Alternative Mental Health News, No. 60

Editor’s note

It has been little over a year since our last issue of the Alternative Mental Health News and, from the many emails we received, we know our one-of-a-kind ezine has been missed.

As the founder of Safe Harbor, I stepped down so that I could better juggle a number of matters that were consuming my time (including the birth of my gorgeous granddaughter). Unfortunately, our ezine was a casualty of that change.

I have been grateful to Safe Harbor’s new executive director Danielle Anderson and our intrepid volunteers Wendy Bolt and Chris Daino who have so generously filled my shoes and kept Safe Harbor’s mission active in the world of mental health. Our popular website,, continues to receive over 1500 visitors a day and we continue to hear moving stories from many, many people whose lives have been dramatically improved through alternative mental health treatments.

It pleases me greatly to announce that I am able to work again with Safe Harbor in a limited capacity and, as a result, our ezine is alive once again. We hope to continue it monthly and will make all efforts to do so.

Amazingly, we have the entire original editorial staff of Alan Graham, Gloria McTaggart, and myself back on the job so the quality and content should look pretty familiar!

It’s great to be back, folks.


A study published in the September 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found a dramatic increase in the likelihood of autism as the age of the father increases at conception.

The research looked at Jewish persons born in Israel over a six-year period, using draft board assessments done on individuals at the age of seventeen. Records included the age of their fathers in most instances and the age of the mother is some instances.

The researchers reported that advancing maternal age showed no association with the likelihood of offspring developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

However, paternal age was an entirely different matter. “There was a significant monotonic [constant] association between advancing paternal age and risk of ASD,” they wrote. Offspring of men 40 years or older were 5.75 times more likely to have ASD compared with offspring of men younger than 30 years, after controlling for year of birth, socioeconomic status, and maternal age.

Researchers concluded that contributing biological mechanisms may be mutations associated with advancing age or alterations in genetic imprinting.


Research findings of the firm Thomson West, reported on August 23, 2006 at, found that the pharmaceutical industry was hit with far more product liability lawsuits in 2005 than any other industry:

  • Pharmaceutical: 17,027
  • Manufacturing: 3,236
  • Chemicals: 2,875
  • Construction: 2,717
  • Financial Services: 2,636
  • Insurance: 1,926

Since the year 2000, 65,000 plaintiffs have filed suit against drug-makers, again higher than in any other industry.

“The lawyers have created almost an assembly-line approach to use,” said Professor Lars Noah of the University of Florida College of Law, “…against an industry that’s in tobacco-land in terms of how much people hate it.”

In recent years more than 6,000 lawsuits have been filed against four drugs taken by millions of patients: Prempro, a hormone-replacement drug; Ortho Evra, a birth-control patch; Seroquel, an anti-psychotic; and Neurontin, an anti-seizure drug. Plaintiffs claim that drugmakers failed to disclose the drugs’ risks or failed to properly test them, or both.

Merck’s painkiller Vioxx, no longer on the market, faces 14,000 lawsuits.

A major question being raised is whether the drug firms or the FDA are paying close enough attention to patient safety. This question has been posed for decades by the natural healing community, pointing out that drugs – not being a natural part of bodily function – always have a risky trade-off. Potential side effects – sometimes serious or deadly – are part and parcel of taking medications. However, what drug companies and the FDA consider “acceptable risk” becomes quite a personal matter when it happens to you or a family member, as evidenced by the recent blitz of lawsuits.

In 2005, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly spent a billion dollars settling over 10,000 lawsuits claiming its antipsychotic Zyprexa caused diabetes or high blood glucose. Seroquel – which has become the market’s top antipsychotic with more than 16 million users in less than ten years – has been hit with similar claims. Suits filed say that the drug’s manufacturer, AstraZeneca, downplayed risks and hid important safety information from the FDA.

The skyrocketing number of lawsuits has taken a toll on consumer confidence. Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, cites a 2003 Harris Poll, commissioned by her group, that found that almost 40% of physicians told their patients to stop taking necessary medications after they heard a drug was involved in a liability lawsuit.


For years a number of nutritionally-oriented practitioners, including William Walsh, Ph.D., of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center near Chicago, the world’s largest nutritional mental health center, have been reporting that high blood copper levels are a common risk factor for a broad spectrum of severe mental symptoms. As an extreme example, victims of Wilson’s Disease, a liver ailment that affects the body’s ability to process copper, are often erroneously diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia because of their copper-induced behavior.

A study reported in the August 2006 issue of the Archives of Neurology looked into the effects of high dietary copper intake when combined with the high intake of saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in animal meats and skin, dairy products, and some vegetable oils. Trans fats (short for trans fatty acid) are artificially created oils made by adding hydrogen. Trans fats are widely known to be unhealthy.

The study, carried out in Chicago, Illinois, studied 3718 people, aged 65 and older, for six years. Dietary habits were established through food frequency questionnaires. Cognitive ability was determined through four tests administered during in-home interviews at three year intervals.

Researchers found that among those with a high ingestion of saturated fats and trans fats, higher copper intake (including from vitamin-mineral supplements) was associated with a faster decline in mental function. For some it added almost twenty years to their age in terms of mental decline.

Copper intake was not associated with cognitive change among persons whose diets were not high in these fats.


“Probiotics” is a term used to describe bacteria that is necessary to and supportive of a healthy digestive system.

A study involving probiotic bacteria being given to autistic children improved their concentration and behavior so much that medical trials collapsed because parents refused to accept placebos, according to the September 5, 2006, issue of The Scotsman.

The probiotics had such a marked effect on study participants that, even though it was a blind trial, some of the parents soon realized their children were not part of the placebo group. When called upon to switch to the “other” side of the trial, i.e. the placebo (a standard step in blind trials), the parents refused to subject their children to a loss of substantially regained function. One parent called such a thought “heartbreaking.” The trial could no longer continue.

Professor Glen Gibson, a microbiologist from Reading University who ran the study, reported that parents told him the probiotics gave their children “better concentration and better behavior.”

Prof. Gibson said that previous research had found that autistic children had high levels of “unfriendly” bacteria called clostridia in the gut. He pointed out that certain kinds of clostridia produced neurotoxins, which potentially could be a cause or contributing factor of autism. The probiotic treatment was designed to reduce clostridia levels and promote “friendly” bacteria instead to see what effect this would have.

After the treatment, which was given in a powder once a day, the children appeared to show fewer signs of autism.

“We asked the parents to fill in diaries about the mood of the children,” he said. “We got very positive feedback generally.”

He said that neurotoxins may not be the only possible troublemaker. The apparent improvement could also simply be because the children felt better. “If your gut is not behaving yourself, you feel rough,” Prof Gibson said.


In August 2006, Federal drug regulators ordered that strong warnings be put on the labels of stimulants like Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, to caution against their use in adults or children with heart problems and to alert physicians that the drugs cause one child in a thousand to experience hallucinations.

This falls short of the black box warning urged by the FDA’s scientific advisors, led by Dr. Steve Nissen, in February 2006. (A black box warning means that medical studies indicate that the drug carries a significant risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects.)

“Sudden deaths, strokes and myocardial infarction have been reported in adults taking stimulant drugs at usual doses,” the new warning states in part. This echoes the statements already published by Novartis in its Ritalin prescribing information (June 2006):

Sudden death has been reported in association with CNS [Central Nervous System] stimulant treatment at usual doses in children and adolescents with structural cardiac abnormalities or other serious heart problems… stimulant products generally should not be used in children or adolescents with known serious structural cardiac abnormalities, cardiomyopathy, serious heart rhythm abnormalities, or other serious cardiac problems that may place them at increased vulnerability to the sympathomimetic [stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, the source of “fight or flight” reactions—Ed.] effects of a stimulant drug.

… adults have a greater likelihood than children of having serious structural cardiac abnormalities, cardiomyopathy, serious heart rhythm abnormalities, coronary artery disease, or other serious cardiac problems. Adults with [serious cardiac] abnormalities should also generally not be treated with stimulant drugs.


The February report to the FDA covered 25 deaths suspected to be linked to ADHD drugs between 1999 and 2003, as well as 54 cases of severe cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, hypertension, palpitations and arrhythmia, in adults and children being treated with the drugs.

A prominent case was that of 14-year-old Matthew Smith, who dropped dead of a heart attack while skateboarding in 2000. The death certificate was unequivocal: “Death caused from Long Term Use of Methylphenidate.” Matthew had been taking Ritalin since age 7.

Upon autopsy, Matthew’s heart showed clear signs of small vessel damage caused from the use of Methylphenidate, according to Dr. Ljuba Dragovic, Chief Pathologist of Oakland County, Michigan.

The FDA is aware that heart conditions are likely to go undetected in children, even those being prescribed a powerful stimulant like methylphenidate. “The difficulty for parents is that doctors won’t do a thousand-dollar heart work-up for every kid,” said Dr. Robert J. Temple, director of the FDA’s Office of Medical Policy, in reference to the new warnings. “The message here, though, is that you have to do your best to find these problems out. Listen for murmurs.”

But listening for murmurs would not have saved Matthew Smith. According to his father, Lawrence T. Smith,

I was told by one of the medical examiners that a full-grown man’s heart weighs about 350 grams and that Matthew’s heart’s weight was about 402 grams. Dr. Dragovic said this type of heart damage is smoldering and not easily detected with the standard test done for prescription refills. The standard test usually consists of blood work, listening to the heart [emphasis added], and questions about school behaviors, sleeping and eating habits.


Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld wrote in 2003:

Lawrence Smith, father of the youngster, has testified that he and his wife were forced by Michigan Social Services to put their child on Ritalin or else be charged for neglecting their son’s educational and emotional needs.

It has also been known since 1986 that methylphenidate, the generic term for Ritalin, causes shrinkage of the brain. A study that appeared in Psychiatry Research (Vol. 17, 1986) states: “The data in this study are suggestive of mild cerebral atrophy in young male adults who had a diagnosis of HK/MBD [Hyperkinesis/Minimal Brain Dysfunction] during childhood and had received stimulant drug treatment for a period of time.”

Another study published in Archives of General Psychiatry (July 1996) found that “Subjects with ADHD had a 4.7% smaller total cerebral volume.” Fifty-three of the fifty-seven subjects with ADHD had been previously treated with psychostimulants. Apparently, these drugs constrict the flow of blood.


For non-drug approaches in treating ADHD symptoms, the article “50 conditions mimicking ADHD” appears at


The diagnosis of ADHD – Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder – and its treatment through stimulants and other medications – has been controversial since its inception, infuriating many parents and grandparents who see most of it as lazy parenting of active children. And we at Safe Harbor have heard from many, many parents who have been told to medicate their children for ADHD and chose not to and report happy outcomes.

However, while the diagnosis has a strong reputation for being overused, some children do manifest out-of-control behavior that can bring about the bewilderment of the most diligent parents and teachers. For them, the following research may be of help.

In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that nearly a third of diagnosed ADHD cases may be due to two preventable causes: early childhood exposure to environmental lead and exposure to tobacco smoke in the womb. [Note:  lead is item #6 in the list of “50 conditions mimicking ADHD” referenced at the end of the previous article, which states: “Lead is the leading culprit in toxin-caused hyperactivity.”]

Bruce Lanphear, MD, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and his colleagues studied studied more than 4,700 children aged 4-15 and found that 4.2% – or 1 in 25 children – were reported to have ADHD treated with medication. The researchers extrapolated that this would put the number of ADHD-medicated children in the U.S. at 1.8 million.

The study found that children born to women who smoked during pregnancy have a 250% higher risk of ADHD symptoms than children born to nonsmoking women.

Additionally, it was discovered that children with blood lead levels of 2 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms per deciliter were four times as likely to have ADHD symptoms. And these levels are only one-fifth to one-half of the current acceptable toxic level set by the U.S. government. The study found that the higher the lead level, the higher the risk of ADHD symptoms.

Lanphear and his team concluded that tobacco-related ADHD symptoms could account for 270,000 of current cases and lead-induced symptoms could contribute 290,000 cases for a total of more that 31% of the total ADHD-treated cases in the nation.


Clancy McKenzie, M.D., a highly-respected integrative psychiatrist from Pennsylvania (, has passed along the following information to Safe Harbor’s Integrative Psychiatry listserv, seeking practitioners interested in taking part in a study. Any practitioners interested may contact him at

“I have a proposal for a study: There is an herbal remedy for depression that reportedly has extraordinary results, and is made from 14 Chinese herbs, 5 drops every 4 to 8 hours. We probably can get samples, and perhaps everyone can try it on a few patients.

“We do need an objective instrument to use, but that would be too expensive. My first thought is: there is an older version of the Hamilton Depression Scale that a friend has, and for which there was no limit to the number of usages. This is a possibility.

“Another possibility is to gather data on 100 individuals, before and after, and divide the composite number by 100 and submit that if that is acceptable.

“My proposal is to begin with non-psychotic Major Depression, make sure there is no change in medication within two weeks either side of the trial, and each person test a depressed patient or several – and by the time there are 100 patients in the study, we can tabulate the data. We might be able to get 1,000 people into the study – and all at no cost.”


In the 1970s psychiatrist Loren Mosher, then chief of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Center for Studies of Schizophrenia, made international headlines with Soteria House, a non-drug mental health facility for people newly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mosher showed that, with his simple instructions to the staff to “be with and do with” the patients, he was able to achieve comparable recovery rates to those treated with medication. The obvious upside was that Mosher’s patients did not have the drug side-effects.

Although Dr. Mosher passed away not too long ago, his ideas live on. Earlier this year the state of Alaska funded $78,000 to Soteria-Alaska, Inc., a nonprofit, to develop a full business plan for the creation of a Soteria House in Alaska. On September 6, 2006, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority approved another $280,000 in funds for the further development of Soteria over the next two years.

Full information on the project may be seen at

The project’s principles include: “No or low-dose neuroleptic drug use to avoid their acute ‘dumbing down’ effects and their suppression of affective expression; also avoids risk of long-term toxicities. Benzodiazepines may be used short-term to restore the sleep/wake cycles.”