Julia’s TEDx Talk: Time to Get Serious About Nutrition

Bonnie Kaplan, PhDJulia Rucklidge, PhD

Julia’s TEDx talk, The Surprisingly Dramatic role of Nutrition in Mental Health,at the TEDx conference in Christchurch on November 1st, was an opportunity to outline where we are now and some ideas of where we need to go. We are often asked to provide a single overview paper that will summarize everything there is to know about nutrition and mental health. Yet when we send review papers to people, it seems that they often do not have the time or interest to actually read the them.

Here are some of the main points from the talk:

  • Based on any data from any country it is clear that we have a problem. Mental illness is on the rise.  Rates of people on disability as a direct consequence of a mental illness are also on the rise. We can blame physicians and mental health professionals for overdiagnosing, we can blame our society for creating an environment that is conducive to developing mental illness, but however you look at it, our current approach to treating mental illness isn’t working. If a treatment is really effective then shouldn’t rates of disorder and disability caused by the illness be decreasing rather than increasing? And then there are the countless studies now documenting the role that psychiatric medications might be playing in some of these outcomes.
  • Researchers in the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry have documented the benefits of micronutrients to treat mental illness, showing that micronutrients can reduce aggression in prisoners, slow cognitive decline in the elderly, help people overcome addictions, and help treat depression, stress, anxiety and autism and ADHD.
  • People who eat ‘traditional’ or ‘unprocessed’ or ‘Mediterranean’ or ‘prudent’ diets have lower rates of depression and anxiety than people who eat ‘Western’ or ‘processed’ diets. Not a single study shows that the Western diet is good for our mental health. 

Many questions remain to be answered by research on micronutrients and mental health. But with all of this rich data highlighting the power of nutrition, we can make some individual and collective changes now:

  • Rethink our current treatment approach. Prioritize lifestyle factors, healthy eating, exercise and psychological treatments and save medications for when these approaches don’t work. If nutrients work, then can the cost of these nutrients be covered through our public health care systems?
  • Take universal prevention seriously by optimizing nutrient intake of those who are vulnerable. In the world of physical health, we don’t wait until the heart attack hits to try to modify lifestyle behaviours that we know contribute to heart disease. It should be no different with mental health.
  • Learn about the risks of eating processed cheap foods. As Michael Pollan stated, “Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere. And if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies. And it’s charged to your health.”
  • All children need to learn how to cook. All children need to know that food doesn’t have to come in a packet. Schools could reflect on the contents of their lunch menus. Children are too frequently rewarded with processed foods for good behaviour. Parents/teachers need to rethink whether this pairing intuitively makes sense. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to teach our children that every time we put something in our mouths, we make a choice to offer ourselves something nourishing or nutritionally depleted.

Nutrition matters. And if we’re really ready to get serious about mental health, it’s time to get serious about the critical role played by nutrition.

For those of you who might find the time to read a few key overview papers, we are taking this opportunity to recommend a few:

  1. In 2013, the two of us published a systematic review of multinutrient treatment – Rucklidge, J. J., & Kaplan, B. J. (2013). Broad-spectrum micronutrient formulas for the treatment of psychiatric symptoms: a systematic review. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 13(1), 49-73. doi: 10.1586/ern.12.143
  2. More and more people are interested in inflammation as the underlying mechanisms relevant to many forms of ill health.  Here’s an excellent resource – and the title says it all: Berk, M., Williams, L. J., Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Pasco, J. A., Moylan, S., Allen, N. B., Stuart, A. L., Hayley, A. C., & Byrne, M. L. (2013). So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicine, 11(1), 200.
  3. You have also heard terms (and not just from us!) like microbiome, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial function. The two of us have coauthored a paper which will be published any week now by Clinical Psychological Sciences:  Kaplan, B. J., Rucklidge, J. J., McLeod, K., & Romijn, A. (in press). The Emerging Field of Nutritional Mental Health: Inflammation, the Microbiome, Oxidative Stress, and Mitochondrial Function. Clinical Psychological Science.
  4. We have told you previously about the formation of a new international society that is relevant to all of us: the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR.org). Julia is a member of the ISNPR executive committee and has co-authored a statement about the mandate and scope of ISNPR which will be published any week now in The Lancet Psychiatry. Here’s the reference: Sarris, J., Logan, A. C., Amminger, G. P., Balanzá-Martínez, V., Freeman, M. P., Hibbeln, J., Matsuoka, Y., Mischoulon, D., Mizoue, T., Nanri, A., Nishi, D., Ramsey, D., Rucklidge, J. J., Sanchez-Villegas, A., Scholey, A., Su, K. P., & Jacka, F. N. (in press). Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry: A Consensus Position Statement from The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR). The Lancet Psychiatry.


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  1. Nutrition is wonderful. Micronutrients are great. Psychotropic drugs are dangerous and deadly. This is great research on the importance of nutrition. But let’s be clear. Mental illness, like mental health, is a myth. (http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/the-myth-of-mental-illness/) Bipolar, ADHD, PTSD… are all products of psychiatric deception. (http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/the-book-of-woe/)
    Of course there are symptoms that can be prevented by proper health and nutrition. But the kids that are being drugged (http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/the-medicated-child/) are not mentally ill.
    As far as helping people in crises in different countries, the following book is a must read: http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/crazy-like-us/
    We are so good at diagnosing and prescribing remedies to others. What we are not so good at is recognizing that perhaps the problem is not with the people we are busy diagnosing and fixing, but with us.
    By all means, keep up the good work with research into nutrition. That is good. But let’s not forget that without love, none of this will “cure” anything: http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/a-prescription-for-love-an-introduction-to-dr-peter-breggin/

    • Dear ( )
      Your comment and that of Slaying_the_Dragon_of_Psychiatry, raise the issue that while nutrition can be beneficial, our focus is woefully mislaid as we are targeting symptoms and disorders that are a myth and therefore not in need of treatment.

      We agree that there are significant challenges to the diagnostic system that we have today. When we see people get well and feel better and go to work and enjoy relationships, families and children, we see them get well across all categories of illness and all symptoms, suggesting that the diagnostic categories are not independent of each other. And so we do see significant problems with the current disease model, just as you do.

      However, to take down the disease model, our current health care model, our current reliance on nutrient depleted food and the general dismissal of using nutrients to improve the health of many, is asking a lot of a single 18 minute talk. There are many TEDx opportunities in there for others!

      By the way, although we never think of our nutrition research as ‘the medical model,’ we do think of it as a biological model. We wonder if that offends anyone. Nutrients are the building blocks of our cells (e.g., omega 3s are critical for cell walls) and our cell functioning (e.g., minerals and vitamins are critical to the neurotransmitters being synthesized and being able to function). So nutrition is a biological factor. But there are so many other factors that contribute to mental problems (poor family relationships, lack of economic wellbeing, abuse and trauma, etc, etc, etc.). So even though nutrition is biologically relevant, there are so very many other important factors that determine our mental health. And if we *really* want to solve a huge portion of the problem — let’s just get rid of poverty and war.