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Nutrient Power

How do biochemical imbalances affect our brains?

Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain revised & updated William J Walsh, PhD 2012, 2014 Skyhorse Publishing ISBN 978-1-62636-128-7

Reviewed by Justus H Lewis, PhD First Published in the Australian Journal of Hypnotherapy

Link to the book here.

In the field of health and nutrition, there is growing concern on the increase in chronic diseases for which there are no ready cures. Nutrition had taken centre stage in the heated debate on the potential long term consequences of including genetically modified ingredients and heavily processed food in our daily diets. Dr Walsh’s revised and updated edition of Nutrient Power has been republished (2014) at an opportune time. This book can be a useful reference for health professionals particularly counsellors.

With the title, Nutrient Power, you might expect this book to be one of the many currently popular books about the healing power of food and that it might include a plug for a particular dietary approach like the Paleo Diet or the Mediterranean. 

But William Walsh’s approach is more subtle. This book is about the many bio-chemical imbalances that affect mental health and while bio-chemistry must involve food, Dr Walsh’s experience has led him to believe that with several exceptions, major biochemical imbalances are best treated first before attempting changes in diet and lifestyle (p. 152). Once the imbalances are corrected, patients can more readily tackle the necessary dietary changes. This establishes a feedback loop that continues to stabilise and maintain the new brain balance. 

This book is about the role of neuroscience in the contemporary treatment of mental health. 

In recent years a working knowledge of neuroscience has become of greater importance to clinicians such as counsellors, hypnotherapists, psychologists and psychotherapists. Research provides a steady stream of new information about how our brains work. Our ability to explain these discoveries to clients/patients in ways that make sense to them can make a big difference to the effectiveness of treatment. As clients have a greater understanding of what can and can’t be changed and what is or is not under their control, they can benefit by being better informed on the choices available to them. 

Spanning a long career that started with a doctorate in chemical engineering, Dr Walsh has studied over 30,000 patients and developed protocols for the treatment of patients with a range of behavioural disorders. 

He argues that psychiatry needs a new direction. The new direction recognises that the molecular biology of mental disorders is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors; rather than using psychiatric drugs that may have undesirable side effects, these disorders will increasingly be treated by adjusting brain levels of key nutrients accompanied by compatible processes such as counselling. The first four chapters cover Biochemical Individuality and Mental Health, Brain Chemistry 101, The Decisive Role of Nutrients in Mental health and Epigenetics and Mental health. 

The book starts with a review of biochemical individuality. The concept of biochemical individuality, first developed by Roger Williams in the 1940s is key to understanding and applying biochemical therapy. We are each genetically unique. One man’s meat is indeed another’s poison. Some of us are genetically predisposed to thrive on a vegetable-based diet, others are not. Also, surprisingly, nutrient overloads may create more harm than nutrient deficiencies. This explains why treating mental disorders with multivitamins and minerals may do more harm than good (p. 5). 

Chapter 2: Brain Chemistry 101 describes, with illustrations, the role of neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain and explains how most psychiatric medications work by altering neurotransmitter activity at synapses (p. 10). 

In Chapter 3: The Decisive Role of Nutrients in Mental Health, Walsh puts the case for nutrient therapy by examining the role played by a variety of ‘repeat offenders’, ‘the repeated presence of certain chemical imbalances in completely different mental disorders’ (p.18). He identifies these as copper overload, vitamin B6 deficiency, zinc deficiency, methyl/folate imbalances, oxidative stress overload, amino acid imbalances. 

A notable feature is that he is not arguing for the exclusive use of nutrient therapy. Rather, he discusses the strengths and weaknesses of medication, nutrition, lifestyle changes, psychiatric interventions and counselling (pp 30-32) making the point that nutrient therapy and counselling are natural partners. 

Chapter 4: Epigenetics and Mental Health completes the big picture introduction leading to the detailed discussion of specific mental disorders in Chapters 5-9: Schizophrenia, Depression, Autism, Behavioural Disorders and ADHD, and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The final Chapter 10: The Clinical Process outlines a five-step process for nutrient therapy. 

  1. Medical history and review of symptoms 
  2. Lab testing of blood and urine 
  3. Diagnosis of chemical imbalance 
  4. Treatment design 
  5. Aftercare. 

The book includes References, a Glossary, and four Appendices: Methylation, Oxidative Stress, Metallothionien, and Clinical Resources. I was intrigued to learn that while having a family history of the same disorder is a greater predictor of mental illnesses than early life experiences (p. 3), by the same token, the genetic predisposition to a particular disorder affords a greater chance of recovery for the affected person.