New Research: The Impact of Maternal Nutrient Status on Mental Health

For those of you following the APRON study in Canada, here’s the latest news on the multi-nutrient formula, EMPowerplus.  New research into EMPowerplus is in, bringing the total number of studies to six. 

Below this article is a summary of The Impact of Maternal Nutrient Status during Pregnancy on Maternal Mental Health and Child Development.  The lead investigator of the APRON study, Dr. Bonnie Kaplan will be speaking to Postpartum Support International’s annual meeting this summer.



On April 1, 2009, a very significant study was published in Clinical Medicine: Psychiatry – an open access, peer reviewed electronic journal that covers diagnosis, management and prevention of psychiatric disorders. The study, Database Analysis of Adults with Bipolar Disorder Consuming a Micronutrient Formula, took a detailed look at how 358 adults with bipolar disorder responded from taking EMPowerplus over a period of 6 months.


The scientists who were involved in the research were Dermot Gately, PhD., from New York University, and Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD., from the University of Calgary. “Because of the incomplete benefit from pharmaceuticals and from single nutrient interventions in treating mood symptoms, and the more promising results from multinutrient formulas, we investigated the long-term benefits of broad-based micronutrient treatment,” the authors remarked.

This brings the number of published EMPowerplus research studies to six.

Here’s a little more about the study…

Key findings

The strongest predictors of improved mental health were (a) increasing micronutrient dose and (b) decreasing psychiatric medications.

For over half the sample, symptom improvement exceeded 50% at 3 and 6 months.

One-third of the sample experienced very significant symptom reduction that exceeded 75%.

The effect size was large (0.76) at 6 months.

More EMPowerplus = Better results

“…Decreasing symptom scores were associated with increasing dosage of the micronutrient formula…”

Medications can get in the way of results


Bonnie J. Kaplan PhD., Departments of Pediatrics, and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

“The decrease in symptoms was significant for individuals who were taking psychiatric medications as well as those who were not.”

“[However], the group with the higher Medication Index seemed to be somewhat disadvantaged: the magnitude of their improvement was more moderate (about 35% compared to 44%–56% for the others).”

Placebo effect?

“Placebo effects, which plague many studies, are not likely to last 6 months: the fact that the symptom improvements were sustained or even increased at 6 months compared to 3 months argues strongly that these benefits cannot be attributed to placebo or positive expectancy effects.”

Clinical and scientific implications

“…People searching for nutritional methods to manage their mood symptoms are likely to have been ineffectively treated by pharmaceuticals, and are not necessarily representative of everyone with bipolar disorder. In other words, many if not most of the participants in this database would probably be considered treatment resistant…the most difficult to treat, rendering these positive findings even more important clinically.”

“Scientifically, the growing evidence of amelioration of psychiatric symptoms with multinutrient formulas, in addition to the growing evidence of only modest effects from pharmaceuticals, provides a powerful case for further research on micronutrient treatment.”


The Impact of Maternal Nutrient Status during Pregnancy

on Maternal Mental Health and Child Development

Team Leader:

Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, Depts Pediatrics & Community Health Sciences:

Team Co-Leaders:

Catherine J. Field, RD, PhD, Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition:

Deborah Dewey, PhD, Depts Pediatrics & Community Health Sciences:


The problem:

Nutrients are essential for brain growth and development, as well as for good physical and mental health. It is often assumed that people living in developed countries have adequate nutrient intake, yet deficiencies are extremely common. The impact of poor diet is magnified by pregnancy, when a woman’s nutrient needs increase and the fetus depletes maternal reserves. Studies have implicated the lasting effects of the uterine environment on health of the fetus, long after birth. Previous research has also demonstrated an association between nutrient inadequacies and mental health.

The team:

Sixteen researchers from the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, and the University of Tilburg (The Netherlands) will bring expertise from eight different disciplines to bear on this problem.

The plan:

The team will determine to what extent a woman’s diet affects her mental health, her ability to nurture her infant, as well as the actual growth and development of her baby. They will recruit 10,000 pregnant women in their first trimester in Calgary and Edmonton and follow them throughout their pregnancies; offspring will be followed until age three.

The team will:

-Assess the women’s nutrient intake and nutrient status throughout pregnancy

-Evaluate women’s mental health throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period

-Examine the birth outcome and neonatal variables of the babies, including birth defects


-Evaluate the babies’ physical and mental development regularly up to the age of 3 years.


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