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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: Can nutrition help stabilize mental health?

In her weekly column, licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long looks at different ways to improve mental help, compering pharmaceutical treatments with psychiatric nutrition
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Dear Readers,

This week was Bell Let’s Talk day to promote mental health awareness. So today, we’re going to talk about the ways lifestyle habits can seriously impact mental health. As many of you know, I run an online clinic that specializes in holistic mental healthcare. 

First, let me share a few stats that I think highlight why this is such an important issue. 

In any given year in Canada, one in five people will experience mental illness. 

By the age of 40, 50 per cent of Canadians will have experienced mental illness at some point in their life.

Roughly 4,000 people die of suicide in Canada every day.

Mental healthcare in Canada costs us $51 billion per year. That’s greater than 1.5 times the cost of all cancers combined.

And these are pre-COVID numbers.

Mainstream treatment

Current medical treatment protocols focus on pharmaceutical symptom management. When a person is in an acute state and unable to function, these protocols can be lifesaving. But data on their long-term efficacy isn’t nearly as promising. Research has shown that as many as 33 per cent of people that felt antidepressants worked for them initially eventually reached a place where they were no longer effective. Some studies suggest that in the long term, they are no more effective than placebo

In addition, there are now concerns about the safety of long-term antidepressant use. Even the most rigorous studies on their long-term use do not extend past a couple of years, and data is now emerging to show that there are serious concerns

“Some recent studies have suggested serious potential risks. People who used antidepressants had a 14 per cent higher risk of heart attacks and strokes and a 33 per cent greater risk of death, according to findings in a meta-analysis of 17 studies that was published in 2017 in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.” Read more here.

One such concern includes post-SSRI sexual dysfunction. SSRIs are the most popular type of antidepressant today, widely claimed to be the safest. Almost 100 per cent of people taking antidepressants have reported some sexual dysfunction. There are now class action lawsuits for the multitudes who have experienced this impact from antidepressant use. For more information on this issue, readers can go here.

There are also a number of lawsuits against these medications for causing patients to commit suicide, as is the case with Lexapro, CelexaPaxil, and others. By 2009 there had been over 800 lawsuits for Paxil-related birth defects, with a verdict against the company. SSRI litigation continues to unfold internationally. 

Some side effects we now know about include:

This isn’t even getting into the problems with benzos, the leading class of anti-anxiety or sedative drug in Canada today. These include drugs like Xanax, Clonazepam, Ativan, and Valium, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety, grief, and insomnia. 

Conservative estimates claim that 23 per cent of people who use these drugs become addicted within three months. Other professionals insist addiction can happen in as little as two weeks. In fact, patients report that heroin is easier to kick. The problem is just how horrible the withdrawal is, requiring incredibly long tapers and intense support. This was highlighted in the recent news by Canada’s own Jordan Peterson, who almost died trying to come off of benzos after using them to cope with grief and stress. To learn more about the harm caused by these and other psychotropic drugs, you can google #prescribedharm for literally thousands of first-hand accounts.

So, while there are pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety and depression, there has been a tremendous lack of transparency from drug companies about the risks associated with the use (and in particular, the long-term use) of these drugs. It’s understandable that people are seeking a safer and more natural alternative.

Nutrition for mental health

The good news is psychiatric nutrition offers a safe, scientific, and effective treatment alternative without the use of dangerous chemicals or electroshock interventions. I prefer to call it orthomolecular nutrition because the gentleman who founded it, Dr. Abram Hoffer, dubbed it orthomolecular, but you will see practitioners online calling it psychiatric nutrition. For more about Hoffer and his story, go here. To read how Dr. Hoffer transformed my son’s mental illness and my life, go here

The medical establishment is just starting to realize that nutrition can have a huge impact on mental health and can even transform a diagnosis, as it did with my son. Watch this video of a Manhattan psychiatrist explaining the impact of nutrition on his clients, and go to this link to see how it’s transformed his practice. 

Or go to Hoffer’s website to learn about the brain imaging he uses to detect abnormalities in brain function and matter and how he uses nutrition and supplements as treatment - with imaging to confirm his results. 

Harvard’s Chris Palmer has written extensively about the role of diet in mental illness. His dietary recommendations are very similar to what I use in my clinical practice.

Intolerances and imbalances

I don’t use SPECT imaging in my practice. Instead, I rely on simple bloodwork and hair analysis to guide me. There are several factors I’ve found that play a role in mental health:

  • Food intolerances
  • Gluten intolerance
  • Gut permeability
  • Gut biome health
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • And nutritional imbalances/deficiencies

Almost always with anxiety there are nutritional deficiencies or a higher-than-normal need for specific nutrients. With depression and bipolar depression, there is blood sugar dysregulation and hypoglycemia. With psychosis, there is always gut dysbiosis and an auto-immune type reaction to certain foods, as well as a reduced ability to detoxify the body.

Dietary changes help all these immeasurably. I have had many clients greatly reduce or eliminate their need for medications through my program. But changing the diet is a difficult thing to do, especially when you’re not feeling well, to begin with! It’s hard to be consistent when you’re already overwhelmed. This is why I feel a nutritionist is optimal to help clients develop the tool kit to manage their mental health more holistically. 

Where to start?

My advice for anyone wanting to start out at home is to remove added sugars from the diet. Sugar has no nutritional redemption and damages our health in so many ways, including our mental health. If kicking sugar is too hard for you, look at the program I offer

I also suggest clients focus on proteins to help stabilize mental health, even adding a quality protein shake every day to help ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. Neurotransmitters are made from proteins. And anyone who has gas or bloating should consider taking digestive enzymes at meals to ensure that food is being properly digested and used by the body. If you eat it but can’t get nutrients from it, it’s not going to have much of an impact!

I hope this helps you understand the power of nutrition for good mental health and how to start realizing that! As always, readers can reach out with their own questions by writing me at [email protected]. If you feel you need more 1:1 help, you can find my clinic online at


Nonie Nutritionista