More research on nutrition and mental wellness

The Potential of Nutritional Therapy

A recent letter to the editor published in the prestigious Science magazine highlights EMPowerplus research as an example of “complex micronutrient supplementation for the treatment of mental illness.”1 Authors point out that “many studies of nutritional therapies of mental disorders were done in the past century and showed limited benefit, probably because each study investigated a single nutrient at a time.”

Authors of the letter cite a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by C. Bernard Gesch and colleagues from Oxford University as an example of “the use of complex micronutrient therapy.” Gesch and colleagues concluded that “antisocial behaviours in prisons, including violence, are reduced by vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.”2

This double-blind study by Gesch and colleagues was recently supported by a randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands.3 Researchers randomized prisoners to receive treatment with “nutritional supplements containing vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, or placebos, over a period of 1-3 months”. During this time, they measured incidents of “aggressive and rule-breaking behavior” as observed and reported by prison staff. Authors reported that “as in the earlier (British) study, reported incidents were significantly reduced in the active condition, as compared with placebo.”

Authors of the letter state that two factors “should compel researchers to study those alternatives gaining both empirical and theoretical support.” One factor well-known by psychiatrists and patients is “frequent side effects of medications”. Another factor is that “patients who do not respond to prescription drugs are more common than previously thought.”

Authors of the letter cite a recent medical journal article that states, “Research needs to move beyond simply investigating the comparative effectiveness of current medications to pursuing the development of better treatments that will reduce the burden of illness from depression.”4

Authors of the Science letter stress the importance of medical journal publications as means of “spreading information about legitimate research on nutrition and mental health.” They state, “Nutritional therapies do not draw the financial support of pharmaceutical companies, which cannot patent them.” They also note, “Clinicians resist using supplements as treatments, mostly because they lack knowledge about them.”

The Science letter was authored by university researchers from three different countries.


1 Gardner A, Kaplan BJ, Rucklidge JJ, Jonsson BH, Humble MB. The potential of nutritional therapy. Science. 2010 Jan 15;327(5963):268.

2 Gesch CB, Hammond SM, Hampson SE, Eves A, Crowder MJ. Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners. Randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2002 Jul;181:22-8.

3 Zaalberg A, Nijman H, Bulten E, Stroosma L, van der Staak C. Effects of nutritional supplements on aggression, rule-breaking, and psychopathology among young adult prisoners. Aggress Behav. 2010 Mar;36(2):117-26.

4 Insel TR, Wang PS. The STAR*D trial: revealing the need for better treatments. Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Nov;60(11):1466-7.


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