Ep. 29: Dr. Julia Rucklidge — Can Nutrition Prevent Depression and Promote Resilience?

Psychologist Julia Rucklidge was disturbed by two trends she observed:

Psychological conditions like depression and anxiety were becoming more and more common.

At the same time, rates of prescription medication use for anxiety and depression were extraordinarily high.

Something didn’t add up—if drugs were helping, why did the rates of illness keep increasing? Clearly current treatment approaches were failing countless individuals.

In this week’s episode I spoke with Julia about the need for more effective treatments for common psychological conditions. We focused on her area of specialty, the cutting edge of nutritional psychiatry. We discussed many important topics in this area, including:

  • The lack of average long-term improvement associated with medication use
  • The impact of stigma on treatment development for psychiatric conditions
  • The need for more widely available treatments
  • The effect of habitual diet on depression
  • Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on mental health
  • Problems with the Standard American Diet (SAD)
  • The SMILES trial in Australia, showing that better diet can help significantly with depression
  • Replication of the SMILES findings by Parletta and colleagues
  • Lack of training in the role of nutrition in mental health
  • The effects of micronutrients on stress resilience
  • Benefits of micronutrients on insomnia
  • The limitations of recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals
  • The importance of researcher independence in clinical trials
  • Possible ways that micronutrients have their beneficial effects
  • The role of nutrients in turning genes on and off
  • Possible effects of nutrients on the microbiome (bacteria in the gut) and inflammation
  • Resistance to the possible role of nutrition in mental health
  • The pioneering work of Dr. Bonnie Kaplan
  • Difficulty in getting funding for nutritional psychiatry research, and difficulty publishing
  • Single nutrient vs. broad spectrum studies
  • The frontier of nutritional psychiatry
  • Potential advantages of more personalized treatment approaches

If you’re curious about the contents of the supplements used in Julia’s studies, I’ve included a label showing the ingredients for EMPowerplus, which is one of the formulations the researchers have used. Please note, as Julia did, that she is not paid by the supplement manufacturers (nor am I)—it’s essential that she remain an independent agent, not beholden to her funding sources in a way that could compromise the science. I include this information here only to let you know what was used in the research studies.

For more on Julia’s research, check out her Google Scholar page with links to her many studies.

Julia maintains the Mental Health and Nutrition page on Facebook, where you can follow the latest developments in her field.

You can also follow Julia on Twitter and read her blog posts on Mad in America.

Julia Rucklidge, PhD, is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) and the Director of the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Lab. She completed her PhD at the University of Calgary in clinical psychology followed by a two year post-doctoral Fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Originally from Toronto, Julia immigrated to New Zealand in 2000.

Julia’s interests in nutrition and mental illness grew out of research showing poor outcomes for individuals with significant psychiatric illness despite receiving conventional treatments for their conditions. In the last decade, she and her lab have been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids) in the treatment of mental illness, specifically mood disorders, anxiety, stress, and ADHD.

Julia has over 100 peer-reviewed publications, has given invited talks all over the world on her work on nutrition and mental health, and is frequently featured in the media on her work. As you’ll hear in our discussion, she is most proud of the studies conducted within the context of the Christchurch earthquakes that highlighted the importance of nutrients in recovery.

Julia has been the recipient of many awards, including the Ballin Award from the NZ Psychologist Society, an award that recognizes notabe contributions to the development or enhancement of clinical psychology in New Zealand; a Braveheart award for her contribution to making Christchurch a better place to live; and being named in the Top 100 Most Influential Women in New Zealand in 2018. Her 2014 TEDx talk has been viewed over a million times.

Having witnessed personally and professionally current conventional treatments fail so many people, Julia is passionate about helping people find alternative treatments for their psychiatric symptoms and being a voice for those who have been let down by the current public healthcare system.

8 thoughts

  • Hi. Dr Rucklidge stated in the video that she gave 15 tablets a day in one trial of micronutrients for the treatment of depression and other conditions. These daily doses were under the UL level. I would like to know the amounts given of each . Thank you in anticipation. I see the ingredients on the EMPowerplus but these are largely under the RDA amounts.
    Dr Rucklidge also indicates that one micronutrient is not enough to cure a condition because the illness
    requires many micronutrients as in the case of serotonin production , but is there not a case to me made for large doses of vit c in coronary artery disease and b12 in Autism as expounded by Dr Linus Pauline, dr Levy and others in the former case and the book “Could it be B12” by SM Pacholuk and Jeffrey J. Stuart in the latter.
    Having worked in Pharmacy all my life as a qualified assistant I have seen the benefits of vit c supplements in the prevention of mouth ulcers and have seen doctors resistance to supplements in general I would regard myself as not easily swayed as to the benefits of these micronutrients but in the case of vit c and b12 the evidence is compelling
    Yours faithfully
    Joe Duane

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Joe, and thanks for listening. Good Q about the actual amount of micronutrients. I would need to look into that more to see how much was actually given in each study, and I know what you mean about the EMPowerplus formulation. Some of the B vitamins are quite high but the majority of the nutrients are <100% of RDA. I know for the fat soluble vitamins like A and D, there's a problem with taking too much. I wonder if there's a similar issue with other micronutrients of needing to be in a range—not too low and also not too high. As for single micronutrients for some non-psychiatric conditions, I don't doubt that's the case. Scurvy and Vitamin C is one obvious example that I believe Dr. Rucklidge gave. Thanks for commenting.

  • I notice that in the replication, the total participants reduced from 152 eligible adults recruited, to 95 completing at 3-month and 85 at 6-month assessments. Could it be that only those with better prognosis were able to complete?

    • It’s an astute question, Joanna, and always a possibility that there was non-random dropout that may have caused a signal in the follow-up data. I don’t know the study intimately but would guess the authors assessed as best they could for any pre-dropout differences that distinguished between those who completed follow-ups and those who didn’t (though even those controls are imperfect). One of the reasons no single study is the final word! Thanks for your comment.

  • I am a Psychologist and have been offering the suggestion of taking EMP, as an alternative, to people with mental health issues. I have noted a very consistent positive outcome for my clients.

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