IntroductionFinding Answers in Nutrition, Not the Pharmacy
THERE IS AN ENORMOUS crisis in America right now. Not just an economic crisis or an obesity crisis or an opioid crisis. A mental health crisis.
Currently, one person in every five has some form of mental health issue. This is incredibly disturbing, because a mental health challenge in one individual affects an entire family, which means that the number affected is much higher.
Yet for over fifty years, modern medicine has been trying—mostly unsuccessfully—to treat mental disorders with pharmaceuticals. For example:
All indicators across all Western countries show that mood and anxiety disorders have not decreased over the last few decades—actually, they’ve gone way up
—despite substantial increases in the prescriptions of medications, particularly antidepressants. Right now about 40 million Americans take some kind of psychiatric medication: that’s equivalent to about one in six adults. According to an article published in the New York Times
on April 7, 2018, 15.5 million Americans have been taking antidepressants in particular for at least five years. This rate has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000.Despite an ever-increasing use of antidepressants, recovery rates and relapse rates aren’t any better now than they were fifty years ago before the advent of medications.According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), suicide rates in the United States have increased steadily from 2000 to 2016.
Conventional treatment helps some, but doesn’t solve the problem. Many people remain shamed by the unfair social stigma around mental health issues, putting them at risk for even worse symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In addition, the impact on healthcare budgets of these often ineffective treatments is huge. It costs the US economy tens of billions of dollars for treatments that just aren’t working well enough. Not to mention the cost to consumers who can’t afford insurance or copays.
What if there is a solution to this crisis?
What if the pharmaceuticals that are costly, ineffective for many, and laden with side effects were no longer the automatic go-to treatment for mental health issues?
What if we could eliminate that social stigma by showing that many mental health symptoms in some people are simply caused by suboptimal nutrition and not by something being “wrong” with you?
What if the right nutritional approach to treating mental health issues can save as much as 90 percent of society’s mental healthcare budget?
What if one solution to this crisis is as simple as changing how you eat?
Nutrition matters, much more than you may realize. We all know that eating poorly can cause all kinds of physical illnesses, like obesity, Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. But poor nutrition is also a significant risk factor for the development of mental illness.
Why? Because when we eat, most of the energy and nutrients we consume are used by our brains. What you eat today will affect how you feel and think tomorrow. Most people don’t know that. They might think that a healthy diet is needed for overall health, but not realize its importance for better mental health.
The Better Brain is the first book that will tell you how and why nutrients can be used to treat mental health issues. We are scientists who’ve shown that many symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more are caused by suboptimal nutrition.
In other words, what if a large part of the solution to this mental health crisis is as simple as changing what you feed your brain?
This book is all about that solution.
How This Book Came to Be
After her first baby was born in 1992, a Canadian woman named Autumn Stringam had such a severe postpartum psychosis that she was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. On the fateful day in late 1996 that Bonnie met her, along with her father Tony Stephan (a property manager) and their friend David Hardy (a nutrition consultant and feed formulator for farm animals), she described the auditory and visual hallucinations that she had had; the five psychiatric medications she was required to take; the fact that she was not permitted to be alone with her baby in case the voices in her head returned and told her again to kill her baby; her doctors’ prognosis that she would never be well; and her determination to do whatever her doctors told her so that maybe she could have a better life.
And then she told Bonnie what happened when she took a broad spectrum of micronutrients—the term we use for minerals and vitamins—as recommended by her father and David. She began to feel well, like herself again. She was able to gradually eliminate her medications. Her hallucinations disappeared.
And her psychiatrist threatened to stop seeing her if she continued with micronutrients instead of medications.
Autumn’s family, the Stephans, had several members suffering from bipolar disorder, psychosis, and depression—serious mental health issues. Conventional treatment did not restore them to normal mental health, and there were many challenging side effects and constant relapses. In desperation, and supported by David Hardy’s nutrition knowledge, along with Tony’s children and others, they began using over-the-counter pills and liquids containing micronutrients. Much to everyone’s surprise, they got better. A lot better!
The idea of using micronutrients to improve emotional stability was well established in animals used in laboratory research, and in the 1990s supplemental micronutrients were used in farm animals across Alberta. In humans, the pioneering work of Saskatchewan-based Dr. Abram Hoffer in the 1950s showed clinical benefits in people given large doses of niacin, later leading to a strong orthomolecular community in Canada, which continues to this day to focus on nutritional treatments of mental health problems.
When Tony Stephan’s children improved sufficiently to be able to function normally without psychiatric medication, Tony and his friend David anticipated great interest within the psychiatric and scientific community. To attract the attention of a local academic neuroscientist, Bryan Kolb, David and Tony collected data from some friends whose children had ADHD and emotional outbursts. Dr. Kolb analyzed the data and sent the results to Bonnie in August 1996, because he knew she had published on nutrition in the past.
Shocked yet intrigued, Bonnie knew she had to investigate this further . . . and that was what started her, and soon Julia, on the improbable path toward upending conventional beliefs about the treatment of mental illness.
A dual American/Canadian citizen who earned her academic degrees in America as an experimental psychologist, with postdo...