Nutritional treatments for mental health: a very interesting seminar

I recently attended a seminar at a beautiful location near Lake Tahoe in California. The topic was Micronutrient Treatment and Research in Mental Health. The two main speakers were Bonnie Kaplan, Ph.D., a University of Calgary researcher who has been investigating the effects of nutritional products in mental health, and Boston psychiatrist Charles Popper, MD.

Dr. Popper was described in the seminar materials as a Child and Adolescent psychiatrist with many professional accomplishments in the field of psychopharmacology, or the use of psychiatric drugs, often in combination, to treat mental disorders. This led me to wonder, while I was on my way to the seminar, if half of the seminar would be dedicated to praising modern drugs.

As it turned out Dr. Popper does have a wealth of experience and knowledge of psychiatric medications, but he no longer uses them, or uses them very sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. Instead, for the past decade Dr. Popper has been treating psychiatric patients with nutritional supplements. Those who come to him on medications are rapidly transitioned to nutrients alone, and only for a minority of patients does he prescribe tiny doses of pharmaceuticals.

In fact, Dr. Popper does not seem to hold psychiatric medications in high esteem, or think that their safety can be taken for granted. One thing I learned in this seminar is that six-week clinical trials are now the industry standard for FDA approval of new drugs.

When it comes to psychiatric medications research trials will only enroll young adults who are in perfect health, take no medications, and only suffer from the condition being investigated. In other words they have no complicating factors. If at the end of six weeks there is a positive outcome, the medication is deemed to be effective and set loose on the population at large – including small children, the elderly, people with multiple diagnoses, those taking a long list of drugs – and often for a lifetime.

Dr. Popper’s patients include children and adults suffering from bipolar disorder, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, ADHD, Asperger’s, and a host of behavioral issues including anger management. Over many years he has successfully treated between 600 and 800 patients using nutritional supplements alone and – acting as a consultant – he has helped other doctors treat many times as many patients.

Based on his decades-long clinical experience, Dr. Popper has concluded that, when only nutritional supplements are used, patients achieve better long-term outcomes and side effects are greatly reduced or eliminated. Whereas medications typically lose effectiveness over time, supplements remain effective, and patients treated with them continue to improve over the long term. The frequent dose adjustments often needed with drugs are not necessary when supplements are used and people achieve a greater degree of independence from their doctors.

If you wonder how reliable this information might be just consider that Dr. Popper is associated with Harvard Medical School and is the founder of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry program at the McLean Hospital where his work has been reviewed and studied closely.

Interestingly, Dr. Popper is not a diet expert. Though he realizes that diet plays a role in mental health he does not analyze his patients’ diets or make dietary recommendations. His approach involves the use of a single supplement called EM Power Plus as the foundation, and other common supplements prescribed on a case-by-case basis based on symptoms and response to treatment. These include amino acid mixes, 5HTP, L-theanine, SAMe, and more.

EM in the supplement’s name stands for Essential Minerals. This is a very simple supplement originally formulated in Canada to treat bipolar children and found to be highly effective for that purpose. In spite of this great success and lack of side effects or toxicity, information about this product did not spread rapidly because of staunch opposition from the medical establishment.

Today Dr. Popper and others have found that this supplement works very well as a foundation not only for bipolar disorder, but also for a broad range of other psychiatric conditions and to aid in weaning off medications. There are twelve published studies on this product and a few are listed at the end of this piece. None of the studies are the so-called “gold standard” double-blind crossover studies considered essential for medical recognition. The reason is that medical authorities have to approve a study’s design before it is performed for it to be considered valid and today it is not possible to obtain approval for a product containing more than a single ingredient. EM Power Plus contains 36 natural ingredients.

Selected studies:
Mehl-Medrona, L. et al. (2010). Micronutrients versus standard medications management in autism. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

Rucklidge, JJ, MR, Whitehead, KA (2010). Effect of micronutrients on behavior and mood in adults with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders.

Gately, D, Kaplan, BJ (2009). Analysis of adults with bipolar disorder consuming a micronutrient formula. Clinical Medicine: Psychiatry. 4:3-16

Rucklidge, JJ (2009). Successful treatment of OCD with a micronutrient formula. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23: 836-840

2 Responses to “Nutritional treatments for mental health: a very interesting seminar”

  1. Does your store have EM Power Plus?

  2. Yes we have it. You can search for it under EMPower Plus.