Dr. Elisa Brietzke is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a member of the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) Centre for Neuroscience Studies. “I work at Kingston General Hospital at the Consultation-Liaison Service, where I provide psychiatric care to medically ill patients together with residents, medical students and clinical fellows,” she says. “Working with individuals who suffer at the same time of mental health conditions and general health problems shows me every day how indissociable mind and body are.”
In her research, Dr. Brietzke is especially interested in the study of the interaction between the brain and the body’s other systems, especially the immune system. “Although the brain is a fixed organ located inside our skull, the immune system cells and molecules travel through our body, making them, together with hormones, capable of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. In the early years of my research, our projects were able to demonstrate that individuals with mood disorders, especially those with severe presentations, have a persistent activation of their immune system. When I joined Queen’s four years ago, I became interested in how the immune system could be manipulated with lifestyle interventions”, she explains. “I heard so many times from my patients they wish there were natural or lifestyle changes to treat their depression and so I’ve made the decision to invest my time and effort in a new field of knowledge called Nutritional Psychiatry. At this moment, our main project aims to investigate a potential antidepressant effect of the ketogenic (very low carbs) diet on mood, energy and pleasure of individuals with depression.” The consistent effect of ketogenic diet in epilepsy and the reports from individuals who attempted low carb diets themselves convinced Dr. Brietzke that it was time to investigate this intervention using the most rigorous design possible.
For Dr. Brietzke, one myth she wishes to debunk about her field is the stigma surrounding mental health in society today. “I wish people would stop considering mental health as separate from general ‘physical’ health and start to see disorders such as depression or bipolar disorders not only as ‘mental’ or ‘brain’ diseases, but as entities that affect the whole body,” she describes. “It would open new avenues of treatment including diet manipulation and exercise, and ultimately change the idea that a life on medication is the only alternative for those who suffer with mood disorders.”
In the future, Dr. Brietzke hopes people can learn to see mental disorders as we do other illnesses: “I want society to see mental disorders as other illnesses that are chronic and non-transmissible, which could be diagnosed and treated much earlier than we do today and which are ultimately preventable,” she says.
If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved in Dr. Brietzke’s work, she says her project on nutrition and mood disorders is currently accepting volunteers with depression and bipolar disorder. To learn more about this study, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.