M. Elizabeth Sublette, MD, PhD: How diet may affect risk for suicidal behavior

Suicide and nonfatal suicidal behaviors are major causes of death worldwide. One scientific question is why there are such variations of rates of suicide and suicidal behaviors within and between countries.

A group of researchers, led by Dr. M. Elizabeth Sublette, MD, PhD from the Psychiatry division at Columbia University, recently reviewed the scientific literature concerning diet and the risk of suicide.

I am not enough of a biochemist to understand the dietary lipid classes, cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids, serotonin transporters and receptors, toll-like receptors, nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells, and peroxisome proliferator activated receptors.

But I do appreciate their theoretical model linking cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids status to suicide risk. They argue that polyunsaturated fatty acids balance is important, and membrane lipid microdomains (rafts) could mediate a “nexus of interaction between cholesterol and omega-3 PUFAs, and downstream effects on serotonergic neurotransmission and specific inflammatory pathways.”

We’d have to email Dr. Sublette to really understand what she means by all that, and I don’t want to bother her.

Trying to make this paper relevant is the question of what foods we should be eating. I generally recommend folks study the work of Drs. Andrew Weil and Joel Fuhrman first, and then after you have read their books and papers, we can have a discussion.

In other news, I am grateful to everyone who reached out to me regarding my blog post yesterday on my suicidal ideation and medical leave due to depression. Just to assuage everyone’s fears, I have had no suicidal ideation since last week.

We must remember the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote frequently about a concept he called Swaraj. To eliminate depression and suicide risk, we must become self-reliant.

Have a wonderful Friday!

Please let me know what you think of this blog post by leaving comments below or sharing on social media. I will attempt to respond via blog comments or Twitter. I won’t be sending any emails today, however. 


Best regards, 

Philip Albert Lederer MD

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Gandhi in South Africa, 1909
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Andrew Weil
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Joel Fuhrman
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Dr. Sublette from Columbia University, the lipid researcher

2 thoughts on “M. Elizabeth Sublette, MD, PhD: How diet may affect risk for suicidal behavior

  1. And scientists are learning that diet may (i.e. probably does) affect mood in a way that most people aren’t aware of – through changing the makeup of our microbiome – the bacteria of microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal system (and there are microbiomes on skin and other body areas). Are the microorganisms in our gut helping or hurting us? They can “talk” or send signals to our brain (and vice-versa) through the “brain-gut axis”. Good gut bugs can positively affect the production of mood-modulating neurotransmitters, and bad gut bugs can suppress them.

    Bad gut bacteria can cause cascades of inflammatory reactions in the body which may (and I think probably does) contribute to many conditions including anxiety and depression. Good gut bacteria can keep the bad gut bacteria in check by affecting the chemistry in the gastrointestinal tract and limit growth of the bad bacteria (which may only really be bad when they come to dominate).

    We can consume good bacteria through eating (or drinking) probiotics, and we can feed those good bacteria by prebiotics (like onions!). And antibiotics (which I have heard are sometimes prescribed for viral infections – for which they do nothing) can devastate our microbiome, opening up the possibility of it being re-colonized by bad microorganisms. Stress can affect the microbiome, as can our environments (digging in the garden and playing around in nature is great!)

    So here are some ideas. Drink some Kombucha – it’s becoming quite popular! Eat some sauerkraut every once in a while (and buy the kind that is actually fermented and not just shredded cabbage with vinegar added). Incorporate a quarter of an onion or some raw garlic into your daily diet. Limit processed grains and sugars. Be outside in the summer to get some sun and get plenty of exercise. And if you are an MD, please learn add learning about the microbiome to your reading list:


    1. Dear Mike,
      Thanks so much!
      I wonder if you could reach out to Dr. Marty Blaser or Maria Dominguez (spelling?) at NYU and ask them about the Kombucha and sauerkraut?
      Regards, Phil

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