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Daily micronutrient dose may combat mental illness

Reprinted from the University of Canterbury Chronicle - 04/03/2010

A University of Canterbury clinical psychologist has discovered compelling evidence that taking a micronutrient supplement may have big benefits for sufferers of some mental illnesses.

Associate Professor Julia Rucklidge (Psychology) has just had an article published in the Journal of Attention Disorders on the effect of micronutrients on behaviour and mood in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects an estimated three to five per cent of adults.

Associate Professor Julia Rucklidge
Associate Professor Julia Rucklidge
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The journal article is based on findings of an open-label trial in which all participants know what treatment they are receiving she conducted with 14 adults with both ADHD and severe mood dysregulation (SMD). Over eight weeks the participants ingested a 36-ingredient micronutrient formula that consisted of mainly vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The participants were taking no other medications.

Significant improvements were noted across informants (self, observer and clinician) in Professor Rucklidge's trial on measures of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, mood, quality of life, anxiety and stress, all with medium to very large effect sizes.

"Most of the individuals were in a moderate to severe depressed state at the commencement of the trial and at the end of the eight weeks the mean score on the depression measure fell in the normal non-depressed range, which is a fairly remarkable change in such a short time, especially given that many had not experienced such improvements with other conventional treatments," Professor Rucklidge said.

"Participants were monitored for a further two months and people who stayed on the micronutrient formula showed further improvements and the ones who came off showed regression in their symptoms."

Another important finding from the study was the micronutrient treatment had remarkably few side effects in comparison to many of the mood stabilisers and stimulant regimes used in conventional medical treatments for these psychiatric conditions.

"Aside from a few headaches and stomach aches in the first few weeks, no other side effects or adverse effects were reported," Professor Rucklidge said. "Blood work and urinalysis also confirmed that the micronutrients were not having any adverse effects.

"That is a positive thing as many pharmaceuticals come with side effects that people find intolerable and can often be the reason why people stop their medication."

Professor Rucklidge plans to follow up this study with a randomised control trial in which participants are randomised to different treatment arms: for example micronutrients or a placebo, that will establish if the micronutrient formula performs better than the placebo effect. She is currently recruiting participants for such a study. This research has recently received research funding from the Vic Davis Trust.

"While this open trial does not in itself prove efficacy, it does provide preliminary evidence supporting the need for a randomised clinical trial of micronutrients as treatment for the more complex presentations of ADHD, especially for those with co-occurring mood problems.

"It shouldn't really come as a surprise that micronutrients can affect psychiatric symptoms given that they are essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It is possible that some individuals with mental illness either have deficiencies in nutrients or may need more for optimal brain functioning," said Professor Rucklidge.

"There are limited treatments for adults with ADHD as stimulants have not proven to be as effective for adults as they are for children. Moreover, adults with ADHD often have a more complex psychiatric presentation than children," she said. "This is potentially a safe, alternative option, with very large effects for a disorder which is quite prevalent in the community."

Earlier this year Professor Rucklidge had another paper published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders outlining a case study involving the successful treatment of an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) with a micronutrient formula.

She is also collaborating with overseas investigators analysing a database consisting of 120 children with bipolar disorder treated with the micronutrients over a six-month period and is running an open-label trial looking at the effect of micronutrients on moody teenagers as part of a master's thesis with student Rachel Harrison.

Note from editor of NZine
Please read this valuable article carefully and note exactly what Professor Rucklidge has shown. Comments which have been critical of the value of this report on her discovery have been based on inaccurate reading of the above article.