UC Science Radio: Episode 7

Prof Julia Rucklidge: Micronutrients for the mind

UC Science Radio, podcast, Julia Rucklidge, micronutrients

Minerals and vitamins fuel our cells, give us energy and help with our brain function. Yet 60 percent of the foods sold in supermarkets are ultra-processed and lack the micronutrients we need for good brain health. UC Professor of Clinical Psychology, Julia Rucklidge, wants to change that.

In this episode, she explains what our brains need to be healthy and how micronutirents can make a difference to mental health. It’s all part of her mission to reverse the mental health epidemic.

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In this episode:

02:01 We’re the critics and conscience of society. And if there are new and crazy ideas that contravene our current way of thinking, it’s still our duty and our role to investigate them.

07:19 Where do you get these nutrient-dense types of foods? It's going to be in fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, grains. That's where you're going to get those vitamins and minerals.

07:58 I always say food first. If you can try to get your nutrients from your food, and you can feel well and feel healthy, and you're feeling, vital and energized and all of those things, then you don't need to then consider supplements.

08:32 Our food is probably not as nutrient dense as it used to be.  We have a lot of mouths to feed and so we're going to favour crops that grow quickly and have a high yield. If a crop grows really quickly, then it's going to have less time to take the nutrients out of the soil into the plant. That selection for food is probably to the detriment of the nutrient density of the food.

10:47 stress really seems to deplete us of our nutrients. It makes absolute sense, your body needs to survive and it's going to prioritize the fight-flight response over anything else that's happening. It needs those nutrients to make the adrenaline. So your nutrients get diverted to make sure you survive, but it's at the expense of everything else that's going on in your body.

12:25 We don't have, you know, the anxiety for earthquakes and the anxiety for exams and we don't compartmentalize anxiety that way, we just feel anxiety.

13:36 Essentially, we found that people who happened to be taking nutrients at the time of the September 2010 earthquake recovered far more quickly than people who weren't taking nutrients.

16:08 We're ignoring the brain at our peril, and we see already the evidence of it in the mental health statistics, in the mental health epidemic.

17:20 The approach we take is saying, “Okay, let's give the body what it needs, the brain what it needs, in terms of the nutrients.” And see what happens when you end up being well-nourished.

19:08 Oh, I know. I can often get just thrown into the camp of snake oil salesman and that's unfortunate.

20:33 We have to change the way we've been educating our psychiatrists, our psychologists, to understand that nutrition really is a foundation pillar of health.

21:51 You asked me, verbose Julia, to say one sentence of why my work is so important? Because it's going to reverse the mental health epidemic.

Read a transcript of the full interview.

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Meet our speakers

Julia Rucklidge

Julia Rucklidge

Julia Rucklidge is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in the University of Canterbury's School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing; and the Director of Te Puna Toiora | Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group. She is passionate about helping people find alternative treatments for their psychiatric symptoms and being a voice for those who have been let down by the current mental health system. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she completed her PhD at the University of Calgary in clinical psychology followed by a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. In 2000, she joined the Department of Psychology at UC, where she teaches child psychology in the Clinical Psychology Programme.

In the last decade, Julia and her team have been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the expression of mental illness, specifically ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety and stress associated with the Canterbury earthquakes. Julia has over 100 peer reviewed publications and book chapters, has been frequently featured in the media, and has given invited talks all over the world on her work on nutrition and mental health. She was named in the top 100 Most Influential Women in New Zealand in 2015 and received a Braveheart award in 2018 for her contribution to making Christchurch a better place to live. Her 2014 TEDx talk has been viewed over 1.5 million times.

Learn more about Julia: Research profile

Molly Magid

Molly Magid

Molly Magid is an MSc student at UC. A recent graduate of Brown University, Molly is working on research in conservation genomics with Associate Professor Tammy Steeves from the School of Biological Sciences. Molly is passionate about finding ways to communicate science to the public in a clear, novel, and engaging ways. Most recently, Molly worked as the lead student producer on the podcast Possibly, which answers listener's questions about sustainability using relevant science research.