Monday, 5 September 2011

On stress, earthquakes and vitamins

There are a few things that will eventually make 2011 memorable for some people. For the people of New Zealand one of the core memories will be the earthquake which struck Christchurch in February this year.

The 6.3-magnitude quake which struck only 10km from the city caused so many fatalities and so much damage because of how shallow its depth was. Indeed combined with the catastrophe which struck Japan a month later, the world will never forget the earthquakes of 2011.

It is difficult to see if any good can come from such disasters. Yes, we can improve building design, flood defences and such like, but the human cost will extend for generations for those directly affected by the quakes. At the risk of sounding cold and callous, science has however started to learn other lessons from these sad events, particularly on the ways and means support can be offered to those people who witnessed the events and lived to tell the tale.

I have previously blogged about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in relation to autism, and the changes proposed to the diagnosis in the new DSM-5 schedule. Living through an earthquake which might have robbed you of loved ones, your home and all the personal possessions inside would, I think, perhaps leave someone susceptible to problems like PTSD, alongside other psychiatric correlates such as anxiety and stress. The usual routes to tackling such problems would fall to either the talking therapies or in more extreme cases, pharmacotherapy. Recent reports including in the Mail on Sunday a few days back suggest another potential 'treatment' option for such scenarios: the use of vitamins and minerals.

The trial in question looking at micronutrient use on anxiety and stress after the earthquake period was carried out by a team at Canterbury University lead by Julia Rucklidge. A quick email chat confirms that the results at the moment are still under analysis so I cannot offer any link to the finished article. Dr Rucklidge has already stated that ".. people taking the micronutrients are less stressed and anxious than people we followed who did not take the micronutrients" so one can imagine what the results will show. I can't tell you more than that; I can't tell you how the trial was carried out, what precisely micronutrients constitutes, nothing very much. In any other circumstance I would perhaps be making some wry comments about jumping the gun (apologies Usain) something similar to the suggestion that TV viewing causes autism. In this case I won't, simply because Dr Rucklidge and colleagues do have some good history of publishing studies in this area, most notably their earlier study* on micronutrient effects to ADHD following the 7.1-magnitude earthquake which struck in September 2010. I am currently reading this paper so may post a part two sometime soon focusing also on whether vitamins increase psychological resilience and just how that might come about.

* Rucklidge J. et al. Micronutrients reduce stress and anxiety in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder following a 7.1 earthquake. Psychiatry Research. July 2011