Alternative Mental Health News, No. 63

Editor’s note

As Safe Harbor enters its ninth year in 2007, we thought we’d take a moment to review changes in the world of mental health since our inception.

Although it has been our good fortune to meet many competent, forward-thinking psychiatrists over the past years, we have had to conclude that the field of psychiatry in general is probably the slowest progressing of all the health professions. Therefore, it has been with delight that we have been able to witness the changes that have occurred.

One of the great success stories has been the use of omega-3 fatty acids in psychiatry (commonly given as fish oil). First brought to international attention by Dr. Andrew Stoll of Harvard when he found fish oil to be successful in treating bipolar disorder, omega-3s have now become well understood in the psychiatric community to bring improvement for a broad array of mental symptoms.

Another dramatic change has been the recovery movement in mental health. Though this was not brought about by psychiatrists, but by consumers, the mental health establishment has, reluctantly at first, gone along with the desires of patients to find a life in spite of mental illness. This is a great stride for patients, though, unfortunately, it has not brought the psychiatric profession to believe that actual recovery is generally possible, particularly for those with psychotic disorders.

Another change has been the discontinuation of the “chemical imbalance” theories of psychiatry. After many years of using this phrase as a justification for medicating the brain—and after a near equal number of years of ridicule by a doubting public (after all, the only chemicals to balance in the brain are nutrients, aren’t they?)—drug companies and psychiatry in general has abandoned this oversimplistic marketing slogan and acknowledged that such things as depression can come from many sources.

Finally, we’ve witnessed the acknowledgment, after years of public protest, that drugs such as SSRIs and antipsychotics do, indeed, cause such problems as suicidality, obesity, and diabetes.

Let us hope this progress continues and a day comes when psychiatry comes to realize that mental health requires a holistic view—looking at physical health, metabolic health, diet, toxin exposures, allergies, environmental conditions, personal relationships, education on dealing with life, and even spiritual matters.

That will bring many smiling faces in the mental health wards – and, we believe, a lot more recoveries.

Lead Found in Large Percentage of Bathtubs

An untold number of adults and children are unknowingly exposed daily to toxic lead – and its debilitating mental and physical effects – from their bathtubs.

The site reports the case of a 66-year-old man who inexplicably experienced personality changes, paranoia, short term memory loss, abdominal pain, and constipation. It was finally discovered that he had severe lead poisoning after drinking wine made from grapes soaked in a bathtub with a lead enamel glaze.

In 1995 a study was reported by Unique Refinishers of Atlanta – known as the world’s largest and oldest refinishing company – that of 600 bathtubs tested, 64% were found to have leachable lead on the surface. The problem is usually found in older tubs.

The legal firm of Monheit, Silverman, and Fodera cite Claude Limoges, the president of American Lead Consultants, as reporting: “We find lead in the tubs 50% of the time, when we inspect an older home, and we almost always test the tub for lead. In many cases, the enamel is cracking and it is clear that the lead is leaching into the water when a bath is drawn. This can be very dangerous for a child who is bathed in that tub. Especially for children who are under the age of 7. In other situations, due to the hardness of the water, or the use of harsh detergents, the enamel finish is worn down, and even though no perceptable cracks are there, the lead can still get into the water in which the child is bathed, or can be picked up by the child simply playing in the tub, touching the tub surface, and placing his hand into his mouth.”

Safe Harbor received a report from a woman who owns a refinishing company and tested her own bathtubs for lead. Two of three tested positive – and the tubs were a frequent play area for her children who liked to drink the tub water in teacups while holding tea parties during bath time.

Lead enters the body most commonly through ingestion and inhalation. Small amounts can be absorbed through the skin. Unborn children are openly exposed to lead if the mother takes it into her body.

Lead poisoning has long been known to cause personality changes, depression, memory problems, learning difficulties, “ADD,” and a host of other mental and physical problems. In a poignant letter in his later years, the great Beethoven— plagued by deafness, rages, and depression—asked that a physician “describe my affliction…so that, as far as is possible, the world may become reconciled with me after my death.” More than 150 years passed before Dr. Willam Walsh of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center near Chicago was permitted to test the composer’s hair and found that high lead levels had plagued the musical genius.

The solution? First, you can test your bathtub with a kit as cheap as $13 from online suppliers. If found to test positive for lead, the tubs can be refinished so the lead glaze no longer “leaks” lead, or the tub can be replaced.


Known in scientific circles as rhodiola rosea, the herb rhodiola has been used for centuries in traditional European and Asian folk medicine for a host of symptoms, including fatigue, depression, nervous system disorders, colds and flus and low stamina.

Although less well-known in the Western world, rhodiola has been gaining in popularity in English-speaking countries as a remedy for low mood and fatigue. The many scientific studies of the herb have improved its reception in medical circles.

Since 1969, R. rosea has been included in official Russian medicine. The Pharmacological and Pharmacopoeia Committee of the Soviet Ministry of Health recommended medicinal use and industrial production of liquid R. rosea extract. In 1975, the Soviet Ministry of Health approved and registered a preparation of the herb as a medicine and tonic, allowing large-scale production under the name Rhodiola Extract Liquid, an alcohol-based extract. Medical and pharmacological texts describe its use as a stimulant for asthenia (fatigue), for somatic and infectious illnesses, in psychiatric and neurological conditions, and in healthy individuals to relieve fatigue and to increase attention span, memory, and work productivity.

In Sweden, rhodiola was recognized as an Herbal Medicinal Product in 1985 and has been described as an antifatigue agent in the Textbook of Phytomedicine for Pharmacists. In the textbook of pharmacology for dispenser training in Sweden, R. rosea is mentioned as a plant with a stimulant action. Also, the Pharmaceutical Book (Lakemedelsboken 97/98) mentions R. rosea as one of the most commonly used psychostimulants in the group of officially registered herbal medicinal products. In Denmark, R. rosea is registered as a medical product in the category of botanical drugs. Registered preparations are extensively used in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries to increase mental work capacity during stress, as a psychostimulant, and as a general strengthener.

Rhodiola can be purchased online and in most large supplement stores in the U.S.

For more information on the herb, see:

Children’s Behavior, Performance Improved by Vitamins

For a number of years now, Vitamin Relief USA, a nonprofit organization, has taken on the remarkable task of providing multivitamins to underprivileged children. Safe Harbor’s good friend, popular nutritional psychiatrist and author Hyla Cass, MD(—as a Vitamin Relief USA board member and former president—has been kind enough over the years to keep us posted on the remarkable achievements of this group.

A recent survey of parents and teachers of the vitamin-treated children by the organization found that over half of the parents reported an increase of energy and appetite in their children. 36% of teachers and 36% of parents said students’ self-esteem had improved. One out of every four parents said their children were less depressed, less angry and less aggressive. Almost one-third of teachers reported an increase in the children’s concentration.

In addition, survey results confirm that long-term use of VRUSA vitamins leads to an increased reduction of seasonal illness in children. For example, in 2002, 37% of teachers and staff reported less illness in participating children, compared to 52% this year. In day-to-day life, this improvement in the children equates to less time at the doctor’s office and more time in the classroom. It is no surprise that more than one-third of the teachers and staff reported the students were performing better at school.

“These survey results are all welcome validations about the value and the benefits that Vitamin Relief USA’s programs are providing every day to children in need,” says Michael Morton, VRUSA’s Executive Director.

Vitamin Relief USA provides daily vitamins to over 24,000 children in 31 states across the United States. Collaborative distribution sites include Head Start, Healthy Start and WIC programs, K-12 public schools and school districts, Volunteers of America, Rotary Clubs, Health Care for the Homeless Clinician’s Network, community health centers, homeless and battered women shelters, Native American programs, Salvation Army, YWCA and YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, City Park and Recreation Departments, hospital outreach programs, public health departments, medical and nursing school community outreach programs, and countless other community-based and faith-based organizations. Last year VRUSA supplied over 14 million supplements to children alone.

To support Vitamin Relief USA or for further information, please call 805-715-2693 or log onto

Folate (Vitamin B9) May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

Research carried out in New York City has found that increased intake of folate may reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. It was also found that elevated intake of vitamins B6 and B12 did not show the same benefit.

The study was lead by Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Jose Luchsinger. Researchers studied 965 people, aged 65 and older (average age near 76) in Manhattan. Higher levels of folate ingestion, through diet and supplements, correlated with reduced risk for Alzheimer’s.

Although the researchers did not wish to assume the study was definitive, the results do confirm what has been found in previous research. It is theorized that the protection comes from folate breaking down an amino acid in the blood called homocysteine. Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is found in such foods as leafy green vegetables like spinach, citrus fruits and beans. The word folate comes from a Latin word for “foliage,” since green leaves are good source of the nutrient.

The study was published in the January 2007 issue of Archives of Neurology.

Famed Shock Researcher Admits Treatments Cause Brain Problems

For more than two decades, psychologist Dr. Harold Sackheim of Columbia University has been on of the world’s foremost authorities and proponents of electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), claiming routinely that it is “safe and effective.” When psychiatrist Peter Breggin challenged the safety of ECT, Sackheim is quoted as saying, “Not only hasn’t the Breggin brain damage theory been proven, it’s been disproven.” Thus it came as a “shock” to the psychiatric community when Sackheim published a study in the January 2007 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology, reporting “this study provides the first evidence in a large, prospective sample that adverse cognitive effects can persist for an extended period, and that they characterize routine treatment with ECT in community settings.”

The research, which reviewed more than 300 patients in the New York City area, found, among other things, that 12.4% of the patients “met the…criteria for having marked and persistent retrograde amnesia…”

Medical News Today, a popular healthcare industry news source, called the revelation “a stunning reversal.”

“For the past 25 years,” the publication reported the day after Christmas, 2006, “ECT patients were told by Sackeim, the nation’s top ECT researcher, that the controversial treatment doesn’t cause permanent amnesia and, in fact, improves memory and increases intelligence. Psychologist Sackeim also taught a generation of ECT practitioners that permanent amnesia from ECT is so rare that it could not be studied. He asserted that most people who said the treatment erased years of memory were mentally ill and thus not credible.”

Also, according to Medical News Today, Sackheim, who has received numerous federal grants, has never revealed his financial connections, as required by federal law, to a shock therapy machine manufacturer called Mecta, and he did not reveal it to New York state officials, as required by state law, until 2002. Nor did he reveal it in the Neuropsychopharmacology article.

The news that ECT causes long-term cognitive deficits does not come as a surprise to its many critics or the multitude of patients who have spoken out against it for decades.

For more information on the unpopular opinions about ECT, see

Chronic Cough Increases Likelihood of Depression

Researchers reporting in the December 2006 issue of the journal Chest found that people suffering from chronic cough are at increased risk of depression.

Of 100 patients who sought evaluation and treatment for chronic cough, 53% were depressed based on a Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) scale of 16 or above.

It is noteworthy that after 3 months of treatment both cough and depression improved.

This “supports a causal link between chronic cough and the presence of depressive symptomatology,” the researchers commented.

A significant correlation was found between improvements in the cough and depression scores, even after taking into account gender, age at study entry, cough duration at study entry, depression score at study entry, and possible interactions between gender and depression score.

“Our study has demonstrated that depressive symptomatology is very common in patients with chronic cough,” the researchers stated.

“Physicians and other caregivers must be cognizant of the significant risk of clinical depression in this patient population.”

36th Annual Orthomolecular Conference, Toronto, April 20-22

The International Society of Orthomolecular Medicine hosts its 36th annual conference, Nutrition Medicine Today, on April 20-22 in Toronto, Canada. Physicans and other speakers will present on such topics as orthomolecular (nutritional) approaches to optimize immunological, neurological, cardiovascular and endocrine function.

On April 19, actress Margot Kidder with emcee a tribute dinner for Dr. Abram Hoffer, age 89, one of the founders of orthomolecular medicine. Funds raised will go to the International Schizophrenia Foundation.

For more information, go to