Drs. William J. Walsh and Robert deVito have a unique friendship.
They have been meeting for lunch once a week for the past six years, and their conversations cover sports to religion. But mostly, the topic is psychiatry and the treatment of mental illness.
Their consultations focus on progressive approaches to treatments and moving psychiatry into “a new era,” as Walsh said.
Walsh is a renowned research doctor in biochemistry and president of the nonprofit Walsh Research Institute in Naperville; while deVito is the former chairman of the department of psychiatry at Loyola University Medical Center and former director of mental health for the state of Illinois. The latter described their professional partnership as a “very nice combination” of their backgrounds and expertise.
Their professional relationship dates back to 1996 when they worked together at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center, which Walsh founded. They continued their collaboration once the center closed in 2008.
The two men have made it their mission to move the treatment of mental illness from a heavy reliance on medications for the immediate, quick fix to a deeper understanding of how our body chemistry affects our mental health.
“We’ve been in an era of psychiatric medications, and brain science is advancing,” Walsh said.
deVito has seen the many eras of psychiatric medicine, from the psychoanalysis and psychotherapy of the 1950s and 1960s to the boom of antipsychotic drug therapies of the 1980s and 1990s. He began looking into integrating endocrine medicine into mental health when he was at Loyola Medical Center, he said,
Walsh has used his many years of research into biochemistry and its affect on behavior and the brain to author the book “Nutrient Power: Heal your biochemistry and heal your brain.” The book is in addition to the more than 200 scientific articles he has published and the many teaching workshops he runs for psychiatrists. He spoke at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Most doctors do not want to just reach for the usual medication therapies, Walsh said, because the fix is not always longterm, and it often masks symptoms instead of giving a cure. The standard drugs assume a generalized treatment for a particular mental imbalance instead of attacking the individualized case.
Depression, for example, is not a single condition that applies in the same way to all patients diagnosed with the illness, Walsh said. Yet, the focus is often on just adjusting serotonin levels as the answer for all patients.
“Research shows that only two types of depression involve serotonin as a major problem,” he said.
Instead, Walsh said, doctors need to look at a person’s biochemistry and get a physiological profile through bloodwork and medical history of other symptoms. Other ailments or problems can be an indicator of what is causing the depression.
He breaks the generalized term depression into various subgroups called biotypes. These classifications can range from copper or zinc levels being either too high or too low, folate deficiencies, and toxins absorbed into the body’s chemistry, among other problems.
For example, women with postpartum depression tend to have elevated copper levels, Walsh said. Cancer patients suffer from depression often times because chemotherapy drugs contain folate inhibitors.
“We can use nutrient therapies to do what drugs do. It just takes a bit more time,” he said. “Our aim is to normalize blood levels.”
He does, however, recommend patients not go off their medications cold, but rather adopt a plan for a more gradual reduction of use.
New discoveries about our genes and body makeup are being discovered all the time.
“What we now know, is our body chemistry is determined within the first few weeks of life” inside the womb, Walsh said.
He is a strong proponent of epigenetics, or the study of changes in gene therapy that do not involve changes to the DNA. Epigenetics sheds light on autism, he said, taking a look at why there is an increase in autism patients and what are the genetic and environmental components.
Walsh and deVito maintain that physicians need to be empowered to use proven methods that restore proper balance to their patients’ bodies.
“Nutrients can have a real power in treating diseases when done the proper way, our research has shown this,” he said.
Walsh’s research has spanned multiple decades, following tens of thousands of patients. He has been training doctors at workshops around the globe, most recently in Australia and Norway, as well as the United States. Walsh and some of his colleagues have another outreach clinic planned for October in Oak Brook.
His team works with doctors on analyzing real patients and then helping them to design nutrient therapies for each case.
The wish for Walsh and deVito is that medical schools will start to incorporate a more integrated approach to diagnosing and treating physical, chemical and mental health. The University of Kansas medical school has adopted Walsh’s teachings in its curriculum.
“There are leaders out there trying to do something better,” deVito said.
Walsh maintains the focus on nutrient treatments and epigenetics will go a long way to save on medical costs.
“We will save insurance companies a ton of money. They just don’t know it yet,” Walsh said.Tags: mental health