July 2012

The marketing of bipolar disorder and mood stabilisers


Editorial by Patrick Holford, CEO, Food for the Brain Foundation
Most people don’t realise the extent to which diseases are created. Back in the 60’s women were being told that they were anxious and needed tranquillisers – mother’s little helpers. There was a boom in the sale of highly addictive benzodiazepines such as Valium and Librium and the impression created was that it was socially acceptable to pop ‘mother’s little helpers’ if you were feeling down, anxious or unable to sleep. The legacy of that time is more than a million people in Britain currently addicted [1]. These drugs are harder to come off than heroin.

In the late ’80’s it was not anxiety but depression that started to be marketed heavily. The turning point was 1989 with the launch of Eli Lilly’s drug Prozac, heralded at the time as not only to answer to depression but actually a mood enhancer even if you’re not depressed.

In the ’90’s a new term was invented – bipolar disorder. It was meant to replace manic depression. If you know someone who has true manic-depression it is a strange condition. They go into a phase of extreme hyperactivity and manic behaviour, with less and less sleep, that builds into a crescendo, then they crash into a depressed, burnt out state.

Bipolar, as a term, is much less scary and has even become kind of trendy, a new way of saying you go up and down. Who doesn’t? But the real reason behind planting this word into our culture may be much more insidious. It means you can prescribe a group of heavy duty drugs, developed for schizophrenia, to a lot more people. These drugs used to be called tranquillisers, or major tranquillisers because they are extremely potent. But now they are called ‘mood stabilisers’ - much less threatening.

The goal has and is being achieved. The number of ‘bipolar’ diagnoses has escalated, and so too has the prescription of not only anti-depressants, but also ‘mood stabilisers’ such as Zyprexa (olanzapine) and Seroquel (quetiapine). According to psychiatrist Professor David Healy, who blew the whistle on anti-depressants increasing suicide risk, “olanzapine was licensed on the basis of four clinical trials involving just over 2,000 patients. Yet the company was able to carve up the results into separate articles that appeared in 234 medical publications all saying how effective this drug was. The evidence for its benefits appeared overwhelming when it was just the same data being repeated. Sales soared. There was no mention of the potentially deadly side-effects, even though it was known to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease – as well as being linked with suicide.” [2]

What’s more these drugs are exceedingly difficult to get off, and dangerous to try too quickly without side-effects. Just Google the drug name and ‘withdrawal’ and you’ll read pages and pages of deeply disturbing stories. Doctors are encouraged to prescribe them, but rarely taught how to help people get off them, or fully informed about their adverse effects. These two drugs alone are big business bringing in an annual revenue last year of over $10 billion dollars [3]. As the patents run out drug companies pitch for patent extensions using slow-acting, but more potent and harder to come off versions, such as Seroquel XL. Sounds like a souped-up car model!

In some countries I have found young girls being prescribed an anti-depressant, a mood stabiliser and an epilepsy drug sodium valproate (Epilin). Children born of mothers on this drug during pregnancy have lower IQs, a higher risk of autism and ADHD [4]. A class action in the UK by 170 families regarding the claim that the drug used in pregnancy caused a range of problems in children, including autism, learning and social difficulties, ADHD, spinal stenosis, facial abnormalities, vision defects, dyslexia, dyspraxia, delayed speech and motor development, had to be dropped as a result of withdrawal of legal aid 6 years after the action was initiated [5]. This further fuels the debate about how the pharmaceutical companies can be held to account when continued public funding is not available to fund these types of legal challenges.

How many of these drugs would become completely unnecessary if suffering patients were given counselling, both psychological and about their nutrition? Supplementing omega 3, B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc, if deficient, all make a remarkable difference. But deficiency is rarely even considered. There are effective nutrition-based strategies for both depression and bipolar disorder. At the Brain Bio Centre we help hundreds of people every year recover, without the need for drugs.

Sandy is a case in point. Sandy (not her real name) 37, was diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder in 2002. She suffered several nervous breakdowns and her manic symptoms caused many problems for her. She was taking various medications and was struggling to cope. Then she visited the Brain Bio Centre in Richmond. Sandy was tested and found to have exceptionally low vitamin D and low serotonin, noradrenalin, omega-3 and B12 with elevated kryptopyrroles. Over several consultations, Sandy was advised to start gentle exercise and start supplements including essential fats, vitamin D and a vitamin B complex. Nine months later she has joined several networking groups, is setting up her own business and is finding her hobbies again.

Last month GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to anti-depressant and other drug frauds, including encouraging prescribing to under 18 year olds, and agreed to pay $3 billion [6]. That brings total fines against big pharma in the US in the last four years alone to almost $10,000,000,000! [7]. No fines have been made in the UK despite the same practices going on here. Why do we put up with it? Why do we continue to accept drugs with a poor record of benefit and a horrendous record of harm, as the first port of call? In my opinion they should be the last.

Patrick Holford, CEO, Food for the Brain Foundation


Join the Campaign to...


...Stop drug companies killing for profits
Last month GSK were fined $3billion for criminal offences linked to hiding drug dangers and prescribing 'off label'. Total fines in the US are now $14 billion, but, in the UK no fines have been imposed. It took ten years before the regulation agency acted to inform doctors and patients of the suicide dangers of SSRI anti-depressants. Exactly the same situation is happening again in relation to new anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs. But there is something you can do to make a difference to stop wrongful prescriptions and unnecessary deaths. Working with Avaaz, the world's largest and most effective online campaigning community for change, Patrick Holford, our CEO, has started a petition to change the rules so that this situation doesn't just go on. We urge you to sign this at:



Western diet fuels ADHD


High intake of fat, sugar and salt associated with ADHD

This study found that a ‘Western’ diet, high in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugars and sodium was correlated with a higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when compared to a ‘healthy’ diet in nearly 2,000 14 year-olds, whose dietary pattern was followed from birth. The ‘healthy’ diet contained more omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and folate, and less saturated fat, total fat and refined sugars. The authors contribute this correlation to lower levels of omega-3 in the western diet, which has previously been reported in adolescents with ADHD, as well as a higher intake of food additives, flavours or colours that may lead to hyperactivity.

Our comment: This adds to the growing body of evidence which suggests diet may play a role in ADHD

Howard A. et al. (2011) ADHD Is Associated With a “Western” Dietary Pattern in Adolescents. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15 (5) 403-411.

Click here for abstract.


In the family


Autism, Schizophrenia and Bipolar share common underlying factors
People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASP), including autism, ADHD and Aspergers, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder might appear to be affected very differently. This study investigated the family histories of people affected by these disorders and their first-degree relatives. They found that schizophrenia in a parent almost trebled the risk of ASD in the offspring, and more than doubled risk of ASD in a sibling. The authors suggest that these three groups of disorders may share common causes.

Our comment: The causes of all of these conditions are unknown. It is likely that they are due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. At the Brain Bio Centre, we find that, from a nutritional perspective, the underlying imbalances for these disorders are very similar, so the finding of this study makes a lot of sense. For anyone concerned about the potential risk of developing one of these disorders in a relative, we would recommend ensuring optimal nutritional status as a way of reducing that risk.

Sullivan PF, Magnusson C, Reichenberg A, Boman M, Dalman C, Davidson M, Fruchter E, Hultman CM, Lundberg M, Langstrom N, Weiser M, Svensson AC, Lichtenstein P. (2012) Family History of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder as Risk Factors for Autism, Family History of Psychosis as Risk Factor for ASD. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Jul 2:1-5. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.730. [Epub ahead of print]

Click here for abstract.


Get the kids into the kitchen


Involving children in preparing meals improves their food choices
3,400 children were questioned around how much they helped out in the kitchen and their food preferences. The more they helped prepare and cook food at home, the more they preferred fruits and vegetables and the more they were also likely to be choosing and eating these healthy foods.

Our comment: This is certainly not the first study to support this notion. Children who are involved in cooking and growing food make healthier choices. So if you are stuck for ideas of what to do with the kids over the holidays, get them into the kitchen or the garden. Most importantly, make sure the food they are preparing is good, healthy food.

Chu YL, Farmer A, Fung C, Kuhle S, Storey KE, Veugelers PJ. (2012) Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutr. May 11:1-5. [Epub ahead of print]

Click here for abstract.


Help us with fundraising


We are looking for volunteers to build up a team of fundraisers helping to organise fundraising events, supporting at events, apply for grants and help out with the administration. If you are interested in joining the team and can spare 2-3 hours a week then please email volunteer@foodforthebrain.org and title your email Fundraising.


Help us with legal support


If you are in the legal profession or have experience of legislation and regulatory frameworks around complementary therapies, data protection and/or advertising standards then we would appreciate your help. If you are interested and available then please email volunteer@foodforthebrain.org and title your email Legal Support.




[1] Takatsuki K (2011) Life addicted to prescription drugs. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14299501

[2] Healy D (2012) Think the drugs your GP gives you are safe? Well, don't be so sure. Available at: www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2134191/Think-drugs-GP-gives-safe-Well-dont-sure.html#ixzz21MA5IOHa

[3] MarketForcesLiveBlog (2012) AstraZeneca climbs after US Seroquel patent victory, as mining groups lift FTSE 100 higher. Available at: www.guardian.co.uk/business/marketforceslive/2012/mar/30/astrazeneca-seroquel-patent-ftse; http://www.thepharmaletter.com/file/110701/eli-lilly-results-hammered-by-zyprexa-patent-loss.html

[4] Banach R, Boskovic R, Einarson T, Koren G. (2010) Long-term developmental outcome of children of women with epilepsy, unexposed or exposed prenatally to antiepileptic drugs: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Drug safety: an international journal of medical toxicology and drug experience, 33: 73-9. doi: 10.2165/11317640-000000000-00000.

[5] Irwin Mitchell (2011) Trial Abandoned Following Withdrawal of Funding. Available at: www.irwinmitchell.com/search/pages/newsviewer.aspx?f=Discontinuance-Of-The-Fetal-Anti-Convulsant-Litigation-1.aspx

[6] www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18673220

[7] Groeger L (2012) Pharma’s Big Fines. Available at: www.propublica.org/special/big-pharmas-big-fines