A controversial Hollywood psychiatrist conducted Bella Hadid's brain scans, inspiring the model to stop drinking
Bella Hadidsaid brain scans conducted by Dr. Daniel Amen are helping keep her sober.
- The psychiatrist, who swears by SPECT scans for a range of conditions, is a celebrity favorite.
The scans purportedly revealed alcohol-induced brain damage during Hadid's "rock bottom," and the brain's subsequent repair after a few months off the sauce and on supplements. Seeing those images made it "a lot harder to pick up the glass," Hadid, a 25-year-old model and cofounder of the non-alcoholic drink company Kin Euphorics, recently told InStyle.
The scans were conducted by psychiatrist and best-selling author Dr. Daniel Amen, W magazine reported, who has also worked with musicians Justin Bieber and Meghan Trainor, actress Jenny Garth, Bachelorette Hannah Brown, and plenty of former NFL players and high-profile entrepreneurs.
Quitting drinking benefits the brain, along with virtually every other organ. And that benefit stands whether the catalyst of change is a blood test result, a monthly challenge, or the desire to be a more present parent.
But Amen's approach to diagnosing and treating a range of mental
Amen's clinic did not respond to an interview request.
Amen distances himself from traditional psychiatry, with an emphasis on brain health, not mental health
Amen earned his medical degree from the Oral Roberts University School of Medicine in 1982, an evangelical Christian school that shut down in 1989. He completed his general psychiatric training at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and trained in child and adolescent psychiatry at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
Early in his career, Amen was revered as an envelope-pusher and earned a "Distinguished Fellow" designation from the American Psychiatric Association, Tucker reported. (The APA has not responded to Insider's request to answer whether this title still stands.)
In 1989, he established the Amen Clinics, which now has nine — and counting — locations, its website says. He has written more than 40 books, hosted a PBS series, and continues to produce the YouTube series "Scan My Brain." He rubs elbows with other controversial medical characters including Dr. Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman.
Amen Clinics' bread and butter are their SPECT scans, which measure blood flow in various parts of the brain. In conventional medicine, they're used for diagnosing and monitoring brain diseases like Alzheimer's, stroke, and seizures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But Amen uses them to, he says, better understand all manner of conditions, from obesity and performance anxiety to substance abuse and ADHD, and to demonstrate to patients that their symptoms aren't all in their heads. "Our brain imaging work clearly shows that we are not dealing with mental health issues, rather we are dealing with brain health issues that steal your mind," Amen's website says.
The scans are rarely covered by insurance, and are often followed by expensive treatment recommendations like Amen's line of supplements and time in the clinic's hyperbaric oxygen chamber, NPR reported in 2021. Justin Bieber is one such client who saw Amen for addictions, anxiety, and depression, and used hyperbaric oxygen chambers as a part of his treatment. He now has at least two in his home.
Psychiatrists and neurologists largely dismiss Amen
Most of Amen's peers have long shunned his practice. In 2008, neurologist Dr. Robert Burton, author of "A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves," called his work a "Brain Scam" in Salon. Burton said Amen's use of SPECT scans to help slow the progression of Alzheimer's have no scientific basis.
Dr. Harriet Hall, a former Air Force flight surgeon who writes about pseudoscience, told the Observer in 2016 that Amen "charges patients thousands of dollars to inject them with radioactive compounds and show them pretty colored pictures of their brains without any credible evidence that it adds to the diagnostic or treatment processes."
And in 2021, Harvard neurologist Dr. Steven Hyman said "people who are desperate are vulnerable to snake oil, and this has all of the look and feel of a clinic that's preying on people's desperation."
Just as problematic, he added, is that Amen's patients may be getting misdiagnosed with issues like chronic traumatic encephalopathy when they really have, and should be appropriately treated for, conditions like depression.
In past interviews, Amen points to his own research and results from his hundreds of thousands of patients finding that "85% of people report a better quality of life after treatment at Amen Clinics" as evidence that his approach works. And some colleagues have his back.
"His work has had a huge impact on the addiction field," David Smith, founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, told Tucker. "He's a very open guy, a good guy."
Alcohol abuse can damage the brain, but there are better ways to view it than SPECT scans
There's no question alcohol consumption can lead to brain damage, manifesting as short-term symptoms like memory loss and long-term consequences like brain shrinkage, according to WebMD.
Addiction expert Dr. Ayana Jordan, an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health who said she's not familiar with Amen or his work, listed eight tools clinicians can use to detect alcohol's damage to the brain. SPECT scans weren't among them.
"There are other tools/ways that are WAY LESS expensive to characterize how alcohol affects the brain," she wrote in an email to Insider. There's also no way to know solely from a SPECT scan if changes are related to alcohol or something else, she added.
Jordan said she's glad Hadid's scan led to healthier behaviors, "but not everyone will have access to SPECT, nor should they."
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