Thursday, May 23, 2013

APA Annual Meeting 2013

Many months ago, psychiatrist extraordinairre Drew Ramsey, MD of Columbia University asked if I would be part of a group to present information in a workshop format at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Francisco. He submitted an abstract, rounded up a reputable mentor on the scientific advisory board and collected not only myself but also Mala Nimalasuriya, MS and Roger McIntyre, MD to present.

Leagues: Spotlight

I must admit I've been a very bad academic up until this point. I keep the tip of my little finger in the academic world by teaching the clinical section of the introduction to psychiatry course at Harvard Medical School and have given a few Grand Rounds and other CME talks around town, but I haven't published or done any research besides serving as a psychiatrist for a project in the first couple years after residency. So for me, the opportunity to present at the largest annual meeting of psychiatrists in the world seemed, well, amazing. I do try for the blog to be honest and based on common sense and evidence and practicality, but at the end of the day, it is just a blog, and there are probably 10,000 new blogs on the Internet every single day.

Writing articles for the blog entertains me, helps me to learn, and is a lot more fun than toning it down for the interminable language of scientific papers, which tend to be interesting yet hideous unless written by the best (such as Gabbard or Rook). I do admire those who do publish, like Dr. McIntyre, whose resume is about 80 times as long as mine.

But I never look a gift horse in the mouth, and if they wanted me to present at the APA, I would help deliver…

Drew began the presentation with a brief overview of some important brain nutrients and the concept of whole foods versus the ubiquitous bastardization of wholesome living food we call "processed food." Drew's example: "I went to the store to buy some ham, and it was advertised as 'gluten-free.' When did gluten get into my ham?" He also reviewed some of the dietary pattern studies and elimination diet studies I've mentioned on my blog from time to time. Drew is both an expert at the various nutrients in whole foods, but also anti-"nutritionism," highlighting the importance of combinations of nutrients and their availability in whole foods that is quite different from the stripped down nutrients replenished with salt, industrial fats, and synthetic vitamins so prevalent in processed foods. Drew is the author of The Happiness Diet and the upcoming 50 Shades of Kale (he did indeed order the kale salad at the Split Bread in San Francisco).  I'm going to review The Happiness Diet soon, once I get a minute…

Maya continued the talk with information from her master's thesis on nutrition, the brain, and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is brain fertilizer that helps with neurogenesis and repair, and good nutrition is associated with goodly amounts of BDNF.

Roger followed up with his vast body of work on obesity and mood disorders, noting the effects of weight loss, obesity, and active mood disorders on particular inflammatory cytokines. He highlights the point that the success I see with some of my folks on a paleo-style diet may be a result from an anti-inflammatory state that comes along with weight loss rather than from any particular diet per se.

I was the closer for the presentation with a very brief overview of the evolutionary medicine hypothesis, its pluses and pitfalls, the commonalities of a paleo-style diet and some evidence (including the evidence on fructose malabsoprtion) linking modern diets to poor mental health. I gave a few case studies and my clinical pearls for helping introduce a whole foods diet to people as part of a holistic model for health care in addition to more traditional therapies. I also discussed the theoretical applications of ketogenic diets in psychiatric disorders, the available evidence (almost nil: all pilot trials or case studies), and advised folks to keep an eye out for more research.

We had a number of questions and interest in the ideas of celiac disease masking as major mental illness, coconut and MCT oil, tofu and the poor performance of so called "modern diets" in the dietary pattern studies and depression, and interesting tracks for research and some practical questions about implementing recommendations. At the end we were approached by a number of psychiatrists wanting more information.

Did I mention our room was completely packed with people sitting in the front and aisles and lined up out the door?

All in all, a great success.

The remainder of the APA was, as always, interesting. 15,000 psychiatrists and the launch of the DSMV meant a continuous Scientology protest outside, plus a number of men with bushy eyebrows and bow ties. I attended a number of lectures, the most notable being a 4 hour seminar on giving better lectures. The APA attracts psychiatrists from all over the world, and I would estimate the number of international attendees at 1/5-1/4 in the lectures I attended.

I happen to be friends with the son of a former president of the APA, and as such was able to finagle my way into the APA Presidential Reception at the Palace hotel, which was great fun. My friend's father and his wife very kindly introduced me to everyone, and I can't express my appreciation enough.

It was also great to hang out with Drew Ramsey; food-minded and sensible psychiatrists are always a pleasure to talk to, crossing fingers we'll be invited to the next APA, and I'm going to get his 50 Shades of Kale to help me cope with the mountains of kale I get from my CSA, which starts up next week.


  1. Thanks for the summary. I hope your portion of the lecture will spur scientific research into paleo-style diets and effects on neuropsychiatric function.

    I miss your blogging, but know you're very busy.


  2. Sounds like a fun time! I've only attended the other APA meeting (American Psychological Association) which is attended by mostly clinical psychologists and a smattering of experimental psychologists. It's a similar size (like a small city moving into a convention center for a week), but not as big as SfN. I'll be presenting my work on diet and cognition in rats at SfN as well as AHS13 this year. Looking forward to receiving reactions from two very different sets of individuals.

    I don't suppose your session was video recorded?


  3. "He highlights the point that the success I see with some of my folks on a paleo-style diet may be a result from an anti-inflammatory state that comes along with weight loss rather than from any particular diet per se."

    I've tried searching the interweb for studies suggesting improvement of mood disorders from weight loss alone and haven't had much luck. Is there any data that actually shows a link or is it only conjecture as of now?

    1. @psychic also do a pubmed search for Roger McIntyre. Most of his research work has been in the topic of diets, inflammation, mood disorders, etc.

  4. @psychic24. took me about 10 seconds to find this on Google Scholar with keywords "obesity", "depression", and "weight loss"

    I'm sure inflammation is a big part of the relationship between obesity and depression, and perhaps other mood disorders such as anxiety.


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