Disabling Brain Disease Self Help

Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling brain disease. People with schizophrenia experience altered realities, including hallucinations, hearing voices, delusions, and confused or paranoid thoughts. Their speech and behavior can be very disorganized, which can be disturbing or confusing to those around them.

This is very disorienting. During acute periods, people with schizophrenia experience a loss of energy, sense of humor, and interest in living. It affects one million Americans each year and 1 percent of us will have it during our lifetime. It can be progressive or episodic.

Medication is useful for many people with schizophrenia, but some are not greatly helped by it. Fortunately there are other therapies. This is definitely an illness where a complete approach must be taken to get the best results.

An entire field of nutritional medicine, called orthomolecular medicine (named by Linus Pauling), is based upon treatment of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, although its original definition was broader.

Specific testing of amino acids, food sensitivities, fatty acids, heavy metals, and gut health will reveal information relevant to each person. Often, studies of schizophrenia using nutritional models have been disappointing because all patients are lumped into one group.

When groups are broken into subtypes or patients are seen individually, improvements are seen. Abraham Hoffer, M.D., and Humphry Osmond, M.D., are pioneers in the field. Their protocols are based around use of niacin at 3,000 milligrams daily (vitamin B3), vitamin C at 3,000 milligrams daily, and loving care.

Niacin therapy works best when used early after the diagnosis. Be patient: it can take months before it begins to work. Niacin causes a skin-flush caused by the release of prostaglandins in the skin; in people who don’t flush, it probably indicates a problem with fatty acid deficiency.

A niacin challenge offers a simple way to test for this group of people. Loving care expedites the healing process. Carl Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D., found that some people with schizophrenia had faulty metabolism of specific B-complex vitamins. He once stated, “for every drug that yields a beneficial result, there is a nutrient, which can produce the same effect.”

Fatty acid metabolism is faulty in people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenics have shown altered fatty acid panels. Arachidonic acid, the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA levels are often low. Schizophrenics are found to have high levels of interleukin-2, an inflammatory substance known to have the potential to cause symptoms similar to schizophrenia.

Fish oils can help reduce levels of interleukin-2 and cytokines. Doing a fatty acid test would make sense. One subtype of schizophrenics responds well to gut-healing protocols and elimination of wheat products. Wheat sensitivity can stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain that resemble opiates and cause hallucinations and behavior disturbances.

Other classic food offenders in schizophrenia include dairy products, food additives, and chocolate, although nearly any food can cause problems. People with schizophrenia have an increased need for antioxidant nutrients. Other antioxidants have also been found to be deficient.

Poor free radical protection can damage fat-dependent membranes, the nervous system, and the brain. Testing for specific antioxidants would be advised. Schizophrenia appears to have an autoimmune component, which may be a result of the disease itself. Many studies have shown a correlation between a mother getting the flu while pregnant and an increase in schizophrenia in the children.

Healing Options

  • Rule out food sensitivities. Do blood testing for food allergies and sensitivities. Eliminate foods that test positive and see how you respond.
  • Take niacin. Abraham Hoffer, M.D., has long used niacin therapy for schizophrenia. It is believed that there is faulty niacin metabolism in this condition, because people with schizophrenia often do not experience the intense flushing that usually occurs with niacin ingestion.

Take up to 3,000 milligrams daily. Increase intake of tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). In fourteen patients tested, dietary restriction of tryptophan worsened their symptoms. Tryptophan can easily be converted to niacin, which may be one reason why it is of benefit.

Tryptophan is also a precursor to serotonin, which affects mood, behavior, sleep, and carbohydrate cravings. Take 1,000 to 2,500 milligrams tryptophan daily (only available by prescription) or 300 to 600 milligrams 5-HTP (available over the counter).

  • Increase consumption of good fats. Schizophrenics have been well documented to have low omega-3 fatty acid levels, low arachidonic acid levels, and low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Benefit would be found by increasing good fats in the diet from sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, unprocessed vegetable oils, and cold-water fish, including salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel, sardines, or herring. Twenty hospitalized patients were given 10 grams of MaxEPA daily.

There were significant improvements in psychological symptoms, behavior, and tardive dyskinesia (uncontrollable movements) after six weeks. Another study used a smaller dose: 180 milligrams EPA, 120 milligrams DHA, plus 400 IU vitamin E and 500 milligrams vitamin C twice daily. There was improvement in lab testing and also in schizophrenic symptoms.

  • Try serine. Much research has been done showing that high-dose glycine is beneficial for schizophrenia. Concern has been posted as to the possible long-term neurological effects of high-glycine supplementation. The mechanism of the response was believed to be the effect on NMDA, a neurotransmitter, receptor sites.

NMDA function is low in people with schizophrenia. Newer research on serine shows that the positive effects of enhancing NMDA function can be achieved by taking serine, without the risks of high-dose glycine. Dosage in one study was glycine 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. It would be advisable to do a urine amino acid test before using this type of therapy. Work with a physician.

  • Take folic acid. Folic acid levels are often lower in those with schizophrenia, while homocysteine levels are often higher. Thirty-three percent of patients with acute psychiatric disorders were given 15 milligrams of folic acid daily for six months in addition to standard treatment.

The benefits in the folic acid–treated group increased over time. Folic acid deficiency does not cause the disease but correlates with its severity, flare-ups, and use of medications. Folic acid is also required by our bodies for the synthesis of serine, which has also been shown to have a positive effect in schizophrenia.

High levels of homocysteine due to a folate metabolism error have also been found consistently in people with schizophrenia. The amount of folic acid you can take is limited because it can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. If you do not have a vitamin B12 anemia, you can take up to 15 milligrams daily.

  • Take magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can produce depression, agitation, confusion, and disorientation. Twenty schizophrenic patients were evaluated for serum magnesium levels. Twenty-five percent were found to be magnesium deficient.

Serum magnesium is not a sensitive test of magnesium deficiency, so if red blood cell magnesium had been analyzed, the results would probably have been much higher. Half of the magnesium-deficient patients were exhibiting psychotic behavior, including hallucinations.

In drug-treated schizophrenics, magnesium levels have been found to be consistently low. Supplementing with magnesium does not always show improvement in symptoms. Magnesium injections or use of choline citrate may be necessary at first to “prime the pump.”

Because so many enzymes are dependent on magnesium, a deficiency could affect other nutrients including vitamins B1, B6, E, and C and minerals such as zinc, copper, and selenium.