We live in an era where depression, anxiety and the prevalence of ADHD seem to be at an all-time high. The key question is very simple: what is the medical community doing to alleviate this suffering?
Even before the current pandemic derailed our lives, it became clear that the demands put on physicians to provide timely and proper mental health care were causing them to fall further and further behind.
Dr. Bonnie Kaplan is a professor emeritus in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. She is a prolific publisher on the biological basis of developmental disorders and mental health. Her keen interest in how nutrition contributes to brain development and brain function has led to her being recognized internationally. She was named one of Canada’s top 150 Difference Makers in Mental Health.
Kaplan teamed up with Dr. Julia Rucklidge, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Canterbury, who now lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Rucklidge has been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the treatment of mental illness for several decades. Her 2014 TEDx talk on this important topic has been viewed nearly 1.7 million times.
Drs. Kaplan and Rucklidge’s most recent book, The Better Brain, is a wonderful resource to families who are interested in not only using pharmaceutical tools to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and ADHD but also to know more about the science behind nutritional modalities to optimize brain function.
In the foreword, written by Dr. Andrew Weil, the New York Times bestselling author of Spontaneous Happiness and the director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, we are given a summary of why this book matters a great deal: our current diet in North America is extremely suboptimal and excessively pro-inflammatory.
Foods high in unhealthy fats and unhealthy carbohydrates upregulates cytokines which lead to suboptimal brain functioning and, over time, significant damage to one of the body’s most important organs.
The Mediterranean diet is often used as a reference point in researching the role of nutrition’s impact on the brain. The topic is complex and the authors provide ample examples of why we need to do way better at using nutrition to create healthier brains in children and their families.
Weil refers to this book as providing us “a bold new paradigm” of mental health. He writes that “making nutritional science central to the field is long overdue” and adds “I could not be more pleased to introduce it to readers.”
Psychiatrists are aware of the fact that they need to train general practitioners and pediatricians in how to diagnose and treat depression and anxiety promptly. But the bulk of this delegated education centres around prescribing medication.
To vilify doctors as being “pill pushers” seems to me to be too simplistic. And yet it is fair to ask if doctors spend time also to talk about the gut microbiome in optimizing brain function, the role of supplements and micronutrients and improving resilience to trauma and stress by following a less pro-inflammatory diet.
The brain is hungry for proper fuel, but are we meeting the ideal standard yet? Are medical doctors sufficiently aware of the latest science on this topic?
At a time where we want quick solutions and the bottom line, I would suggest that busy parents and interested MDs start by watching Rucklidge’s TEDx talk (https://youtube.com/watch?v=3dqXHHCc5IA)
For those concerned about the role of pesticides, herbicides and the Dirty Dozen (produce which may be seen as healthy, but ironically could cause harm), the book suggests a visit to the Environmental Working Group’s website: www.ewg.org
Another website dedicated to new conversations about mental health is MadInAmerica.com (I find the terminology unfortunate but perhaps it was chosen intentionally to gain extra attention).
Rucklidge recently developed an online course (www.edx.org) on nutrition and mental health. This course can be audited for free. For those who want to go further and obtain a certificate by completing assignments, see www.edx.org/course/mental-health-and-nutrition
Many pediatric patients who are prescribed medication struggle to swallow pills. Kaplan has the solution for that — see her interesting video to help people learn to swallow pills and capsules (www.Research4kids.ucalgary.ca/pillswallowing).
My friend and colleague, Dr. Allan Donsky, who has many years of experience as a psychiatrist, was asked what he thought of this book. Allan said, “Anything we can do to give ourselves a better brain is worth the effort. A better brain fuels a better mind, improves mental and spiritual health leading to greater wellbeing. There is nothing more important now than human well-being and being well in the world.”
Dr. Nieman is a community pediatrician with 34 years of experience. He has completed 112 marathons and his second book, recently published is 101 Finish Lines.