Suicide prevention by diet

Keywords: suicide, self harm, food intolerance, diet



Food-related depression that is sometimes “sufficiently intense to provoke suicidal thoughts” was one of the symptoms described by researchers from the RPAH (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) allergy clinic back in 1986.

Our readers agree. “I have been suicidal for the past two years …” wrote a young woman from the UK:

“But today, ONE FREAKING DAY ON THIS WONDER DIET, I got up, showered and got dressed (a genuine achievement)…I had the best day in months and months…I wasn't in a bad headspace, I wasn't anxious, I was sensible, productive and most of all – HAPPY … [one month later ]…Before this diet I was surviving, and now I am genuinely, for the first time in my whole life, living life to the full.“ – Ffion from the UK (see more below)

Ffion isn’t the only one. In our database there are more than 50 reports from people whose suicidal thoughts, actions or self-harm have improved on diet.

     All ages

The people in our database stories range from age eight to seniors. Here is the one about suicidal thoughts in an 8 year old:

“Before diet, my eight year old daughter was mildly depressed, as well as lethargic, pale, anxious, dizzy and "spacy". Her amine challenge resulted in severe depression including bouts of suicidal thoughts and almost psychotic agitation. Based on pre-diet behaviours, she was classified as having a highly anxious temperament. A number of health professionals have told us they expect to see her back during her teenage years, meaning so they can give her antidepressants. However after two years failsafe she shows no signs of mental illness in any form and no longer seems a candidate for anxiety and depression.“ – read more  story [341] 

And you can see for yourself a video message from this teenager for whom medication didn’t work, and diet was a miraculous cure:

“I’m 17 years old. I was diagnosed with depression … at the age of six. I tried to kill myself 3 times. My mum found the failsafe diet. She put me on it and within a week we saw a change. I wasn’t as sick …my depression basically vanished …I’ve been really happy ever since. It basically saved my life …”

     Diet as a last resort

Unfortunately, because food intolerance is NOT commonly understood, most people who come to us as a last resort – sometimes too late, as in this story:

“It is a shame that [my family] didn't know the links between their symptoms and food intolerances.…there have been two suicides and one diagnosed schizophrenic who tried many times to take his own life. I read your book as soon as I could get my hands on it. If only my family had been aware of these things years ago there may have been a few lives saved as well as a lot of sanity!“ – read more story [042] 

                             Foods most likely to cause suicidal thoughts and actions

The trouble is, like the family above, most people don’t realise that food has anything to do with their symptoms, have never heard of dietary salicylates and amines, and don’t realise that overdoing processed foods or even “healthy” foods like bananas, avocadoes, cheese, chocolate, tomatoes, mandarins or strawberries could possibly have anything to do with suicidal thoughts. 

     “Nature’s mood enhancer”

Our local supermarket has a sign “Nature’s mood enhancer” on the bananas. Really? I react to the amines in bananas with migraines and depressed mood, though not as badly as the man in the story below:

“I had a violent reaction [to the RPAH elimination diet amine challenge - bananas and chocolate] within a few hours and have never felt so awful in all my life. Here are some of the symptoms: depression, suicidal tendencies not just thoughts, melancholy, looking for an argument, feeling the whole world was against me, lethargy, shakes, pressure on the skull and tingles in the extremities, feeling of hangover, inability to focus on thoughts, ringing in the ears, inability to sleep. The hungover feeling lasted until the next day.” - read more story [436]

     Most doctors don’t know about the diet …

Most doctors don’t know anything about the RPAH elimination diet.  So anyone who sees a doctor is likely to end up on antidepressants.

                               Antidepressants increase the risk of suicide

Patients are generally unaware that antidepressant medication such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil,  Celexa, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor - and others with different names in different countries  - can actually increase the risk of violence or suicide in all age groups.

People kill themselves – or others - because these drugs can cause extreme restlessness and agitation (called akathisia) and suicidal thoughts combined with emotional blunting (disinhibition) that lead people to out-of-character actions, such as mass shootings and passenger deaths due to pilot suicide.

If you don’t believe this, read chapter 3 of the new book Deadly Psychiatry and Organised Denial, by the world’s leading pharmaceutical drug researcher and Cochrane Foundation founder, Professor Peter Gotzsche. The author explains how drug companies have rigged studies, hidden evidence, corrupted medical journals and lied to doctors so they can keep on making profits. Here is just one quote:

“… drug companies and doctors push children into suicide while claiming that their drugs protect them against suicide. Can anything be worse than this? And, as usual, the drug agencies have protected the drug companies” – Prof Peter Gotzsche

The evidence is all there. This is what one Amazon reviewer said:

“Recommended by an MD to all doctors: if this is true I am ashamed of being a doctor. And it seems to be true. It is scarier than the book Psycho” - Nils Simonson, September 23, 2015

Or for page-turning easier read with the same science, see Katinka Blackford Newman’s 2016 book The Pill that Steals Lives:
SSRI antidepressants:
  • can double the risk of self harm, suicide or murder
  • are no more effective than placebo in treating mild to moderate depression
  • can cause a side effect called akathisia – a state of severe can’t-sit-down restlessness associated with thoughts of death and violence, combined with emotional blunting that can lead to out-of-character actions such as suicide, mass shootings, and plane crashes due to pilot suicide
  • have been overhyped regarding benefits and underreported regarding dangers by the pharmaceutical industry that has worked systematically to deceive doctors, regulators and the public and to discredit whistleblowers
  • can be dangerous for people can't metabolise them due to common genetic mutations of the CYP450 system of enzymes. Some doctors now suggest that people could be genetically tested before taking antidepressants – like have your blood type tested before having a blood transfusion
  • can cause severe withdrawal symptoms
     What these books don’t tell you
  • People for whom antidepressants don’t work can do extremely well on diet ( Parker & Watkins 2002, and our reader stories)
  • It has been shown that children with food intolerance are slow or null metabolisers of cysteine dioxygenase which is one of the CYP450 enzymes (Breakey 2004), the same enzyme system that cause problems with psychiatric drug intolerance.  It is possible that intolerance to antidepressants and food chemicals may be due to the same mechanism. 
     What are the alternatives to medication?

Since 2004, the NHS in the UK now recommends antidepressants as a last resort for mild to moderate depression, after talking therapies such as  psychotherapy, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy and counselling.

Unsurprisingly, because few people know about it, diet does not get a mention.

     What about a 3 week trial of diet first? 

Wouldn’t it be useful if doctors recommended a 3 week trial of the RPAH diet FIRST (supervised by an experienced dietitian, see our list under Support on our website) to anyone with depression/ suicidal thoughts who would like to try it? See our readers stories below, and decide for yourself: is it worth looking at diet?

     Foods most likely to be associated with depression

Mostly people have no idea when they are affected by food. Everyone is different and – unlike food allergy - intolerance reactions are not obvious. 

The RPAH Elimination Diet is a diagnostic tool to help find out exactly which foods are causing problems, and how. There are 3 steps: elimination, challenge and reintroduction.  The following list shows the food chemicals most likely to trigger depression, lethargy, agitation (from Loblay & Swain 1986). Figures have been rounded. Most people react to more than one. 

75%     - salicylates (in some plant foods e.g. fruit, some veg, herbs, spices)
70%     - preservatives
65%     - MSG
60%     - amines (chocolate, bananas, breakdown of protein foods such as cheese, fish, meat)
60%     - artificial colour
55%     - synthetic antioxidants such as BHA 320
20%     - dairy foods
20%     - gluten (in wheat and other grains)

Since that study, the newer flavour enhancers that are MSG boosters (ribonucleotides 627, 631 and/or 635) have been causing problems for our readers. 

For best success we strongly recommend consulting one of the dietitians on our list

See how manageable the diet is in the free booklets on our website

                               The suicide report: reader stories

I firmly believe that my daughter is alive today because of failsafe. When she slips off the diet, her symptoms resurface (severe depression, suicidal tendencies and anxiety)...She is now 23 and keeping on a somewhat even keel, despite going through a lot of horrible times over the past 24 months or so -

My 14 year-old son with ADHD and ODD progressed well on medication until we had a car accident last year and he suffered minor brain damage. After the accident his behaviour became worse and he has attempted suicide several times….Last Wednesday I took him to hospital for sedation after he broke windows and several holes in the wall with his head…I started failsafe eating a week ago in absolute desperation. Today have a son who obeys, talks to you face to face, calmer, quieter, he smiles and has got himself a job part time which he loves. If he is offered food at work he says no and takes his own or waits until he gets home…one week later….Not only has his behaviour changed but also his stomach pains and migraines are a thing of the past -

I have lived the last 30 years with profound migraine and trigeminal neuralgia. I am on some powerful meds…My headaches are chronic and have absolutely stolen the best years of my life. I used to have friends…a life...I have contemplated suicide many times. I have almost learned to expect and just deal with the incessant pain. But I think I just may have accidentally made an odd discovery. I wanted to lose a few pounds and I decided to do Dr. Atkins Fat Fast for a few days - which is simply cream cheese and nothing else. Within two days my head was pain free. So I am thinking this is very strange: is eating food giving me headaches???  I began to research and came upon histamines. I am amazed as I have never been ‘allergic’ to anything and never had sinus problems. I did note to the doctor that I was certain oranges had triggered migraine attacks - and wine or alcohol and dark chocolate. He told me to stay away from them but never mentioned histamines.…Now I think I am on to what might have caused this pain all these years. (preservative-free cream cheese is failsafe – S) -

My husband bought some marinated chicken (probably with MSG or the newer flavour enhancers 627,631 or 635) at Safeway supermarket! I thought it tasted wonderful and really enjoyed it. Then the next day I woke up I looked like I had been bitten by some insects…As the day went on it got worse I was at work and my whole legs broke out in the most severe itchy rash ever…By the time I got home from work, I was itching like crazy…I was thinking suicidal thoughts, I suffer from depression and I was really thinking of offing myself… -

I have suffered from a red itchy rash for the last 7 weeks which has worked its way over most of my body.  It started around the waist and moved down to my thighs and legs and then up the back of my legs and buttocks.  It has also appeared on my arms and underarms, neck and eyelids.  I first thought it was hives and went to the doctor who prescribed cortisone cream and antihistamine.  However, the hives didn't go away just appeared less angry at times. It appears to be worse at night and my itching has driven my husband and myself mad.  I have been very depressed and have had several crying bouts - I have even felt suicidal…Then I came across your website and recognised my symptoms from the descriptions and photographs.  I ate a take-away vegie burger yesterday for lunch and have also been using a stock powder (Massel brand) which contains 635 –

From a dietitian after a teenage girl thanked her for saving her life: the girl said she used to self harm and tried to commit suicide a few times as well but she somehow found the RPA Hospital elimination diet and that it was amines that were making her feel this way. Now she is amine-free she no longer wants to end her life -

If my little one has amines she is depressed. She cries uncontrollably. My sister in law also has been battling depression and anxiety. She finally listened to me changed her diet and now she no longer wants to kill herself.

After the many years of misery this [intolerance to sorbate preservatives] caused me, I would like very much for other to learn that not only can this happen, it does happen and is too rare to be part of the medical record. There is nothing that will cause depression, and possibly lead to suicide, like being told a very real problem is "in your head". If it wasn't for my refusal to accept "the truth" and keep on looking for a solution, I would not be here

I had all these symptoms (loss of energy and fatigue, poor concentration, physical and mental slowing down and anxiety) over a period of forty years…I was under medication from my G.P., which did not have any effect. He also recommended group therapy, which I attended on a weekly basis. This was a total waste of time…I was becoming suicidal…Why didn’t my GP ever mention that food could have been the source of my depression? I then decided to eliminate wheat and dairy products from my diet, to see what would happen. This was a tough decision as my favourite foods were bread, weetabix, cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream and biscuits. However, I persisted, and I remember waking up one morning, three weeks later, with a clear head, and not feeling tired...I was normal!!!!!!.  It was an incredible feeling ... eggs and chocolate were also out …. -

I can't agree that intolerances are never fatal. My father and I get crushing depression after we eat foods to which we are intolerant e.g. nutmeg, cinnamon or wines. It doesn't last long (36 hours) but it's really unpleasant. I suspect a proportion of suicides are ultimately caused by the mood effects of undiagnosed food intolerances. After all, you can't avoid it if you don't know you're intolerant to it. Tragically, I hear some antidepressants are also high in the same chemicals (salicylates and amines). This may account for some of the sudden suicides seen when people first begin antidepressant medications – from online comment on an ABC news program discussing food intolerance -

what I'm going through at the moment is a direct result of the lunch I have eaten. But knowing that doesn't stop me feeling suicidal…today was a farewell lunch for a colleague and I wanted to join in...Within thirty minutes I had the first symptom, which was a dense fogginess in my brain, as though I was barely there, like a zombie, and then I felt a slight head pressure, almost a headache….And then two hours later I had the first "what's the point of living, I have absolutely nothing to live for" moment. Within another hour or two rolling fits of blackness came over me; the deep and utter despair, overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and irrelevance and unimportance. I know this will take 36-48 hours to clear my system…There's not any where near enough research done on this -

removing salicylate-full products and food from my life relieved all of my symptoms (including mental health problems: depression, anxiety and suicidal feelings)…know that life can be rewarding and fun without some pleasures of food, drink, and beauty products -

My 'drug of choice’ at varsity was chocolate ... three years later I was put onto a 'minor' antidepressant … A year and a half ago my sister suggested that I try the failsafe diet for symptoms that my doctors were calling irritable bowel…being on the diet showed many symptoms that we would have never had associated with food, for example, black rings under the eyes disappearing, lack of concentration leaving and a levelling of the depression that I had been experiencing. Before failsafe I never suspected that depression could even be related to food… 

During the amine testing, I felt awful, didn't want to get out of bed, couldn't be bothered with anything and was sure everyone hated me. Anything anyone said was taken the wrong way. I spent hours telling my husband about how terrible my life was and analysing everything in detail trying to work out why everyone hated me. I had an increasing intensity in suicidal thoughts, thinking through what was in the house to help me, though, thank goodness, never got to the stage of actually doing anything about it. It was scary!!! …When I am staying strictly on failsafe, I feel happier, am nicer to be around, enjoy life and have lots of energy instead of lying on the couch like a half comatose couch potato -

Before we had pinpointed my young son’s problem with food intolerance and he was eating a lot more foods, he would sometimes self harm and sometimes even say ‘I wish I was dead’. It is a very scary and affronting thing to hear your two year old say, "I’m a yucky person! I wish I was dead!" -

My 6 ½ year old son, Tim (not his real name) is currently undergoing investigation of mixed depressive disorder with anxiety and obsessive ruminations. We have used failsafe in the past with one of our other children, but had not ever thought of foods being linked to Tim's mood problems...2 months later... Since starting the elimination diet Tim has not self harmed once! He is much calmer and has noticed this in himself…on Day 7 of the salicylate challenge - we had already stopped the challenge that morning - Tim went to bed as normal then began to write swear words all over his bed, his sheets and his body. ("I was angry with you because I couldn't fall asleep") This is the behaviour and obsessive ruminations this poor boy was experiencing on a daily basis before the elimination diet -

My son 14 is a state ward and has been for 18 months. His behaviour at home was violent, aggressive and surly to such an extent that my safety was threatened. He had damaged property, harmed pets, broken my bones...He was 12 when he went into care and this behaviour had gone on since the age of 7. He tried to kill himself a number of times, initially playing chicken with cars, starving himself, much self harm behaviour and nearly succeeded last year when he cut an artery in his leg. I tried to get help for years only to be told that I was a bad mother. I was accused of abusing my son so many times it wasn't funny, even dragged before courts for it. They didn't get it. I was the one with the bruises and broken bones not the kid…

 I got your book Fed Up from the library and read it over the weekend. What a revelation to me.  He has just been diagnosed as a possible coeliac. He has always had some intolerances and has not done well away from what he ate at home, which on reflection was low gluten and low additives. Well, at the moment the lad is keen to clean up the diet, at least the gluten part, but I think it is too late to mend our relationship. I should have done more research and figured out the food connection earlier…We noticed if he had certain foods he would be worse, even his family day care parents learnt the hard way about the foods. His doctors knew this, the psychologists knew this but NOBODY made the connection. Even now the only reason he got checked out was I pushed and after a few incidents in the unit I raised Duty of Care…-

I have been suicidal for the past two years…But today, ONE FREAKING DAY ON THIS WONDER DIET, I got up, showered and got dressed (a genuine achievement)…I had the best day in months and months…I wasn't in a bad headspace, I wasn't anxious, I was sensible, productive and most of all – HAPPY…update one month later…Before this diet I was surviving, and now I am genuinely, for the first time in my whole life, living life to the full“ – ttp://

Before diet, my eight year old daughter was mildly depressed, as well as lethargic, pale, anxious, dizzy and "spacy". Her amine challenge resulted in severe depression including bouts of suicidal thoughts and almost psychotic agitation. Based on pre-diet behaviours, she was classified as having a highly anxious temperament. A number of health professionals have told us they expect to see her back during her teenage years, meaning so they can give her antidepressants. However after two years failsafe she shows no signs of mental illness in any form and no longer seems a candidate for anxiety and depression.

I’m 17 years old. I was diagnosed with depression … at the age of six. I tried to kill myself 3 times. My mum found the failsafe diet. She put me on it and within a week we saw a change. I wasn’t as sick…my depression basically vanished…I’ve been really happy ever since. It basically saved my life …”



A Silent Killer, Coffs Coast Advocate, 6/7/2016, pages 1&7

Loblay RH and Swain AR "'Food intolerance'. In Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition. London: John Libbey, 1986, pages 169-177.

Parker G, Watkins T, Treatment-resistant depression: when antidepressant drug intolerance may indicate food intolerance. Aust N Z J Psychiatry, 2002:36(2):263-5.

This article documents the case of a 25 year old patient with a history of attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity, motor tics, generalised anxiety, social phobia, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and five years of severe depressive episodes which were non-responsive to a range of psychotropic drugs. After four weeks on the RPAH elimination diet, his mood and other symptoms had improved considerably. Double blind placebo controlled testing revealed that the patient was severely affected by salicylates and later tests showed effects of food additives. While staying on the diet, the patient was able to remain symptom free. When reviewed after a year, he had been able to return to full time work. Conclusion:  “The prevalence of food intolerance as a contributing factor to depressive disorders requires clarification. Clinicians should be aware of the possible syndrome and that it may be worsened by psychotropic medication.”

Professor Peter Gotzsche’s powerful book Deadly Psychiatry and Organised Denial, chapter 3, and article Psychiatry gone astray by Peter Gotzsche.

Drugwatch: suicide and antidepressants

Antidepressants ‘no better than placebo”

Whistleblower in Coventry by Peter King

The relevance of cytochrome P450 polymorphism in forensic medicine and akathisia-related violence and suicide.

Is food intolerance an inborn error of metabolism? Breakey J, 2004.

“This diet is FREAKING AMAZING” and 50 more reader success stories -  see at the end of our depression factsheet

Dr David Healy’s guide to dependence and withdrawal

                               More information

The diet we recommend: Introduction to food intolerance

Depression factsheet
Depression story collection

Blog: The suicide report

Blog: It's official: diet FIRST for anxiety and depression

Blog: "This diet has literally saved my life"

And search our Success Stories for suicide, suicidal

Sue Dengate’s book Fed Up and The Failsafe Cookbook, also available in libraries and bookstores

WARNING: people who have been prescribed antidepressants should not suddenly stop taking their medication. Gradual tapering is advisable. Anyone considering altering the dosage of their medication, or withdrawing from it, needs to seek medical advice first.

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians

© Sue Dengate update January 2018