Upgrade Your Brain with Julia RucklidgeFeb 13, 2023
This interview was an eye-opener. Julia Rucklidge shared some gold that really changed the way I look at nutrition.
Julia J. Rucklidge, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and a Clinical Psychologist in the School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing at the University of Canterbury, the Director of Te Puna Toiora, the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Lab, theme leader in the Child Wellbeing Institute, and co-author of The Better Brain jointly published by Penguin Random House and Harper Collins in 2021.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, she completed her PhD at the University of Calgary in clinical psychology and in 2000, she immigrated to New Zealand. Her interests in nutrition and mental illness grew out of research showing poor outcomes for individuals with significant psychiatric illness despite receiving standard conventional treatments.
For over a decade, her lab has been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the treatment of mental illness, including ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety and stress. Julia has over 140 peer reviewed publications, including in the Lancet Psychiatry, JAMA and the British Journal of Psychiatry and is currently on the Executive Committee for the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research.
My key take aways from this interview were:
- Leadership is about not being afraid of the consequences for speaking up about, and standing up for, what you are truly passionate about. For Julia that is mental health. Currently in NZ when it comes to mental health, we are the ambulance at the bottom of the hill. We need to get better at prevention rather than trying to cure when it's already too late.
- Our environment and our habits can play a big role in our mental health and our physical health. A lot of people use the excuse of "it runs in my family", however you can actually have a lot of influence over what genes are up-regulated and down-regulated in your body, simply by looking after yourself in terms of exercise, stress and nutrition.
- Our diet has a direct impact on our mental health. Most people believe that diet affects your physical being and can make you sick, however they ignore the impact that it has on our mental health.
Julia shared so much more, listen to the full episode here.
James Laughlin 00:00
Welcome to lead on purpose. I'm James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion musician, and now an executive coach to global leaders and high performers. In every episode, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you lead your life and business on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today and investing in yourself. Enjoy the show.
Would you like to connect personally with some of my podcast guests? They are arguably some of the most influential leaders and high performers on the planet. Each month, members of my HPC, the High Performers Club, get to connect with a leadership titan in an intimate Q&A. They also get access to powerful high-performance leadership coaching, and monthly masterminds. There are only 20 seats at the leadership table. You can apply today by going to www.jjlaughlin.com/HPC.
James Laughlin 01:06
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James Laughlin 04:16
How would you like to upgrade your brain? For sure I know I would love to do that on a daily basis to make it that little bit better. Well, today's special guest is none other than Julia Rucklidge, Ph.D. She's a professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist in the School of Psychology speech and hearing at the University of Canterbury. She's also co-author of The Better Brain jointly published by Penguin Random House and Harper Collins. Today we're going to look at the connection between nutrition and brain health, and mental health. So, sit back and enjoy the show.
James Laughlin 05:00
Hey Julia, a huge welcome to the Lead on Purpose Podcast.
Julia Rucklidge 05:13
My pleasure, I'm going to keep going.
James Laughlin 05:18
So great to connect with you.
I'm excited to talk about your zone of genius, that area that you're passionate about. And also, The Better Brain, it's a book that by the end of this conversation, I know every listener will want to pick up a copy. And I just want to thank you for taking the time out on your Monday morning bright and early to share your gold.
Julia Rucklidge 05:37
Yeah, no, my pleasure.
James Laughlin 05:39
Let's start with leadership. What would you define leadership as?
Julia Rucklidge 05:47
So, the question I'm actually asked a lot about is what do I how do I define leadership? I suppose that would be how would I think about it be such a lay perspective on this. Although I suppose in a way, I probably would be seen as a leader in some respects around the academic world. I think it's, Well, for me, it would be about that, the will that honesty that taking the taking risks on challenging the status quo, that's definitely where I would see myself as having grown a lot is that I saw how things were when it comes to mental health, I'm incredibly well versed in our current treatments that are on offer in New Zealand, around the world. They are, it's a medical model, where we give mostly medications, even to young people, even though the data are not impressed with young people particularly, we still do seem to do that as a frontline form of treatment, we have counseling, but it is rare to get hold of it, you generally have to pay and even if you can afford to pay, you tend to end up on a very, very long waiting list. So, observing that as a recent graduate. So, I did my training at the University of Calgary as a clinical psychologist, finished up as an intern at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and then did a postdoc, and then came here was doing research on ADHD and noticing that in our own data that despite receiving the best standard of care, these kids would still be viewed as symptomatic meeting criteria for ADHD. And you got to think, but that's wrong. I mean, that isn't, if you're going to get a treatment, you expect to go into remission mean, you'd expect that if you got a cancer treatment, you'd expect that if you went to the doctor with a broken leg, you wouldn't expect to continue to have that broken leg a year or two years later, despite receiving the best care. So, I think, from where I come from speaking out about that and saying, this isn't actually good enough, is what I think exemplifies for me leadership is that you're being a critic and conscious of society using science to back you up. And then not being fearful of the consequences of speaking out about the current state of mental health in New Zealand and the world. So maybe I don't know if that's a leadership style or not, not sure. But that's me, definitely have been on the line many, many times. And I've had, I've been in the firing line as a consequence of being so outspoken.
James Laughlin 08:47
I think it's so vitally important. Particularly, you know, we're both here in New Zealand. And over the last decade or so, the OECD has reported findings that are quite alarming regarding our mental health and domestic violence. So, when it comes to mental health, and the treatments that we do have, clearly, they're not optimal. What are your thoughts on other forms of prevention, and also the treatment of mental health challenges? Because it's all members, you know, right, from our very young kids, right through to our, you know, seniors that we have mental health challenges. What's your suggested approach?
Julia Rucklidge 09:26
Yeah. Well, at the moment, our approach is that we are the, you know, that terrible thing of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but it's very true. So, we wait until a symptom is present. We then let them know, just sort of getting worse and worse and worse because there's nothing that's really available when they're in those early stages. And when it's just so absolutely crisis point. Then they might get into services and even then, it can be difficult. I mean, you've read stories about kids who are suicidal but they're not suicide. Little enough, and so they still don't get access to our current funding treatments. So that's kind of the current model. And that, to me, makes absolutely no sense. I mean, if you think about physical health, again, I think we could do a lot better. But there is an acknowledgment that we want to prevent the heart attack from occurring, as opposed to waiting for the heart attack to occur and then doing something about it. So, we do have, you know, I'll be it in some cases, probably not that sophisticated biomarkers, but you know, blood tests to check out certain measures in your blood of cholesterol, or you get measures of blood pressure, etc., that can be indicators of whether or not you have an increased risk of, of getting a heart attack. So when it comes to mental health, though, I'm not convinced that we're doing anything at all around prevention, or not much. I mean, there's, there's definitely more talk now than there was and particularly I think, since the earthquakes, there's been more of that, what are those small little things that we can do in communities, to improve our wellbeing? So, you've seen the five ways of well-being about, you know, getting out and connecting and savoring your environment. And those are all actually very well-researched, methods to increase our well-being and hopefully at the same time, reduce our chances of going on and developing some serious psychiatric problems. So, there's, you ask a complex question, because just as I'm speaking about it, I also think, well, we've had years and years of trying to convince the public that, you know, you have a biochemical imbalance. And so, it's something that's, you know, is it preventable, you almost that sounds like it's a kind of an inevitable thing that's going to happen to me if my genetics are wrong, and that this is going to, you know, that I'm destined for these, you know, to develop the serious psychiatric conditions. But we know that actually, that's not the case, then there's been a lot of pushback now, against some of those biological models, it's not to say biology isn't relevant when it comes to mental health. Of course, it is, we are chemical soup, and we're, you know, we're making neurotransmitters all the time is where you and I are speaking, they're firing, you know, we use molecules from our food in order to support making hormones and enzymes and, and other things that are necessary for those chemical reactions. So, I don't buy that there's no biology, there's biology happening. And so, I don't like that full pushback. But we do need to acknowledge that some of these messages of death, you know, that it's, it's in your genes. And so, therefore, it's not changeable, really has been, I think, detrimental to people's understanding of mental health, and also their ability to do something about it. Because that kind of puts you in this kind of helpless position of, there's nothing I can do. It's my genes. And so, therefore, I need to take one of these drugs that are supposed to correct whatever it is that's gone wrong. I feel like I've diverted from your question a little bit.
James Laughlin 13:15
You've given us some gold. And so, if people do have that belief system that, hey, it's genetic, like, I just have it, and I've got to take the drugs, what's the potential consequences and negative effects of just using that as an option, that's our only option is drugs.
Julia Rucklidge 13:31
It is pretty much our option. Well, it's, it ends up with these situations where that we have right now, which was that, you know, That you are the disorder, rather than it just being a piece of you, and that there are other parts of you that can overcome some of the challenges that I feel like, you know, keep reading about, you know, particularly ADHD, for example. I've been studying ADHD since my master's degree. So, that's back in the early 1990s. And so, I've observed this disorder and its evolution over time. And I'm not here to say that it doesn't exist, those symptoms do exist. I mean, people do struggle with concentration. But we haven't done a very good job overall. And actually, maybe it's not that, you know, I'll start again, we haven't found the candidate genes that have been suggested to exist to support the development of ADHD we talk about it is running in families. And so, therefore, again, the sense that this is something you know, my father has heart disease and so, therefore, I will have heart disease, my father has ADHD, then, therefore, I'll have ADHD. So, we have this sort of belief system in our society that these things are inevitable if we see them in our families, but we forget that so much of what happens in families has got a massive environmental component to it. And so, the environment and those could be modeling, how do we deal with disorganization? How do we deal with you know, just how to get started in the day, all of that gets modeled and we kind of, under we, don't give that much as much credence as we do to the genetic story sometimes, I think so. It's not to say genetics aren't real, of course, they are. I mean, our genetics do make, you know, they make proteins, or they support making different chemicals that are important for, you know, the metabolic reactions, etc. So, they are irrelevant. But what is remarkable is that we can turn them up and down. And the way that they can get turned up and down is by the environment. And so, the environment plays a really important role. So, smoking would be an example of something that can turn genes up and down or on and off. But another environmental component that I obviously am spending all my time talking about is the food environment. So, the food environment is massive around turning those, you know, either having certain genes get expressed or not expressed. So when we talk about ADHD, for example, as being this thing, that's, it's your destiny, if you have it's in your genes, then you're likely you're going to you know, increase massively your risk of developing yourself, we need to kind of put that in the context of well, what mom eats during pregnancy influences increases or decreases the risk that her child is going to have ADHD. So that and so if she eats a lot of western style foods that you know, the high and sugary drinks and high in your takeaways and your find sugars in your grains and you're high in carbohydrates, and those, not those some carbohydrates are fine, but those, you know, your baked goods and those you know, things you get in plastic and packages and the supermarket, and then low in fruits and vegetables, then the greater the risk that her child will have ADHD. And if she eats a more whole food diet, then that decreases the risk. And this is after we control for all kinds of other things that we know to increase and decrease the risk of mental health issues like socioeconomic status, and mother's educational status and smoking status, etc. So, a whole bunch of other variables that we know can also influence the expression of ADHD. So, when we look at it that way, you kind of go well, actually, this is something that's this malleable, that if we can change the food environment that that child is exposed to during in utero, that's going to influence the development of mental health problems. Again, not everything. It's not the whole story. But it's a significant part of the story, that at the moment in society in 2022 We are virtually ignoring, we're virtually ignoring it when it comes to the mental health space. So, we're not there's now so much research on that food environment as being what I would call a mismatch for our brains needs that we really should like it's I find it it's devastating for me to continue to read about this research and see nothing happening publicly in our public health care system. In Christchurch we have I think it's something like maybe three full-time equivalent dieticians for mental health. Wow. Yeah. So that tells you how little we value the importance of what you eat, and most of them are going to be artwork and eating disorders. So, then that's where you need dieticians to make sure when the refeeding happens, that it's done properly with a good balance of different food groups. So, they're not Yeah, they're not.
James Laughlin 18:51
A few years back, I sat down with Hector Matthews, who is the Executive Minister for Māori and Pacific Health, that kind of protected health board. And he just reiterated exactly what you said. And particularly he felt for those in the lower socio-economic arena. When you go to the supermarket. And you look around that supermarket and you look in the baskets, you're seeing lots of white bread, you see lots of fizzy drinks, lots of chocolate, and very little fruit. And then he says when you look at the pricing the fruit is so expensive, and yet all this other stuff, that's fizziness all this crap really is so cheap. You know, his feelings were like, hey, wouldn't it be amazing if we could put this incredible friction for people and such so, we subsidize the vegetables? We get all the fruit subsidies and we tax.
Julia Rucklidge 19:44
Exactly! Or we start to have the conversation that that's not food, because food is supposed to be nourishing, and it's supposed to be about, you know, supporting life. Those foods don't support life. If we have this, we have so much data we know from the physical health, the end, and I don't think if you stopped somebody on the street and you said, well, do you think the food environment is contributing to obesity? I really hope that most people would go and probably plays a role. Yeah? What do you say?
James Laughlin 20:17
Well, hell yes.
Julia Rucklidge 20:20
Yeah! So, do we recognize that these foods and these sugary drinks are all contributing to current physical health issues? So, we can acknowledge that they have something to do with obesity, type two diabetes, and cardiovascular. But if you were to stop people and say, do you think it has anything to do with mental health? You might have people kind of go, I don't know. I mean, I was taught that nutrition was irrelevant to the brain. I mean, that's a clinical psychologist, right? So that's all your psychologists all around the world, you know, learning that that nutrition was or was irrelevant to sorting out mental health issues. So, when you have an entire profession, that is not that has been educated that way, and then let's just be reminded that physicians are also taught that, that you haven't got a hope of really turning this around until you change the education of professionals. Because that the more they continue to, kind of sometimes they might say something about food, they might ask about coffee as being relevant, perhaps to anxiety or alcohol might come into a conversation, but asking patients about the food that they generally eat for breakfast, or lunch or dinner, how many servings of fruits and vegetables do they eat, that kind of conversation just doesn't happen. And there's a lot of reasons why I think that doesn't happen is that we have this kind of overall, it's not even mean it's not even a kiwi thing of it. Yeah, you're everybody's eating a healthy diet, you know, as long as you eat a healthy diet, then you're fine. And in fact, I'd say Well, no, because first of all, nobody knows what a healthy diet is, because they're surrounded by this crap food that's in the supermarket 69% of goods sold and New Zealand, art would be identified as ultra-processed products. So, we are accustomed to seeing these foods, believing that they're part of a healthy diet, because well, why would we? Why would we think, any differently? It's it surrounds us. If it was that bad for us, well, then for sure, we are just it just wouldn't be sold to us.
Julia Rucklidge 22:30
There's this sort of belief that dieticians have played a role in all of this. I don't know. But the healthy diet concept is talked about a lot. But we don't actually ask people what they're eating. And so, there was a survey that was done just to end and published just earlier this year. And it was a survey of primary and secondary students in Hawke's Bay or in the Napier area. And what they found was that not only were they not sort of meeting the, you know, just the daily quota of two fruits and three vegs a day in I think there where it was less than 20% were reporting that, but 20% of them said no food, no, they weren't eating any. So that so then yeah, they might be eating one or two, but some of them are just eating no fruit and vegetables, and for that to come from the area of New Zealand, which is the biggest food producer of the tastiest fruit and vegetables that are exported all over the world. You've got to think we are doing something wrong. How can it be I mean; it just makes me so upset and angry to see those types of data and say you are We are surrounded by fruits and vegetables that are absolutely the best standard produce. And yet, we think that it's better to export it out of the country rather than to make sure that we have enough for ourselves and for our children in particular. And that's what really is gutting to hear is that we just don't prioritize it. So, if the government wanted to prioritize it, then they would. And the bottom line is that it's absolutely a systemic problem. And so, it is solvable. Everything is solvable. I always think you know, Oh, it's too hard. It's too hard to put a GST I take GST off of fruits and vegetables and you kind of go well actually, you guys took the tax off of fuel within about two days when we had a fuel crisis, didn't we? Yeah, we had so it can't really be that hard. I mean, it must be possible it can't you know, but you always hear it's Oh, it's just too complicated. too complicated for our tax system. Well, no, actually you can do it when you're forced to or you hear oh, it's just too difficult to sort of talk about the environment you kind of go or even do something about and you go well, actually, labor got rid of guns within four weeks after the mass, the massacre in Christchurch, so I don't think things are too hard. If there is this will, then there is a way. And if there is this sort of that is there that the backing of communities of governments of everybody behind it, then it can change. But I just don't think people see it as being important to not.
James Laughlin 25:24
I would always say your actions reflect your priorities. And in this case, it would say that the government's priorities are not our health and access for everybody to get access to good food.
Julia Rucklidge 25:35
Exactly. They don't, it's because it could change, it could change within whatever, it's just weather, I've spoken to so many politicians over the years. And I've told them about this the work that I've done, and I've talked about the food environment, and they just say it's, you know, it's, it's just very difficult, you know, and then you don't understand how powerful these food industries are. And guns seem like pretty much at the top of the powerful industries, and from my lay perspective, so you did that. It is achievable. And I mean, we'd all benefit from it. So, it's, I think we could do it if we wanted to. So, meanwhile, I think though, the meanwhile, we put it on to the individual. And we put the blame on the individual, for not having enough willpower to resist all these things that we've learned. So, we flood them with these foods that we know aren't good for their health. And then we say, okay, but you can stop eating them, it's up to you to stop eating them. And you kind of go well, actually, that seems like an what a toxic environment. So, we're going to just watch the environment with these toxic foods. And then we're going to put it on the onus of the individual to solve it to sort it out. I guess I just think why are we in this position? Why is it that my role at the moment is simply to try to educate one person at a time to just recognize that most of the foods that are in soldier's supermarkets are things that you just don't want to put in your mouth? How did that happen?
James Laughlin 27:13
Like a three-year-old, sitting at the table and an adult coming up the parent going, Hey, here's a plate of marshmallows. Here are some apples that don't touch the marshmallows, just don't touch them. Well, of course, you are the way we're wired. We're biologically wired, neurologically wired, of course, we want the good experience of the marshmallow.
Julia Rucklidge 27:34
Exactly. And they feel good for a short period of time. So, you get a good hit of endorphins or dopamine or whatever. And you see, you feel a little bit of that immediate reinforcement, but long term, you crash, and everybody can talk about that. But it's just that we know that those in the immediate experiences are so powerful and influence our behavior. And so, I, if you're I mean, we put all these things in front of people and then say, but don't eat them. Because it's up to you to not eat them. It's not our fault that we put them in front of you. But we can I mean, all of that can be changed, all of that absolutely can be changed. But I think it takes more than the individual. It's just to me, it just doesn't make sense that we think that it's okay to have a toxic environment. It's like, okay, okay, instead of doing anything about air pollution, we just give everybody a bunch of gas masks so that you can go around and just, you know, protect yourself from the toxicity in your environment.
James Laughlin 28:41
And what's interesting on that front is, I don't think even IQ helps. Because often if I'm doing corporate training with, you know, maybe a billion-dollar company that has a lot of smart individuals in that company, and at the leadership level, we come to afternoon tea. Yes. Morning Tea, and it's chocolate slices, and it's just sugary crap. And I'm like, yeah, where's the fruit? Where are the vegetables? Where's the water?
Julia Rucklidge 29:05
Exactly. And that is something that I say to a lot of when I do speak to different organizations, I say what's in your morning tea? Because that tells us how much you care about your employees. That is like, are you going to give them something that's nourishing for their brain? Or are you going to give them crap? And so, and that's the same with conferences that I go to, and just whether or not they give you a look at their morning tea in the morning tea is telling me everything about how much they care about me.
James Laughlin 29:33
Yeah, and for the leaders that are listening right now, I want you to like check in on that. You know, is it the Dunkin Donuts that are coming for morning tea, or is it an amazing vegetable platter with hummus? Great.
Julia Rucklidge 29:42
I'm actually offended when somebody takes that you know packet and just you know, opens up the plastic and then offers that around. I find that offensive. If I were to if I do morning tea, it's made from scratch it start you know it starts in my kitchen so I would never I would I would just cringe at myself if I were in that situation doing that, because I know so much about what it means and I know how, how the food we've lost touch of our food environment of, of knowing how to cook. I mean, I think that's one of the big things that I've learned from doing what I do is that I've, I recognize that people don't really know what to do in the kitchen, they don't know, they do. And they also don't know how to grow their own produce, how how to grow fruits and vegetables. So, one sort of thing that I've been doing now is around education. And it's not that I know, because I'm an urban, like inner city, Toronto girl who grew up, you know, didn't I mean, my mom and my parents were British, they emigrated to Canada, my mom did her best to grow, I tried to grow those fruit and vegetables that were would have been absolutely easy to grow in the UK. And every year, you'd get these tiny little crops of raspberries in Toronto because of the cold winter. So that was my observation of trying to grow to produce in the backyard and the only thing that actually survived were gooseberries. And I can say, again, gooseberry jam, gooseberry pie, like. So, I am absolutely sympathetic and acknowledge that we have lost generations who have lost that ability to grow, to know where food comes from. And also, I'm of that generation, where the time when all the ready meals were coming on board and all the things to make life simple for my mom's single mother feeding four kids and that saved her life, right? Like, so I'm not, I'm not going to be critical of it. Because the food industry saw an opportunity to supposedly help you know, help people who are working full time and make their lives easier around how to cook a meal and make sure that you had something for your family. That didn't take an enormous amount of time. So that convenience was stunningly useful to change the work environment. So, I get why it happened. And now we've kind of got to go. Yeah, and that experiment didn't work out very well for us, did it? So, we need to reconnect with the land, we need to reconnect with the soil, and we need to reconnect with the kitchen. So, we need to relearn things that our ancestors knew. And so that, and that is, you know, and also, I think for indigenous communities, it's about reconnecting with what happened before the Europeans came how, what were Māori eating in New Zealand before Europeans came along because that needs to that has to happen to and yeah, so and we know that that they've been that probably the biggest victims of all of this.
James Laughlin 33:00
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James Laughlin 34:04
And I'll put my hand up and admit you know, as a person who's busy and running, running or running a business, I have a young child and you know a partner and life gets busy, right? I got into the habit where cooking at 5:30 or six o'clock. I'm like, I don't even know where to start. What's the quickest, easiest thing? So, in the last year or so I've been really fortunate. So, green dinner table. It's actually a Christchurch-based company, but they are all over New Zealand's green dining tables. What they do is on a Sunday, there a box arrives and in that box is hand-selected fresh finish and all that kind of stuff. It's all plant-based. But the great thing about it is they're like okay, James Monday night. Here's what you do. Here's how you cut it. Here's how you cook it. I just follow it and I love it because my mind is just fried. And so, for a busy person, I think there are still options rather than excuses.
Julia Rucklidge 34:58
Exactly. And so, and not evil I think, was the one who started all the food. What was that she hers was, what did you call her food? But it wasn't the food box, was it? I'm not sure if I want to attribute it to her. But what a great concept, because you're right, it is good food is healthy food, it's the types of foods that you should be eating. But what those different companies are doing for you is taking away that requirement to kind of know what to do when you get in at 5:30 when you're exhausted, and you're depleted. So absolutely fantastic. Brilliant. And I'm very excited and encouraged about those kinds of initiatives. The downside of it, I suppose, is that it's reaching your middle-class or higher economic status families, and not really well, it's too and it's unaffordable for your lower socioeconomic status communities. So that's, you know, we've got to figure out how to be able to make sure that we support everybody, and I suppose to some things like initiatives like that, I'm guessing they give away boxes to sort of lower socioeconomic status families for if you know that, every time you purchase one, you buy it for someone who may not be able to afford it. So, assuming that that's within their model of how they are doing their business, then that's sort of a way that we can make sure that everybody gets access to it, rather than just a select few. That's what I'm always thinking of is just that, you know, the making sure that every you know, every community, every member of our community is supported, because you don't have a thriving community if you've got people who are not able to feed themselves. And that's got to be part of the picture.
James Laughlin 36:50
I think it a such a great opportunity. And that's going to be a combined opportunity between private enterprise and government and local organizations. I think that there's such an opportunity to make a difference. Exactly. Yeah. For the person who's busy and wants to try and get some nutrient-dense foods into them. They just don't have time. Do you have any supplements like New Zealand has so many different supplements and little powders you can mix in? Is that a way to get it in or do you think no, we've got to actually have proper food?
Julia Rucklidge 37:17
Yeah, no, I'm very familiar with that whole side of the world because of what I do. So, I don't know if you want me to tell your listeners what I actually do. So as a clinical psychologist, when I was training, and doing my Ph.D. under Bonnie Kaplan, who I co-wrote the better brain with, she got approached by some families from southern Alberta, Canada, who were using nutrients, vitamins and minerals in pill form, to help treat very serious psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression, at the time, as she was, you know, she was like, just take your snake oil and go somewhere else, we would have solved this by now if it was that simple. And, they were pretty persistent and shared data. I mean, they're there they are, they aren't scientists, but they kind of knew how to engage with the scientific community. And the shot showed her people getting well and staying well. So, she did some preliminary trials, and published those in the early part of the century and show showing people with bipolar disorder, not only that there are symptoms going down with the use of vitamins and minerals, but also, we're using lower doses of medications, which is always a good thing, because you reduce the likelihood of side effects. So, I was just finishing up dirt going right there is Bonnie doing these vitamins and minerals. And of course, without training, that nutrition was irrelevant to the brain. I was definitely kind of skeptical about what was happening. But that I, you know, I told you earlier about how it wasn't long before it finished, that I realized that we're not doing enough to help people. I speak to a lot of really large audiences. And I asked them to put up their hand how many people know if somebody with a mental health issue and friend or family use inevitably I'm sure, you know, everybody puts their hand up? How many people here would say that they've been that that, you know, that mental health problem has resolved with our current conventional treatments? And inevitably, I see three or four hands go up in 100, every single time I have never seen everybody put up their hand. And you just think this isn't good enough? How many? At what point can we get some politicians to do this? Because then it would really hit them going. We're just more of the same. It's just not going to work. And that's kind of the art at the moment. What we're doing with a mental health crisis is that we're training more psychologists and we're getting more frontline workers and we're doing all of those things and making sure that we have enough sufficient number of people to meet that 20% of the population who are struggling with a mental health issue in any one given year. And you can crunch the numbers and realize that that will that's not achievable with a got into it. So sorry, I feel like I diverted on that and answering your question.
James Laughlin 40:07
In terms of those powders and those different nutrients that you add individually?
Julia Rucklidge 40:11
Okay, sorry, I was telling you why I would do it. So, I realized that we weren't doing enough. So, I heard about this. And I thought, why don't I study it? Why don't I do some clinical trials here in New Zealand and see if these vitamins and minerals at that point, I didn't know what they did, like I was, honestly just absolutely naive to the understanding of what nutrition does to the brain? But I thought, no, I'm a scientist, I can do this on the part of the critical unconscious of society, this is what we're supposed to do, we're supposed to challenge current conventional ways of thinking, and see if there are other ways forward because otherwise, we just don't move as a society. So, I started doing clinical trials, and lo and behold, we saw exactly what Barney had observed. And these people are getting well and staying well, not everybody, this doesn't work for everybody, but definitely a high percentage of people, I was reporting feeling a lot better. So, I've just kept doing these clinical trials over the last 15 years, and we've done randomized control trials where we use placebos. And so, you can be confident that these active ingredients are doing something to the brain. So, that then led me to think about that, why is it that these extra nutrients have such a powerful effect. Because, you know, as I said, before, we have, this mantra that as long as you eat a healthy diet, you're fine. And I would have dieticians say to me, why are you giving supplements, people don't need supplements if they eat a healthy diet. So, I was kind of like having to be forced to think about why it is that when everyone is eating this healthy diet that I keep being told about that giving extra people nutrients, makes such a powerful difference in their mental health. So, that has led me down this route of what we've been talking about, which is our food environment. And then I'm recognizing that, well, half of the research shows that half, half of the calories that the population consumes comes from ultra-processed products. So, when you hear that statistic, you go, I can't say we shouldn't be supplementing the world, we have to change the food environment, this is the low hanging fruit is that we've got to address the food environment, I can't supplement the world. That's not that fit. That shouldn't be the, the outcome of my research is that we just say everybody should supplement to improve their mental health, we need to improve what we're eating. So that's the first thing and that, to me is the low-hanging fruit around things that our communities can do. But I've also learned a lot about the soil environment. And I've learned a lot that even if you're eating well, our foods are not as nourishing as they were 100 years ago. And there are a lot of different reasons for that. And I'll just name a few of those. One of them is that we select foods that grow quickly, and they store well, and they transport well. And they look pretty, we're not selecting our foods based on how nourishing they are. So, I don't know if you've ever eaten a peach from a supermarket and then eaten a peach from an organic farmer. And the taste is so different. And I think that taste is partially a reflection of how nourishing that food is so, so that kind of difference in how it's grown can influence how nourishing it is. But even organic doesn't mean that the soil isn't depleted of nutrients. And so that can happen regardless of whether or not the food is grown on an organic farm or not. We use pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate on our products, we do that in New Zealand as well used often they're used as a desiccant. And that means that glyphosate does I mean it's not something I wish we could move away from using those products. But we've kind of gotten ourselves in the situation of well, you can't grow to produce unless you use them. Although there are a lot of wonderful movements that are happening around regenerative agriculture and farming that can support farmers to grow to produce without those products. But that is what glyphosate does is it's a key later and so it just takes the nutrients out of either the plant or it's a mineral key later in the soil so that when you use a desiccant and if it rains then you end up with the glyphosate in the soil and that can then attach yourself to the minerals that the plant needs. So, you know minerals, we don't make minerals. We get minerals out of the soil and the plants bring it up through the roots and system and then they use the minerals to make vitamins and then you either get those vitamins and minerals by eating the plants or you eat an animal that those plants. And so that's the main way us getting our vitamins and minerals, we make a few in our microbiome. But for the most part, you have to get out of your food. So, if your food isn't nourishing then that means that you're not going to get a sufficient amount. You add to them the complexity of having mental health issues, your nutritional needs are higher at that stage. If you're sick, your nutritional needs are higher, if your immune system is Deadshot, your nutritional needs are higher, if you're stressed, your initial nutritional needs are higher. So, there's, if you've got what we might call inborn errors of metabolism, he was talking about these metabolic reactions that are happening all the time that are entirely dependent on the existence of vitamins and minerals. If through your diet, you have inborn errors of metabolism, your needs are higher. So that just means that some of your metabolic reactions are a bit sluggish, more sluggish, and slower and slower. And so, but you can correct that by just giving more, taking in more vitamins and minerals. So, there's a whole host of individual environmental factors that can influence. I don't know if you wanted me to go down at all, but that can influence how nourishing your food is. So that's where we get to the question around.
Julia Rucklidge 46:19
What do we do around supplements? Which is your which was what you asked me. And so, I think in some situations, supplements are then required if to try to up that nutritional intake, because we're not necessarily going to get it out of our diet, even if it's a good diet. So, there are some amazing products out there. Well, I think they look amazing. I mean, these powders that you mix with water, and you take those, I liked the concept. But they're not studied in the sense of randomized control trials and the way we think about a drug and making sure that it does work, and whether it makes a difference to your well-being or not. There's not a lot of that out there. There are some exceptions. I have some products in New Zealand that have been through that rigor. But there's no regulation for supplements is that they're regulated as foods, not medicine, and they can't be medicines. So, and that's because the medicines are, are reserved for basically your drugs. And so, they can't put a therapeutic purpose on food that you never even see, you know that oranges will prevent you from getting scurvy, which is a therapeutic purpose. But you're not allowed, you know, the orange growers aren't allowed to do that, because of the regulations that exist in New Zealand. So, there are a lot of things that are stopping us from knowing how good some of these things are, and how good our food is because we're not even allowed to. The companies aren't allowed to promote them that way. But that also means what's the benefit to them to prove that they have therapeutic value when they can't then put it on their label? So, there you have it, you know, if you have got listeners out there who are involved in regulations, which is currently happening right now in the Ministry of Health, this is the kind of thing that I mean, this is hard, I get this as hard because Big Pharma is so powerful. So, I get how hard it is to open up the opportunity for therapeutic purposes, go beyond medicines and go into the supplement area. It is complicated, it's difficult. We've got patent laws that cause problems that make it you know that you can't patent vitamin C. So, there's not a lot of incentive for companies to do the kind of work that could say answer definitively isn't going to help my well-being? Am I going to be stronger, and exercise better? All those things, if I take the supplements because the research is, is? Well, who's going to do it? Who's going to do that?
James Laughlin 49:04
This great challenge, which is a huge challenge requires great leadership. And that's why we need great leaders to step forward.
Julia Rucklidge 49:10
Exactly and see the value of this. Because one of the things that I didn't answer very well, was earlier when you asked me how we should change the mental health environment. And I talked about what it is, how it is right now and how bad it is right now. But what I didn't speak to, was that really where we need to and you said where's the where should be the focus, and the focus really should be on the prevention. So, we need to stop people from ending up at the bottom of that cliff. So, we need to be ensuring that people are resilient. And to the things that happen in life because stuff happens in life. We can't stop earthquakes. We can't stop the shootings. We can't stop. Well, I mean, I think there are some things with the shootings, we probably could stop, but we can't stop them as the just the ongoing stressors that happened to all of us, you know, the pandemic, there's a lot of things that are in our environment that are really outside of our control. But what we can control is making sure that we're really resilient. And one of the things that aren't in the conversation right now is the food environment is contributing to resilience. And it absolutely can. And we've got research that I did after the Christchurch earthquakes, where we showed that people who happen to be taking vitamins and minerals, just because of where they were in one of my research studies that who were taking before that earthquake recovered more quickly from the stress associated with that earthquake than people who happen to not be taking vitamins and minerals. So, having a well-nourished body and brain, supported them in being able to overcome the stressors associated with those earthquakes relative to people who hadn't been taking them and didn't have such a well-nourished brain. So, the research that I did, around the time of the earthquakes, to me really hit home the importance of being resilient and nutritionally resilient. So you have the nutrients available to you, when you need them just support the fight-flight response because you that's dependent on the vitamins and minerals, you need them to regulate your emotion, you need vitamins and minerals, you need them to regulate your sleep, your anxiety, you know, all of these things that we know are mental, a part of the mental health arena, they are entirely the regulation of the all of those emotions is entirely dependent on the availability of nutrients. So, when you think about it, that way you go better, we need to make sure that everyone is really well nourished so that they are more capable of dealing with the stressors that come their way. And so, in that case, supplements were useful. And in some situations, if you're so stressed, then absolutely supplements have a place. But I am always really hesitant about just saying, take my research and go okay, we should just supplement people. What I would like people to take away from it is that we need to make sure that we've got an adequate food environment available, that's not a mismatch to our brain's needs. And then I think we would go a long way toward making us all more resilient.
James Laughlin 52:17
So wonderful. And what I really love about that, my big, big takeaway so far is that if we have some mental health challenges, sort of, say our dad or granddad or auntie's, or uncle's, actually, we can up-regulate, or down-regulate our genetics through food through nutrition.
Julia Rucklidge 52:35
James Laughlin 52:39
How exciting is that? Because that puts the control back in our hands?
Julia Rucklidge 52:43
That's right. And we've known this since the fall, we've known about the importance of the nutritional environment, at least as far back as World War II, where there were there was research done on those moms who were exposed to famine during World War II and what happened to their infants, and we know tons about what happened to those infants. But one of the things that we know is that increases the risk of schizophrenia in those kids. So, this isn't new. This isn't that I wasn't born then. So, I'm not saying something that's new. I just kind of feel like my role is to just keep putting, keep saying it, keep saying it until people really get irritated by me. And maybe do like I don't know, well, I don't know if being irritated. That just means they tune you out.
James Laughlin 53:30
No, your work is vitally important. And the listener that's listening right now, they really are leaders in all different ways. They could be mums or dads, they could be leaders of companies or athletes, they really care about their brains, and they know that their brand is one of their greatest assets. So, I guess, before we wrap up another couple of questions, is the whole idea of nootropics for new, or nootropics these brand-nootropics? Yeah, yeah, sorry. My Irish accent gets me in trouble a lot. Yeah,
Julia Rucklidge 53:59
yeah. Nootropics those companies that I certainly have a lot of time for those companies that are coming on board, I think of nutrient rescue, that's, you know, that what a great concept. There's also another one, the greens, athletic greens. I've you know, come become familiar with their products over the last little bit of last few months, I think and then see again, you look at the package and you go Yeah, I see what they're doing here. They're taking real foods and they're turning them into a form that you can then consume quickly a lot and get a lot of superfoods into your very quickly so but the issue is around the research and then is or isn't necessary, you know, do you have to do the research to come up, convince a bunch of CEOs to take those kinds of products. I have no idea.
James Laughlin 54:52
And for the listener that wants to grab your book, The Better Brain, what's the best place for them to get
Julia Rucklidge 54:56
oh, it's available everywhere. I mean, it is available in Christchurch, in Scorpio, and in UBS and it's available. I do go into bookstores whenever I travel around New Zealand, and it's available in all of your main one-paper pluses. What's the other one?
James Laughlin 55:13
For international listeners can they also order?
Julia Rucklidge 55:15
They can order from Amazon. It was actually it was originally it's a Harper Collins book. So, we have an American agent and an American publisher. And then that got sold to Penguin, the international rights were sold to Penguin Random House. So, that's it's sold in New Zealand, just through Penguin Random House, but it's actually originally an American publisher. So, it's available everywhere.
James Laughlin 55:42
Yeah, fantastic. Well, I'll make sure in the show notes to get the links in there so that people can get ordered and get their hands on it.
Julia Rucklidge 55:47
Yeah, thank you much. Appreciate it.
James Laughlin 55:50
I've got one last question. So, if we fast forward many, many, many years into the future. Yeah, yes, we're going there. It's your last day,
Julia Rucklidge 56:01
my last day, on earth, good grief.
James Laughlin 56:05
And you have a very young person in your life, it could be a grandchild, it could be just someone that's close to your family. It's very young. And they say, and ask you, hey, if I want to live my life, on purpose, how do I lead a life of purpose?
Julia Rucklidge 56:21
Lead a life of purpose? Wow, I think you need to find, I mean, for me, having found this area of research, it really did kind of fall on me. And in a way, I feel like it did, but maybe it didn't, there was I'm sure there were a whole bunch of variables there. But what I feel it's given me is that purpose. And it's because it's, I'm so passionate about it, and be able to wake up and be able to talk about this work at 7:45 in the morning and be able to give you a level of energy, I hope you're talking about this work. That fuels me, I mean that, like I love talking about what I do. And because I can see the value of it, and can I know how many people we've been able to reach, I know that we've been this, this message has gotten out to 1000s and 1000s of people all around the world. And so, to be able to make that level of difference for many people has been just as transforming for me as a researcher. And so that young person needs to find something that they're going to be really passionate about that they can, that will get them up every day, even when it's hard. Even when you know if people are challenging you left, right, and center or they ignore you, or worse they make up stories about you that you can keep going because it's something that you believe in.
James Laughlin 58:01
So powerful, so, so powerful. And I'm very excited. And I know that the listener right now is probably feeling a little bit like me, I'm very excited to upgrade my brain. I'm going to be getting the book and going through it and taking notes. I probably will come back to you with lots of questions. So, I don't think this is the last time we'll talk, I think I would love to get you on again in the future. I just want to say just a heartfelt thank you for the work that you do. It's very important to work. And I really appreciate your time and your wisdom.
Julia Rucklidge 58:25
Yeah, no, well, thank you for inviting me on. As you can tell it's not hard to get me talking.
James Laughlin 58:32
I love it. Have a wonderful day.
Okay, you too!
James Laughlin 58:50
Thanks for tuning in today and investing in your own personal leadership. Please hit that subscribe button. And I'd love it if you'd leave me a rating and review. I've got some amazing guests lined up for you in the coming weeks. And leaders. It's that time to get out there and lead your life on purpose.