We hope we have convinced our readers by now (this is our 24th blog) that the field of Nutrition and Mental Health is a vital piece of the solution that everyone reading this website is looking for, one that shows promise for preventing as well as treating mental health problems. What we have not talked about at all yet is the fact that the major federal granting agencies in every country are behind the times in one very important way: they pour millions of dollars into single-nutrient research, but so far have refused to fund research on multinutrient formulas. In fact, it is currently almost impossible to obtain competitive grants to study multinutrient formulas.
We should mention that the two of us have always been very successful at obtaining research grants for other types of research. (To use the academic jargon: we have excellent track records!) But when scientists apply for grants to study the treatment of psychiatric symptoms, using formulas with multiple minerals and vitamins, reviewers ask “but which is the important ingredient?” And then millions of dollars go to vitamin D research, or zinc, or some other single nutrient. (Note: vitamin D and zinc are important! But they work best in combination with the other nutrients we have evolved to need.)
The very basis of asking ‘which is the important ingredient’ reflects an outdated way of thinking — it reflects the expectation that a single nutrient is somehow going to have magical abilities to restore normal gut and brain function. It seems to us that the public in general is taught to think this way. For a while omega-3 fatty acids were going to be the solution to everything; now it is vitamin D. Who know which single nutrient will be next year’s fad?
We have written about this silver bullet, magical thinking in previous blogs. But we want to emphasize that this response also displays appalling unfamiliarity with how brain metabolism actually works, which is very disappointing to find in scientists and granting agencies. The fact is that neurotransmitters need virtually all the dietary minerals and vitamins for optimal synthesis and metabolism.
Don’t forget — as we have said before: Every single minute your heart is beating, a quart of blood passes through your brain. Why? That quart of blood is bringing nutrients and oxygen (and other metabolic products) to every single nook and cranny in your cranium! So ask yourself — what have you eaten in the last day? Those are the chemicals bathing your brain. And there is no single important nutrient.
The really upsetting aspect of the magical thinking still prevalent in the funding agencies is that some excellent young scientists are changing fields. People who want scientific careers must study topics for which funding is available, or their careers fail. So in the last couple of years, we have watched some excellent young scientists as they have taken other jobs and studied other topics out of necessity, even though they are passionate about studying the potential to treat ADHD, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse with multinutrient formulas. This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us: those of us wanting more research to be completed, and those of us wanting to change the dominant model to treating with nutrition first, and then supplement with medications only when needed.
We seem to be at a crossroads this year. Another clinical trial has just been published(1) showing that in people with depression who are not responding well to SSRIs, the addition of folate results in symptom improvement. This is not the first study to show that a single nutrient ‘boosted’ the effect of a psychiatric medication, nor will it be the last. The crossroads we are referring to is this: are we as a society satisfied to keep studying one nutrient at a time to try to improve symptoms in people maintained on medications, or is it not time to determine whether treatment with a broad spectrum of dietary minerals and vitamins alone can result in restoration of mental health? This may surprise some of the readers here, but the fact is that there are more than 25 peer-reviewed publications in medical and scientific journals showing that broad-spectrum micronutrient formulas benefit people with symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, psychosis, etc. And who has funded almost all this research? Private donors.
Last summer, Bonnie established two charitable funds, one in the U.S. and one in Canada. She did this out of frustration with the inability of her younger colleagues to obtain competitive grants to support multinutrient research, in spite of 15 years of accumulating peer-reviewed studies showing how promising this field. The funds issue charitable receipts for their respective countries, they are completely independent of commercial interests, and they are managed by reputable community foundations.
In the United States, the first Tuesday in December has been named GIVING TUESDAY, a day to make your end-of-year charitable donations (to get the tax credits for that year). This year it is December 1. But really, all of December is an opportunity to make those charitable donations you have been thinking about. If you have the financial ability to support others, we encourage you to donate to your favorite charities, especially those focused on improving mental health wellness. If you think funding multinutrient treatment of mental disorders is important, you may want to check out the one just established(2) — but we urge you to consider any that are important to you. Think about donating to charities focused on mental wellness at this time of year.
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- Shelton RC et al. Results of a double-blind randomized study of adjunctive L-methylfolate calcium in patients with MDD who are inadequate responders to SSRIs. J Clin Psychiatry, 2015: ePub ahead of print.
- If you are an American taxpayer, please go to this link to watch a 5-min video about the fund: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdmnKuw57yw
Go to this link if you want to donate:
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.