11 mins read

Brain imaging is transforming mental health

A significant proportion of our mood imbalances and psychological issues are directly related to physical problems in the brain.

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In this article:
  • The field of psychiatry is stuck in an outdated model of diagnosis.
  • By looking at the brain we see psychological issues have physical roots. 
  • A 200,000 image catalog of brain scans is redefining how we interpret neurology.
  • Detrimental behaviors (like drug abuse) are driven by an unhealthy brain calling the shots.
  • Our nutritional choices and lifestyle patterns are directly damaging our neurology. 
  • Rehabilitating the brain with exercise, nutrition and meditation helps restore a healthy mentality.
  • Supporting healthy brain habits prevents neurological decline and enhances creative innovation.

The body and mind are clearly connected, and the brain obviously influences our psychology. So, why is the physical state of the brain almost entirely ignored when dealing with mental health issues? The remarkable results from nearly 200,000 brain scans reveal that a significant proportion of our mood imbalances and psychological issues are directly related to physical problems in the brain. By addressing the root causes of physical neurological trauma it’s possible to resolve mental distress and rebuild a happy and healthy brain. 

Dr. Daniel Gregory Amen is a specialist in brain disorders and psychiatric health. His maverick approach utilizes SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) to visualize the brain, diagnose physical problems and treat mental health conditions. The unique methodology deviates from the current symptom-based approach to mental health diagnosis. By actually looking inside the brain Dr. Amen has shown that symptoms can be misleading and a personalized verifiable approach is needed.

“Psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that virtually never look at the organ they treat? Think about it! Cardiologists look, neurologists look, orthopedic doctors look, virtually every other medical specialties look - psychiatrists guess.” – Dr. Amen

The novel method, and critique of the psychiatric profession is generating controversy.  Dr. Amen’s work threatens the status quo and directly opposes the highly profitable 'chemical imbalance' model of mental health issues. Medications for depression alone are currently worth $13billion and the market is growing rapidly.

Credentials and Controversy

Let’s establish exactly who Dr. Amen is before we look at his life-changing discoveries. Dr. Amen is double board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (General Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) and has degrees in Biology and Medicine. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour (Irvine College of Medicine, University of California). Daniel has written over 30 books on the subject of brain health, five were New York Times bestsellers. His findings are based on over 160,000 brain scans, including concussed players in the NFL. He believes the opposition to his work is rooted in professional jealousy and a scientific dislike of admitting when we are wrong.

Personalized Neuropsychiatry

The basic premise of his work involves taking scans of the brain, and comparing the results to known healthy models. He then prescribes a mixture of nutritional, behavioural and medicinal strategies to treat the individual. Before and after scans are used to assess the treatment. His clinics have amassed the biggest global database of neuropsychiatric functional brain scans.

His promotion of natural herbal products, including his own range of dietary supplements, has placed him under attack from the medical, psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries. The natural methods Dr. Amen promotes in his writing include lifestyle changes that encourage happiness; like hobbies that make us think.  He promotes a simple yet effective five pillar strategy to building a happy brain and satisfying life: food, fitness, focus, faith, and friends.
Dr. Amen has developed programs to heal from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and ignite your brain with energy, focus and purpose. He has been described as the most popular psychiatrist in America.

Defamation and Diagnosis

The market for ADD and ADHD drugs is worth $10 billion, so it’s hardly surprising there is defamatory propaganda trying to protect the current treatment approaches. His claim to be able to prevent Alzheimer’s with nutritional strategies is gathering more critique. Note that the Alzheimer’s industry is growing at 5.6% per year and expected to be worth over $9 billion by 2026, by 2050 it’s expected the Alzheimer’s epidemic will impact 1 in 85 people. Dr. Amen’s systematic cataloguing of brain images could pave the way to explain, and codify, our most common mental disorders. Eventually, this could provide a more reliable diagnostic strategy than the symptom-cluster approach currently used. Devised by the pharmaceutical industry, and in use since 1889, the MSD Manuals diagnose and prescribe medications for psychiatric disorders.

For over 130 years we’ve been using vague collections of symptoms to make medical judgements and it’s about time we had a new, more empirical, model. Dr. Amen’s results clearly show that when you change your brain you can change your life.  The Basis Health App implements intelligent alga rhythms that help you make positive and proactive decisions to improve your mind, mood and mental wellbeing.

“Without imaging, psychiatrists then and even now make diagnoses like they did in 1840, by talking to people and looking for symptom clusters. Imaging was showing us there was a better way” – Dr. Amen.

The Accumulated Evidence

Dr. Amen started his medical career as an infantry medic and later developed a passion for medical imaging after training as an X-ray technician.  His clinics rely on the innovative technology offered by SPECT Brain Scans to visualize the blood flow and activity of the brain. More than three decades of clinical research has supported the development of an immense brain-behaviour and imaging database with patients from 93 countries.

Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography

Developed in the 1970’s SPECT has been used to evaluate brain health, and specifically look for damage and trauma. It is routinely used to visualize the progress of disease states like Alzheimer’s and is used in the treatment of head trauma, chemical exposure, drug toxicity and neurological inflammation. Over 14,000 peer reviewed studies or articles have been published using published wither using or investigating SPECT Brain Scans. 

Dr. Amen has himself published 70 studies including one unique study which invited psychiatrists to evaluate one hundred patients both with and without SPECT Scans:

  • In 80% of the cases the diagnosis was changed after seeing the scan.
  • In 60% of the cases the treatment was changed after seeing the scan.
  • In 20% of the cases a traumatic brain injury was revealed.
  • In 20% of the cases an unexpected toxicity was seen.

Brain SPECT is a nuclear medicinal study that affords an inside view of the brain. Specifically it identifies:

  1. Areas of the brain that functioning effectively
  2. Areas that are working too hard
  3. Areas that are not working hard enough

Patterns of activity are used to understand what’s going on and can indicate various disease states:

  • A healthy brain scan shows even and symmetrical activity across the brain. 
  • Typically the highest area of activity is at the back of the brain.
  • In Alzheimer’s you can see the brain is deteriorating, specifically at the back.
  • Patterns of deterioration start 30 to 50 years before clinical Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.
  • Traumatic brain injuries and drug abuse often have similar patterns of damage.
  • For patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) the front of the brain is overactive.
  • OCD makes it hard for people to turn off or manage their thoughts.

Brain and Behaviour

Many psychiatric medications have black box warnings for severe side effects, and a long list of expected side-effects which mirror existing symptoms. Dr. Amen is especially concerned that prescribing potent medications, before truly understanding what is going on is dangerous. Imaging studies showed that complex conditions like ADHD, anxiety, depression, and addiction are not single disorders, they just happen to share the same symptoms.

For example patients with major depression can have exceptionally low brain activity, or exceptionally high – which should be taken into consideration when planning treatment. A personalized approach to healing individual brains, not symptom clusters is therefore critical. Dr. Amen’s team found that mild traumatic brain injury was a significant cause of psychiatric illness that was simply not being spotted using current methods. Behavioural issues, like temper problems, and mood disorders including anxiety, depression were frequently linked to previous physical trauma. Even insomnia was found to have physiological roots.

Teenage Violence

  • 15-year old boy, kicked out of his third residential treatment program for violence.
  • Brain scans revealed a minor brain injury resulting from falling down the stairs age-3.

Criminal Activity

  • Undiagnosed brain injuries could be responsible for many misunderstood issues, including: homelessness, substance abuse, depression, panic attacks, homicide and suicide. 
  • Scanning over 500 convicted felons, including 90 murderers correlated underlying brain trauma with criminal behaviour. 
  • Fortunately the SPECT studies also showed that with the correct treatment these troubled brains could be rehabilitated.

Beaten Brains

  • Studies on the brains of current and retired NFL players showed high levels of brain damage.
  • This damage was not acknowledged by the NFL, until they could see the evidence for themselves.

Brain Rehabilitation

The most interesting and exciting news to come out of the SPECT studies is the sheer capacity of the brain to heal, and change, for the better.

Brain-Smart Program

  • 80% of the studies NFL players were able to improve blood flow, memory, and mood.
  • Brain damage can be reversed and cognitive functions improved.

ADHD Case Study

  • Teenage girl with ADHD and failing grades.
  • Cutting herself and fighting with parents.
  • Implemented SPEC driven support program.
  • She went from D's and F's to A's and B's.
  • Developed emotional stability.

Dementia Case Study

  • Diagnosed with dementia, told to get into a home.
  • Husband was warned she wouldn’t know his name in a year.
  • Started an intensive, brain-rehabilitation program.
  • Brain and memory improved, years later she still knows her husband's name. 
The sad thing is that most of these cases would have been medicated into emotional submission without looking at the root physical issues. By looking at the brain we can learn a lot about what is really going on. 

Brain Health

The wellbeing of your brain determines many other critical functions, including mood, social interaction and behaviour. A healthy brain is able to function optimally and reach the higher states of cognition needed for innovation and other creative expressions of thought. 

Conversely, since the brain is our main organ of judgement, determining our personality and character, when function is compromised our ability to make good decisions is impaired.  Dr. Amen firmly believes that when your brain works right, you work right. Which makes sense, you wouldn’t expect to be able to run a marathon if you had a broken leg, so ensuring the vitality of our brains should be one of our highest priorities.

A healthy brain is happier and wiser, able to think creatively, connect with others and make good decisions. An unhealthy brain is rigid and inflexible, less able to think creatively to solve problems and create solutions. 

The human brain is incredibly complex, running ‘software’ that dynamically adapts to our habits and lifestyle choices, good and bad. You have over 100 billion nerve cells, and each one can connect with as many as 10,000 other nerve cells – you have more connections in your brain than there are stars in the universe and information travels around at over 250 miles per hour!

The brain accounts for just 2% of your weight, but takes 20-30% of your energy. This means that even minor metabolic, blood flow or nutritional disruptions impact your ability to think effectively and intelligently – this is why we make stupid decisions when drunk.

Typically we lose nearly 90,000 brain cells per day, and this natural aging process is made worse by our own bad habits. Fortunately you can reduce neurological wear and tear, improve the health of your brain, increase neuroplasticity and slow down the rate at which your brain declines.

Brain Habits

Dr. Amen’s brain-based approach to mental health intuitively makes sense, and may make you wonder why nobody considered this before. Nutritional psychiatry is another relatively new field of investigation, correlating what we feed the brain with how it functions. 

Unsurprisingly processed foods damage the brain, inducing neurological inflammation and damaging the gut (most of your neurotransmitters are made in the gut) and healthy foods nourish it. Processed foods are associated with depression, while traditional diets support the brain - that is ANY traditional diet, from Eskimo’s feasting on fat to tribes surviving on foraged plants. Improving nutritional status (healthy fats, antioxidants, fruit, vegetables, fibre) nourishes the brain back into a better state of health. 

Exercise is another advocate for better brain health that is finally getting the recognition it deserves – exercise therapy (in combination with medications or alone) is just as effective as traditional antidepressant drugs; improving mood without side effects, and coming with an array of additional health benefits.

Hurting or Helping? Inside the safe protective cage of your skulls is a soft buttery brain which is easily damaged. Sadly, many things we consider ‘normal’ are devastating for brain health and many simple behaviours could dramatically improve it. In an ideal world, this is what we would both stop, and start doing. 

Behaviors that Damage your Brain

  • Drugs and alcohol are toxic for the brain.
  • Brain injury or trauma (even minor).
  • Toxic environments (e.g. pollutants).
  • Unhealthy or abusive relationships.
  • Excessive stress or childhood trauma.
  • Excess weight causes the brain to shrink.
  • Smoking constricts blood flow and reduces oxygen.
  • High blood pressure also limits neurological blood flow.
  • Diabetes and excess glucose damage the brain.
  • Lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles.
  • The Standard American Diet (processed food).
  • Lack of sleep or low-quality sleep.
  • Automatic negative thoughts (mental rumination).

Behaviours That Build Your Brain

  • Positive social interactions and relationships.
  • Associating with people who have healthy habits.
  • Learning something new and leaving your comfort zone.
  • Regular exercise or enjoyable movement.
  • Eating nutritious foods and being well hydrated.
  • Sufficient high quality sleep (more than 7 hours).
  • Meditation (stimulates the front of the brain).
  • Gratitude practices increase subjective happiness in a few weeks.
  • Questioning your thoughts with discernment (many are untrue).

Making Better Decisions

Unfortunately when the brain gets stressed (emotionally, mentally or physically, e.g. lack of nutrition as you haven’t eaten for ages) it makes bad decisions. We are also hard-wired to devour calorie dense substances, and make many of our nutritional decisions based on addiction not nutrition. Lack of sleep reduces our ability to do what’s right, and, for example, decide to go to the gym or seek positive interactions with other human beings.

In many ways your brain is its own worst enemy, making poor decisions that lead to bad behavior that further damage the underlying neurology.  This vicious circle is the result of ingrained bad habits that are made ‘normal’ (and profitable) by a society addicted to inflammatory foods, sedentary behaviours and mind-numbing media. We are only just starting to see the impact of generational lifestyle choices that are driving conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

But, by actively supporting the health of your brain and adopting habits which enhance neurological vitality, it’s possible to protect your mind, mood and even longevity. All you need to do is get out of the trap of bad habits that make it worse, and schedule in the new habits that help the brain heal and grow. 

Transforming Mental Health

By considering the physical condition of the brain it is possible to prevent, and even treat, some of the most distressing lifestyle conditions humanity faces. Nobody wants to be miserable and depressed, but few realize their own actions are driving a negative mental state..

Do you need help implementing some better brain habits? The Basis Health App optimizes, schedules and automates healthy habits throughout the day, reducing resistance and eliminating the friction between what you plan to do and what actually gets done.

Take the stress and strain out of doing what’s right by letting intelligent analytics and personal health insights practically support your desire to enhance your mental landscape. Start your proactive journey towards better brain health today, and receive the rewards of enhanced focus, creativity, innovation, mental clarity and the myriad of benefits that come with a healthy brain.

The Basis Health early adopter program is open for enrolment to individuals who are serious about improving their psychological health, and are ready to let the latest science, combined with personal health metrics, guide behaviours that actively enhance their mental health.

Signup for Early Access


11 mins read
Brain imaging is transforming mental health

A significant proportion of our mood imbalances and psychological issues are directly related to physical problems in the brain.

In this article:
  • The field of psychiatry is stuck in an outdated model of diagnosis.
  • By looking at the brain we see psychological issues have physical roots. 
  • A 200,000 image catalog of brain scans is redefining how we interpret neurology.
  • Detrimental behaviors (like drug abuse) are driven by an unhealthy brain calling the shots.
  • Our nutritional choices and lifestyle patterns are directly damaging our neurology. 
  • Rehabilitating the brain with exercise, nutrition and meditation helps restore a healthy mentality.
  • Supporting healthy brain habits prevents neurological decline and enhances creative innovation.