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Other Therapies for Schizophrenia

Scott Olson, ND

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another integrative therapy that has been studied along with standard medicines for the treatment of schizophrenia. Humans are one of only three mammals that do not make their own vitamin C; therefore, it is essential that we obtain this vitamin in our diets every day.

As mentioned previously, people with schizophrenia seem to have high levels of free radicals, suggesting that treatment with antioxidants (which reduce free radicals) might be helpful. People with schizophrenia also tend to have a low amount of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, in their bodies. Vitamin C therapy has been clinically tested in a few people with schizophrenia and has shown some promise, but more research is necessary.

Vitamin C supplements produce very little side effects other than diarrhea, gas and bloating, and stomach cramps at higher doses. Studies suggest that individuals with schizophrenia show a return to normal vitamin C blood levels with as little as 1 gram a day of this supplement.

B-Complex Vitamins

Research suggests that many of the B vitamins are low in people with schizophrenia, and that supplementing returns these levels to normal. Some of the studies with B-vitamins use mega-doses (very high doses) which should not be attempted without the aid of a health care professional. The B-vitamins are water-soluble (dissolvable in water), easily excreted in the urine, and generally considered safe, with little to no side-effects.

Treatment with large doses of Vitamin B3 (Niacin) has been tested in people with schizophrenia. One study found that using 3 grams of niacin a day resulted in a dramatic reduction in rates of hospitalization and suicide. However, the trial was small and needs to be repeated with a larger population before it can be assumed that these results will apply to all people with schizophrenia.

WARNING: Taking large amounts of niacin (over ½ of a gram) can cause flushing, and a drop in blood pressure. Niacin can also interfere with many standard medications and should not be started without first consulting your health care provider.

Vitamin B6 is another compound that is typically low in people with schizophrenia. 100 milligrams of Vitamin B6 a day in combination with standard medications had dramatic effects on schizophrenia in one study, but this result wasn’t repeated in another study. Vitamin B6 is considered very safe and has very few, if any side effects. However, It should not be taken in doses higher than 5 milligrams if you are taking levodopa (often used to treat Parkinson's disease) as it can reduce the effectiveness of this drug.

Folic acid supplementation seems to work well for individuals with schizophrenia who have a low amount in their bodies. Interestingly, the symptoms of folic acid deficiency mimic those of schizophrenia. Like the other B vitamins, folic acid has been tested along with standard medical treatment. Very high doses (15 mg daily) have caused dramatic reductions in schizophrenic symptoms, but again, these results need to be repeated in larger trials. A typical dosage for folic acid is between 400-600 mcg (about ½ of a mg) a day for an adult, so taking high doses should only be attempted with the help of a health care provider. Folic acid has very few side effects other than occasional nausea and diarrhea.

Diet

food word collageOne of the intriguing areas of research into the causes of schizophrenia involves examining dietary influences on the disorder. Studies suggest that schizophrenia is very rare in indigenous (isolated, intact cultures retaining traditional dietary practices) populations. When people move from their indigenous area and start consuming a Western diet, their rates of schizophrenia match those of Western countries. Some people have taken this to suggest that foods and/or chemicals/preservatives common to traditional Western diets may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.

Theories about food allergies, how they affect the brain, and their link to schizophrenia are interesting, but as yet unproven. Research has shown that the part of the immune system that is triggered in allergic reactions is also activated in schizophrenics. As a result, people with schizophrenia often show increased levels of immune proteins such as immunoglobulin A (IgA). It is thought that the rise in IgA leads to inflammation throughout the whole body, and that this somehow affects the brain.

Most studies investigating the link between diet and schizophrenia have focused on the consumption of wheat and dairy products. Depending on the patient’s willingness, a 4 to 6 week trial of no wheat or dairy is a good starting point. It is assumed that by removing the allergen (food in this case), that inflammation and subsequent symptoms of schizophrenia will decrease.