Dr. Bonnie Kaplan, clinical psychologist and winner of the 2019 Excellence in Complementary and Alternative Medicine award, delighted audiences at the Fall-Winter Workshop of the Louisiana Psychological Association, held November 1 in Baton Rouge.
Kaplan presented her work in nutritional mental health and laid out a convincing and interesting picture of how mental illness often involves nutritional deficiencies. LPA President, Dr. Alan Coulter, said, “Bonnie Kaplan, our keynote speaker, inspired us all with startling facts and practical recommendations.”
Nutritionists from the Louisiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics attended along with the psychologists from around the state. Monica McDaniels, MS, RDN, LDN, and board member on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition, and Liaison to Louisiana Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, also attended and was welcomed by Dr. Coulter.
Dr. Kaplan joined local experts including McNeese’s Dr. Linda Brannon, author of the popular textbook, Health Psychology, Dr. Susan Andrews, author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms, and Dr. Charles Frey, IV, expert in chronic pain conditions, for the one-day event, “Advances in Health Psychology.”
Kaplan treated the audience to a strong theoretical argument about the prevalence of mental illness. Prior to 1750, she explained, only one percent of the population suffered from mental and emotional disorders. Now that figure has risen to over 20 percent. She said, “Is anyone still believing that this increase is solely due to more referrals and more sensitive diagnoses?”
She laid out the foundational theory and current research for the role of nutrition in the brain and the linkage and evidence for mental disorders in cognitive functioning.
Kaplan said that the role of nutrients in the brain is not a mystery and should be taught in elementary school or at least in medical school, but it is not.
She pointed out that 48% of the caloric intake of all Canadians, and likely even higher for Americans she said, is completely empty of nutrients. She asked the question, “What happens when we eliminate one half of the nutrients in our diets?”
Kaplan made the case that depression, irritability, social withdrawal, self-mutilation, inability to concentrate, and other mental health symptoms originate after six months of nutrient deprivation.
Her work revolves around multiple nutrients supplements and she made the case that magic bullet thinking it’s not helpful. Multi-nutrients are required as a foundation because the nutrients are synergistic and in work in combination. Past research has resulted in the misleading idea that single nutrients are not effective or less effective than desired. The situation is compounded by individual differences, which also can impact results.
Benefits of nutritional treatment for mental conditions especially include resilience to stress PTSD and ADHD, she explained. Kaplan reported on post-disaster research with victims of earthquakes, floods, massacres, and fires and how nutritional treatment was equal or better to other types of support.
Kaplan also spoke about the emerging field of nutritional mental health as it relates to inflammation, the microbiome, oxidative stress and mitochondrial function in patients. She encouraged the audience to think of epigenetic effects of nutrients and the importance of these elements in total health.
Her message included the idea that an individual presenting with a psychiatric disorder should be evaluated for suboptimal nutrition as a first step, and assured psychologists and the nutritionists in the audience that this is within the scope of practice for all those wanting a thorough review of the origin of the symptoms.
Dr. Kaplan lives in Canada and lectures internationally on the importance of improving nutrient intake to prevent and treat psychiatric symptoms. As a researcher, she questioned the longstanding paradigm of single nutrient research to establish the scientific basis for a broad spectrum micronutrient approach, eschewing industry funding in order to safeguard the integrity of her research. She has published widely on the biological basis of developmental disorders and mental health – particularly, the contribution of nutrition to brain development and brain function. She has also established two charitable funds in support of nutrient research, so far distributing $750,000 for clinical trials at universities in Canada, the United States and New Zealand.
Dr. Kaplan is a professor emerita in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. In the late 1990’s, she challenged the conventional model of psychiatric research by studying the role of nutrition in mental illness and brain disorders. She dealt with skepticism and attacks on her work for over fifteen years, resolutely meeting and exceeding calls for evidence. Her research provided the initial groundbreaking data showing that treatment with a broad spectrum of micronutrients, carefully formulated, could be used instead of psychotropic drugs to treat bipolar disorder and ADHD.
In 2013, Dr. Kaplan became one of the founding members of the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR.org), an organization that emphasizes the importance of nutrition “above the neck.” In 2016, she retired from full-time academic work, but is still passionate about supporting young researchers who are studying nutrition and mental health. To help them do so, Dr. Kaplan has established two donor-advised charitable funds, one in Canada and one in the United States.