A CLARENCE Valley doctor wants more people to be aware of the importance nutrition plays in conditions such as autism and mental health.
Dr David Richards from Iluka said the increasing incidence of illnesses such as these was often due to environment factors, including diet.
"Nutrition plays a huge role in these conditions, but we don't look at it from that point of view and I was never taught that (at medical school)," he said.
"Autism used to be one-in-10,000 - now it's one-in-100, or one-in-60 in some places.
"And I'm aware there's a significant proportion of children with autism in Yamba, Maclean and Grafton."
Dr Richards said mental illness was basically an imbalance of brain chemicals.
"We all have brain chemicals. Some get us going in the morning, others make us feel good and happy," he said.
"Usually mental illness is an imbalance of those chemicals - too much of one, not enough of another.
"But one of the key fundamentals to making brain chemicals is protein, and I was never taught that as a doctor.
"And nowadays, a lot of our diet is based on carbohydrates but you need protein - either plant-based or animal based."
Dr Richards said adequate levels of zinc, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6 were also vital.
"It's like building a house, you've got to start with sand and cement - you can't build a brick house out of sawdust," he said.
"So instead of eating lots of carbohydrates, which lots of people do these days, we really should be changing to eating lots of protein."
Dr Richards has booked himself a ticket to travel to Sydney in March for a seminar on autism, mental illness and other conditions.
The event is run by five US experts in their fields and Dr Richards said although not free, the event was also open to members of the public who may wish to learn more about autism or mental illness, and how diet could help.
"(The visiting specialists) look at it from a different point of view," he said.
"Rather than introduce medication to substitute for something the child's not making, they try and fix the bio-chemical pathways that go wrong."
For more info, call Dr Richards at his surgery on 6646 5082.