Julia Rucklidge: Nutrition, Mental Health and TED

James Moore

This week on MIA Radio we interview Dr. Julia Rucklidge. Dr. Rucklidge is professor of clinical psychology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and she leads the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Julia completed her PhD at the University of Calgary followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

In the last decade, the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group has been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the expression of mental illness, specifically ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety and stress.

Julia has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters, has been frequently featured in the media and has given invited talks all over the world on her work on nutrition and mental health.

We discuss:

  • What led Julia to her interest in nutrition and how it may have a role in responding to mental disorders, particularly Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Why using the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals may not be the best approach when responding to psychological difficulties.
  • How Julia went about setting up a Randomised Controlled Trial to investigate the effect of micronutrients and minerals on behavioral problems.
  • That the most consistent finding of the study is that the individuals taking micronutrients improved more in their general functioning and impairment when compared to those just taking a placebo.
  • That it’s hard to move away from the conception of mental illness as a chemical imbalance in the brain, partly because of the vested interest in keeping it alive.
  • That there is no opportunity to patent nutrient therapies, so there is little incentive for research and limited commercial interests.
  • Why a single nutrient response might not be the best approach for someone who wanted to use nutrition to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
  • How a dietary deficiency of Niacin during the 1930s led to a condition called Pellagra which often manifested as psychotic symptoms.
  • What led to the flagging of a 2014 TEDx talk Julia gave entitled “The surprisingly dramatic role of nutrition in mental health”.
  • How Julia felt about her talk being flagged by TED.
  • How many historical medical advances, now accepted as the standard of care, at the time flew in the face of conventional scientific thinking.
  • How difficult it has been to communicate with TED about the flagging of the talk.
  • How Julia hears from many people who get in touch to share that they are struggling with psychiatric medications and instead want to look to nutritional solutions.
  • That the best advice is often simple, eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce the amount of processed food.

Relevant Links:

Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group

Vitamin-mineral treatment of ADHD in adults: A one year follow up of a randomized controlled trial.

Anxiety and Stress in Children Following an Earthquake: Clinically Beneficial Effects of Treatment with Micronutrients

A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of a probiotic formulation for the symptoms of depression

TEDx Christchurch: The Surprisingly Dramatic Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

TED Betrays Its Own Brand By Flagging Nutrition Talk

Contact the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group

Mad Diet by Suzanne Lockhart

Previous articleWarming Temperatures Could Increase Suicide Rates
Next articleHis Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward (Podcast)
James Moore
James Moore has experienced the psychiatric system and psychiatric drugs firsthand following a stress-related breakdown. Believing himself to be fundamentally broken, he spent many years on psychiatric drugs before awakening to the reality that psychiatry has few answers for human difficulties. James produces and hosts the Mad in America podcast, in which he interviews experts and those with lived experience to challenge some common misconceptions about psychiatry, psychiatric drugs and the bio medical model.


  1. james and Julia————-outstanding podcast…
    this is the most important podcast I have listened to here…
    NUTRITION AND MENTAL HEALTH…hold on to your seat…
    because the ride will be uphill all the way…
    thank you both for your courage and honesty…

  2. very frustrating….where are all the comments here…
    this line of research may be very helpful in treatment…
    but the anti-psychiatry persons don’t like it…
    this has to do with BIO…and it is shunned…
    anti-psychiatry is heavily loaded to the SOC..
    how about soc/psy/bio…can you buy that…
    because this research is very important..
    and I trust james and Julia…thank you…

    • I don’t hear any “antipsychiatry persons” complaining about this article. I think it’s awesome that people are researching how nutrition affects our mental/emotional well being. The main objection I’ve heard in the past to Julia’s commentaries is only that she uses DSM categories in her published research. I understand her reasons for this AND the reasons why people object to it, and both have good points. But that doesn’t take away from the rather obvious fact that what we eat affects how we feel. I don’t think that an “antipsychiatry” position in any way prevents one from believing that nutritional variables affect one’s mental/emotional state.

        • I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think biology plays a role in how we feel and act. The objection to psychiatry is not that it involves biology. The objection I have is that 1) psychiatry claims to understand the causes of “mental illness” when it does not; 2) psychiatry pretends that those causes are primarily or exclusively biological (ignoring psychological, social and/or spiritual issues entirely, and also ignoring nutrition, btw); 3) psychiatry lies about the effectiveness/dangers of their drugs (because they are corrupted by pharmaceutical company money!) and 4) psychiatry relies on the legal system to force “treatment” on people who knowingly decline to use it, violating people’s human rights with impunity.

          Biological impacts on behavior are very real, as anyone who has missed a couple nights of sleep in a row or not eaten all day can easily attest. It’s not about denying biology – it’s about resisting a false narrative that’s driven by corruption and power dynamics which doesn’t really lead to healing in most cases, and in many leads to further damage that the psychiatric profession is unwilling to take responsibility for.

          — Steve

          • steve you have said it very well…but NUTRITION
            may be more important for a lot of people
            having mental health problems..anti-psychiatry
            people focus too much on SOC..

  3. Neither myself nor my partner eat processed food. Pretty much none at all. In recent years we’ve improved an already excellent diet by growing our own fruit, veg and salads. Next year we’re hoping to start off some olive trees.

    We’re both very active. She probably speed-walks now on average 50 miles per week. Following my achilles injury I’ve returned to biking, as when ridden correctly, there should be minimum strain on the achilles. I’m averaging about 100 miles per week.

    Despite this, she continues to be regularly suicidal and I continue to be as mad as a hatter.

    Results are obviously going to be better felt by people eating very poor diets and leading indolent lifestyles.

    But food and exercise kinda hits a plateua, and from that point you’re on your own. There isn’t anything an extra banana or a few more gruelling miles down bumpy canal paths is going to do for you, other than, add a little scenery or a moment of oral pleasure to your madness, which is no bad thing.

    So probably some people will be significantly helped, but most will be rudely disappointed.

    • Hi Rasselax.redux – thanks for your comment and sharing your experience with diet. The research is quite clear that there are people who will benefit from a dietary manipulation (like what you describe – reduced processed foods, increased whole foods). Some may need more intervention, like cutting out dyes or dairy or gluten or eggs. BUT, we think there are some people who need more nutrients than what they can get out of their diet – hence the rationale for adding in nutrients like in our research (in pill form). We have seen people who come in to our studies on excellent diets and yet benefit from additional nutrients. We haven’t though figured out how to predict who they will be -that is, who will respond and who won’t.

      Little turtle – I am quite enjoying the lack of attacks as is the norm for the blogs that Bonnie and I write!

      • Thanks for the reply, Julia.

        I absolutely endorse your work and your point of view. And these days, the food chain is so complex and somewhat compromised, it’s definitely a worthy avenue for people to explore. For instance, I’ve known and read a number of people who have all but eradicated their child’s so-called pathology through carely (and with a lot of effort) eradicating certain foods/chemicals/additives from their diets.

        What’s going to be difficult for many people are getting hold of truly organic produce. Most supermarket fruits and fruit-products are very low in vitamins and minerals. Or so I’m told.

    • Perhaps, Rasselax.redux, it’s time for supplementation of some kind. Are there any orthomolecular practitioners in your neighborhood? A “face to face” is liable to be necessary, so the practitioner knows what to look and test for. You may be asked questions that seem strange, but actually have a purpose. Tell the practitioner a former madman sent you.

      • My main focus is on organically-grown produce. We’ve learnt this year about the benefit of allocating wild areas. It brings in new predators and gives shelter to the frogs.

        I probably will end up checking out an orthomolecular practitioner someday. It’s one of the few alternatives I haven’t yet given a run out. The nearest practitioner is about 1.5 miles away.

  4. Julia – you are right to take pride in your TEDx talk – the standing ovation and cheers at the end say it all. Fabulous!

    The actions of TED’s ‘curation team’ are shameful, and I believe intended to silence other scientists who feel inspired to do likewise. You put it very well yourself with this…

    “It’s very disturbing to me that they have put that flag on because it’s questioning my integrity as a scientist, and that is probably the worst thing that can happen to you in terms of your reputation.”


    “I wonder whether or not I have gotten lumped together alongside people who deny climate change, or deny vaccines work… that I’m anti-psychiatry which is not what I am. I’m just saying “hold on, let’s look at other ways, lets see if we can help those people who aren’t being helped by medications.”

    And yet that’s all it takes to be tarred with the anti-psychiatry brush. Bear in mind that guild Psychiatry controls the definition of anti-psychiatry. Vocal lead psychiatrists such as Lieberman, Wessely and Pies are skilled at using blogs, social media and mainstream media to make sure that everyone understands that anti-psychiatry = anti-science, flaky, bizarre, deviant. Then they can (and do) target anyone they perceive as a threat with the dreaded “anti-psychiatry” slur, and they have an army of dutiful medics, academics and journalists to assist. That is why I decided to embrace and reclaim the word anti-psychiatry – it has been a very liberating move!

    • Bravo! Language is neutral, but in the wrong hands it can be used for devious purposes. Antipsychiatry may have started out as a pejorative term coined by a psychiatrist to target non-believers with. but there is absolutely no reason for it to remain such. I say good for those non-believers who realized that psychiatry was bogus science, and shoved it back into the face of its practitioners. There are other employments which are, by far, more rewarding than that of mental patient. Additionally, there are many. many practices that are more honest than that of “mental health” professional (updated witch doctor). Perhaps, in time, more people will learn to boycott the con-artists and hoaxers by using the door to the street.

  5. what really bothers me here….I think that more anti and critical
    psychiatry persons would be talking about this…nutrition could
    be a keystone in the treatment of mental suffering….
    psych drugs are just treating symptoms…but nutrition may
    be getting at some of the causes…