Nutrition, Sleep and Mental Health

Bonnie-Kaplan-PhDThe two of us have had the honour recently of co-editing a special series on Nutrition and Mental Health for the journal called Clinical Psychological Science (CPS), one of the flagship journals of the Association of Psychological Science. The articles are just now beginning to emerge, and we would like to tell you about one of them because we think it is a landmark study.

Ever since Bonnie began studying the use of formulas that contain a very broad spectrum of minerals and vitamins (usually around 30 of them), and reporting (since 2001!) tremendous improvements in mood regulation, we have been challenged to find any negative adverse event attributable to the nutrients.

If we just step back a bit, it is probably easy to see why negative side effects would be rare. Humans have evolved to need minerals and vitamins (micronutrients) every single day — that’s why we have to eat. As long as the nutrients do not exceed tolerable upper limits with known toxicities, why would we ever think they would cause negative side effects? As we have written previously, an entire quart (litre) of blood perfuses our brains every minute our hearts are pumping – primarily to bring oxygen and nutrients to the incredibly dynamic metabolic pathways responsible for the functioning of that little 2-3 pound organ accountable for our thoughts, our consciousness, our lives as human beings. (Note: some of us wish we could eat just once a month or once a year, as described in some science fiction, but that’s just not in the cards given our physiological needs.)

What are the side effects of nutrient treatment?
So it was somewhat surprising 15+ years ago when Bonnie first began to be challenged (by psychiatrists in particular, who are always being asked about adverse side effects) to answer this question: what are the side effects of taking a broad-spectrum formula?

In all these ensuing years, the answer has not changed from her first observations: people repeatedly tell us that in addition to improved mental health and cognitive clarity, they sleep better and they experience relief of constipation.

Now, finally, we have evidence for the first of those two ‘side effects’ in the form of an excellent study in our special CPS series.  Joanna Lothian from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, carried out a study for her Master’s thesis (under the supervision of Julia as well as Neville Blampied, an expert on single case research) to determine whether a broad-spectrum formula actually did improve sleep, and if so, what characteristics of sleep changed. Joanna recruited 17 adults (14 of whom completed) suffering from sleep problems and randomized them first to a multiple baseline. That is, some had to wait one week for the intervention, some two weeks and some three weeks. This type of design allows one to monitor sleep and determine if time alone alongside intense monitoring has an effect on sleep patterns. Overall, the baselines were stable.

All participants then received 8 weeks of micronutrients (mostly vitamins and minerals) and their sleep was monitored over that period of time. Treatment completers reported that their insomnia improved substantially, and in addition, their mood, anxiety and stress ratings dropped as well. The change was determined to be both reliable (that is it was not due to measurement error) and significant (with very large effect sizes). Side effects reported were minimal. Given the chronic nature of the symptoms, spontaneous remission is highly unlikely. Further, knowing the side effects associated with pharmacotherapy, these results should be welcomed and encourage further research on this topic.

The trial was not double blind and so Julia’s University of Canterbury Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group is planning a blinded replication.

Why might micronutrients help insomnia?
Vitamins and minerals are well established as cofactors essential for the synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters. Furthermore, the link between insomnia and stress is well-established, and vitamin and minerals are intricately involved in the regulation of the stress response. Micronutrients may result in reductions in stress (we have excellent studies demonstrating the strong effect of nutrients on stress, both in nonstressed and stressed populations- indeed we have blogged about our work on the use of nutrients in recovering from natural disasters including floods and earthquakes) and thereby reduce insomnia. This may be especially important at times of high stress because such situations impose high nutritional needs, potentially impairing the maintenance of regular circadian rhythms, thereby adversely affecting sleep. Maintenance or restoration of adequate nutrition may, therefore, be particularly important for circadian rhythm recovery.

You can access the study here:

Bonnie-Kaplan-PhDDr. Bonnie Kaplan, PhD is the fund advisor of the Nutrition & Mental Health Research Fund and a member of the new International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR). For many years, she studied developmental disorders in children, especially ADHD and reading disabilities (dyslexia). Dr. Kaplan was part of a team from University of Calgary and University of British Columbia which helped in the search for genes that predispose children to dyslexia. Also, with her students, she investigated the characteristics of adults with ADHD. Such work led her to further investigations of the role of nutrition. Another interest has been the mood symptoms that accompany ADHD and learning difficulties, and the role of micronutrient treatment of mood, aggression and explosive rage. This progression of topics has resulted in a research program focused on the role of nutrition in brain development and in brain function, especially the use of broad spectrum micronutrient treatment for mental disorders.

Dr. Kaplan’s latest published research: A randomised trial of nutrient supplements to minimise psychological stress after a natural disaster. PsychiatryResearch(2015).

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