got prescribed zolaft. The dosage is too low and is not affecting me other than me having weird dreams. How do i talk to my doc aboit getting a higher dosage without sounding like i just want drugs for recreational use?

DocDanielAmen21 karma

Tell your doctor it is not working, and that you want to try a higher dosage. Remember, your doctor should be your partner in health not your boss or your mother.

marineturndlegofiend6 karma

What are some activities or tips can you give former military members dealing with PTSD?

DocDanielAmen14 karma

Engage in brain healthy habits to help heal the brain. There are simple techniques like EMDR and havening I like. Also check out our new paper, that will be highlighted as one of 2015's top 100 stories in science.


uncertain_death6 karma

My son has absent septum pallucidum, what does this mean?

DocDanielAmen7 karma

It is a part of the brain often involved in pleasure. It may be missing in normal people.

black_flag_4ever6 karma

Do you ever encounter malingerers? What is sure sign that someone is faking the extent of their brain injury?

DocDanielAmen5 karma

Of course. The scans can tell if it is real or not real. Check out our article on SPECT and TBI.


Frajer6 karma

What's the most interesting comparison or contrast that you've noticed between brains ?

DocDanielAmen11 karma

All brains are not the same, even when they have the same symptoms. For example, I scanned 2 15 year old multiple murderers. One had really low activity globally, while one had really high activity. How do we know unless we look?

Jojo13785 karma

My girlfriend is depressed and based on her actions I would assume she has borderline personality disorder. I want to help her and she absolutely hates medications. How do I approach her about this and what can I do for her?

DocDanielAmen7 karma

Psychotherapy, especially DBT, has been shown to be helpful for people with BPD.

tunabage4 karma

Should students with intellectual disabilities be in general education classrooms? If you agree, why? If not, where do you think the best setting would be for a student who has a noticeable but not quite diagnose-able mental disorder?

I'm sure there is plenty of controversy on the topic, though I'd love to hear your personal opinion nonetheless.

DocDanielAmen9 karma

It depends on the particular classroom. I would always look for the best fit, the best teacher, the place where the child can thrive, and where the other kids are helpful and supportive.

purenitrogen3 karma

What is your take on ADHD in children and adults? Over diagnosed or is its diagnosis becoming more robust?

DocDanielAmen6 karma

Both overdiagnosed and underdiagnosed, especially in females.

ur2dum3 karma

Why won't the FDA approve Moclobemide? I've run the table on pretty much all the SSRI's and I feel like (from what I know about this drug) it could be beneficial.

DocDanielAmen2 karma

Not sure of their thinking on this drug. There are other MAO Inhibitors that are approved.

PizzaPalacePlease2 karma

Dr. Amen -

Why do some traumatized people develop PTSD while other people do not? If someone is born with Gerstmann Syndrome and then experiences something very traumatic are they therefore more "sensitive" to the kind of cognitive process that turns a normal emotional reaction into a long-term disorder of post-traumatic stress?

DocDanielAmen2 karma

It depends on many factors, including their prior levels of trauma.

CakeKate2 karma

Is there any reason why there are certain disorders that are comorbid with others? For example, I have the delightful combination of ADD/ADHD and Bipolar II. Also, what are your thoughts on the neurodiversity movement or "shaman" view of mental illness? Personally, I am thankful for my meds because they allow me to function pretty well.

DocDanielAmen4 karma

I am grateful for meds too. When they work they save lives. With the combo of ADD and Bipolar II I often think of post concussive issues.

noafro19912 karma

Should I be worried about a constant dull ache in the back of my head ever since I tripped and banged my head into a brick wall 14 years ago?

DocDanielAmen4 karma

I wouldn't be extremely concerned. If there are other symptoms such as light sensitivity, memory, learning or mood, I would get assessed.

__Stevo1 karma

Has your work changed how you deal with people, or your outlook on life in general?

Best advice you would give to the average person in regards to mental/brain health?

Has your work influenced how you view consciousness or your views on spirituality/afterlife?

Thanks to doing this AMA, it's very interesting. Keep up the good work :)

DocDanielAmen6 karma

Our brain imaging work has changed everything in my own life. I love and care for my brain more than ever, and also love and care for their brains of my patients (not many psychiatrists say that) and my own loved ones.

boybuddha1 karma

So this question is kind of personal, I have been feeling nervous for the past 3-4 months, and I can’t seem to pinpoint the source. This nervousness stems from my stomach, it kind of feels like butterflies but slightly more stressful. What could this be?

DocDanielAmen2 karma

Many things, including anxiety, stress, gut health issues. Worth getting it checked.