By Mike Ellis
Dr. William Walsh has spent decades researching individuals who suffer from behavioral disorders throughout the Chicago area. Find out why he believes it’s time to reexamine how they are often treated.
Autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are two conditions that we all hear a great deal about these days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one out of 68 children has autism spectrum disorder. The same source relates that as of 2011, approximately 11 percent of children between the ages of four and 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD; and this figure is up from 9.5 percent in 2007 and 7.8 percent in 2003.
Dr. William Walsh, founder of the Walsh Research Institute in Naperville, has developed a different way of looking at these and other behavioral disorders, such as clinical depression. Dr. Walsh, who has a chemical engineering background, has spent the past four decades or so taking a biochemical approach to examining individuals with behavioral disorders,—and some of his findings may hold the key to better understanding and successfully treating many of these individuals in the years to come.
From the laboratory to Statesville
After receiving his Ph.D. in chemical engineering, Dr. Walsh began his first full-time job at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont. (Although he has worked extensively with individuals suffering from behavioral disorders, Dr. Walsh is not a medical doctor.) He said his early research at Argonne involved nuclear-fuel reprocessing.
“I got involved in experimental work, and that’s when I found my love was experiments,” he said, adding that it was his experimental training that equipped him to perform his behavioral researches.
While he was working at Argonne, Dr. Walsh began volunteering at Statesville prison a few miles south in Crest Hill. He said a woman about three blocks from his current office in Naperville had been “senselessly murdered,” and he “just got motivated to see if [he] could do something about crime and violence.”
Dr. Walsh said he figured that the best way for him to accomplish his goal might be by going directly to those most likely to commit violent crimes: the criminals coming out of prison. So, he led a group of about 125 volunteers—many of whom were his colleagues at Argonne—that formed a prisoner assistance program, which attempted to help place and re-acclimate prisoners once they came out of Statesville.
“What happened was, I got to know the families that produced the criminals,” Dr. Walsh said. “I learned there are many what appear to be outstanding, ideal families that produced a criminal.
“When I talked to them, I kept hearing the same story—that they knew there was something ‘different’ and ‘very wrong’ by the time the child was two years old.”
So, if the cause isn’t the upbringing or environment, the question naturally arises: What is the cause of a behavioral disorder? Before about 1970, the tabula rasa theory traceable to the centuries-old philosophy of John Locke that experience shapes our behavior and education predominated. But Dr. Walsh said that around this time, research began to indicate that experience wasn’t necessarily the primary factor.
“There was a lot of great data—especially on depression and schizophrenia—that showed that the No. 1 factor was not these factors, but whether there was a family history of the same problem,” he said. “So, we began to wonder if maybe the violent people we were working with might have the same causation.”
Working with Dr. Pfeiffer
Dr. Walsh began collecting samples and data from the prisoners with which he worked, but said his initial experiments yielded nothing. Then, as he was leaving work at Argonne one night, he heard about a lecture to be given by Dr. Carl Pfeiffer of Princeton, N.J., one of the world’s leading nutritional scientists at the time. Renowned for his work with schizophrenics, Dr. Pfeiffer saw over 20,000 during his lifetime, and successfully normalized many of them.
“Here was a man who had spent the last 20 years of his life doing with schizophrenia what I had just begun to do with behavior,” Dr. Walsh said.
Influenced by what he heard during the lecture, Dr. Walsh met with Dr. Pfeiffer the following afternoon, and showed him that the data he had collected wasn’t correlating. Dr. Pfeiffer suggested he begin to examine metal levels, like copper and zinc. This was the beginning of a 12-year collaboration between these two scientists, during which time Dr. Walsh brought numerous ex-convicts to Princeton to conduct his researches with Dr. Pfeiffer. He said the first group he brought was a group of five sociopaths.
“They had done horrible things, which we documented,” Dr. Walsh said, “and he found they were all the same; they all had high blood histamine; they all had pyrrole disorder; they all had hypoglycemia.”
Drs. Pfeiffer and Walsh later began to look at boys that exhibited similar behavioral traits—or “future criminals,” as Dr. Walsh referenced them. These were children whom Dr. Walsh said would perform multiple violent episodes on a daily basis, bullied other kids, and exhibited cruelty by harming animals or performing similar acts. Dr. Walsh said they discovered that many of the boys had copper or zinc imbalances that affect brain function. Developing a treatment approach of normalizing their body chemistry, Dr. Walsh said the boys “usually became quite okay within a month or two.”
Throughout the next few decades, Dr. Walsh continued his research on individuals who exhibit violent behavior, while also taking a look at individuals who suffer from a wide range of behavioral disorders, including autism, ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and post-partum depression. What he has learned is that we are all “biochemically unique”—that is, the chemistries of each of our bodies is slightly different from anyone else’s. And because we are all different biochemically, Dr. Walsh said the “one size fits all” model of traditional medicine is flawed from the standpoint that we all need different quantities of various nutrients to stabilize our respective body chemistries.
“You can’t stuff these people full of vitamins and minerals of amino acids,” he said. “You might do more harm than good, and often would.”
If we’re all biochemically unique, it may seem as if it would be quite difficult to develop treatment programs for each individual person at first glance; but Dr. Walsh said, fortunately, there are only a few nutrients that affect the brain.
“There’s more than 300 important nutrients in the body, but only about six or seven that have a really important effect on brain function, on neurotransmitters,” he said.
In his book, Nutrient Power, published in 2012, Dr. Walsh has published many of his findings, which include a theory of autism and ADHD, as well as his recommendations for limiting school shootings. According to Dr. Walsh, most individuals suffering from mental disorders possess one of several biochemical imbalances. He writes (Nutrient Power, Chap. 3, p. 18) that the most common include copper overload, zinc deficiency and methyl/folate imbalances.
“What we’ve learned is that every one of these imbalances has classic symptoms associated with it,” Dr. Walsh said.
He said one common misconception concerning individuals with behavioral disorders is that they are “deficient” in something, when, in fact, on many occasions, they are overstocked with a certain nutrient, like copper.
“One of the surprises when I got involved clinically with Pfeiffer, was that I used to think the problem was, ‘What are they deficient in? What do they need?’” Dr. Walsh said. “I found that the greatest mischief [is] nutrients that they’re overloaded in—that the body has too much of.”
But not all disorders are associated with just one chemical imbalance. For example, in his research on clinical depression that began in 1978, Dr. Walsh has identified four primary “biotypes” that correspond with 90 percent of the patients he has studied (Nutrient Power, Chap. 6, p. 73):
•Undermethylation (38 percent)
•Folate deficiency (20 percent)
•Copper overload (17 percent)
•Pyrrole disorder (15 percent)
“If a person has depression, the question is, ‘Why?’” Dr. Walsh said. “Mainstream psychiatry believes that depression is basically a single entity with a variation along a central theme, and that central theme is low serotonin activity.
“My data shows that in fact, depression is not a single condition, but it’s an umbrella term that encompasses five completely different forms [or] phenotypes of depression.”
He said that because clinical depression does not always stem from the same imbalance, prescribing the same medication for anyone suffering from depression could be ineffectual—and even harmful in certain instances. For example, Dr. Walsh said he believes most of the school shooters of the past 20 years have tended to fall under the “folate deficiency” category. Unlike most individuals suffering from depression, he said these individuals already have high serotonin activity, but were given SSRI antidepressants to address low serotonin levels. Dr. Walsh said this “folate deficient” biotype is “intolerant” to this medication.
“A lot of people who are mentally ill were perfectly okay until they had a breakdown,” Dr. Walsh said. “If psychiatrists would just do a couple of inexpensive lab tests, they could identify people that should not get one of these drugs.”
ADHD and Autism
Two behavioral disorders that have drawn significant attention from the media in recent years are ADHD and autism. Dr. Walsh has published a theory of autism, and has developed nutrient therapies for both disorders.
Examining about 5,600 patients with ADHD (which was formerly oftentimes called ADD) over a 35-year span, Dr. Walsh found that these individuals are often deficient in Vitamin B6 and zinc. He said one problem locally is, this disorder is considerably over-diagnosed, when compared with CDC findings.
“ADHD is terribly over-diagnosed, especially in places like DuPage County,” Dr. Walsh said. “The Center for Disease Control has measured the incidents of ADHD as  percent [in 2011], and the City of Wheaton, I think, did a survey, and I think it was 38 percent of all the children were taking Ritalin or Adderall, and were diagnosed with ADHD, even though we know three-fourths of them didn’t have it.”
As for autism, Dr. Walsh said he believes this disorder is more “epigenetic” (i.e., beyond genetics) in nature, generally arising from “a combination of an inherited predisposition and severe environmental insults prior to age three,” (Nutrient Power, Chap. 7, p. 92).
“Scientists for 40 years have been looking for the ‘autism gene’ and the ‘schizophrenia gene,’ and it’s been a failure,” he said.
Dr. Walsh said an “environmental insult”—that is, a physical injury, serious illness or traumatic experience—can “cause genes to act differently forever,” thereby precipitating autism in an individual that was not born with it. He said while there appears to be a “predisposition” for autism in those who acquire it, only about 20 percent of autistic individuals are born with the disorder.
“Most autistics are completely okay until they’re about two years old,” Dr. Walsh said, “and something happens where they get regressive autism, and they’re shockingly different, often within a day or two. One of the mysteries has been, ‘What on earth is happening in these cases that can totally alter a person?—What kind of an event in the brain could do this?’
“But the biggest mystery [has been], ‘Why doesn’t it go away? Why do these problems persist the rest of life?’
“The answer is epigenetics. What it is, is environment changing your gene expression.”
While there is no known cure for autism, Dr. Walsh has developed several nutrient therapies to treat it (Nutrient Power, Chap. 7, pp. 111-12):
•Normalization of chromatin methyl/acetyl levels
•Reversal of deviant gene marks
Dr. Walsh writes that research shows that “high oxidative stress” is a common feature of autism, and utilizing antioxidant therapies can result in better social, cognitive and speech development, as well as improved memory skills (Ibid. p. 111).
Over roughly the past decade, Dr. Walsh has begun training medical doctors in sundry parts of the globe, including Australia and Norway. He said he has currently trained over 220 doctors worldwide.
“Our goal is to train more than 1,000 doctors in five years, and we’re well on our way,” Dr. Walsh said.
He said one of two best-trained doctors here in the U.S. is Dr. Albert Mensah, who practices here in Hinsdale at BrainShape Center. Working alongside colleagues Drs. Jerry Iavarone and Demetrios Patos, Dr. Mensah has applied his mentor’s training to his own work.
“What we do at BrainShape involves no medication,” he said. “The key question is, ‘Who are you biochemically?’
“That determines what your nutritional state should be, and it also determines what nutrient therapeutic approaches are available for you as an individual person.”
Dr. Mensah said at BrainShape, doctors perform biochemical tests on each patient to develop specific treatment programs based on their individual needs.
“The one-size-fits-all model is a fallacy,” Dr. Mensah said. “General nutrients are for people who have general health concerns—maybe—, and [they] don’t fix them.”
When Hinsdale Magazine met with Dr. Walsh in April, his research and findings notwithstanding, he did not speak disparagingly of traditional medicine. He described medication as an “era” that succeeded sitting patients experiencing psychiatric or behavioral problems on the couch to inquire into their past experiences. Now, he said, due to recent advances in brain science, he believes we are gradually transitioning into a new era in medicine, moving away from the use of psychiatric drugs to “natural therapies that truly normalize the brain.”
“I think [medication] has helped millions of people,” Dr. Walsh said, “but I think we’re about to leave that era...Brain science has advanced to the point where we now are going to be able to normalize the brain without using foreign molecules.
“The biggest problem with psychiatric drugs is, they’re powerful foreign molecules that do not produce normality, and therefore, you have side effects...I think, basically, we’re moving into a better era where we’ll be able to normalize the brain.”