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Schizophrenia, one of the most disabling and persistent mental disorders, is a disease which carries a great deal of stigma. The name itself evokes images of murderous, raving psychotics and lunatic asylums, inspiring fear and prejudice among those who have little understanding of the illness. Many people mistakenly perceive schizophrenia as a “split personality,” a sort of Jeckyll-and-Hyde phenomenon with both a “normal” and a “crazy” aspect.
In fact, schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, an illness which impairs an individual’s ability to separate illusion from reality. People with schizophrenia often lose touch with the real world, experiencing what is referred to clinically as a psychotic episode. An individual in this state may perceive the world as a blur of confusing images and sounds; he or she may also behave in a strange and sometimes disturbing manner. However, contrary to popular belief, schizophrenics are rarely dangerous.
Schizophrenia occurs in about 1% of the population, with symptoms first appearing between the ages of 15 and 25. Younger children have been diagnosed with the disease as well, although this is extremely rare. Schizophrenics frequently have problems functioning normally in their daily lives – at work, at school, and in their interpersonal relationships. Individuals with the disorder typically exhibit certain behaviors and symptoms that are often recognized as schizophrenic; however, because many of the indicators of this illness are consistent with those of other mental disorders, only a trained mental health professional can accurately confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into two separate categories: positive and negative.
Positive signs of schizophrenia are obvious, outward signs that do not appear in people who do not have the disease:
Negative symptoms are described as normal behaviors that are absent in individuals with schizophrenia:
Conventional treatment for schizophrenia normally includes a combination of anti-psychotic drugs and psychotherapy. Medications such as Risperdal, Abilify, Clozaril and others can temporarily relieve the most disturbing symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions. However, anti-psychotics do not cure the disease, and they must be taken on a long-term basis under close medical supervision. These drugs often trigger a variety of unwanted side effects that can further reduce an individual’s quality of life.
Psychiatrists who treat schizophrenics tend to look at the disease from a number of angles, working with patients to help them understand their illness and learn to identify and cope with the psychological, social, and occupational problems that are typical of the disease. While this approach is helpful to an extent, psychotherapy fails to address the root causes of schizophrenia and cannot offer patients a hope for permanent relief from their symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a complex disorder that manifests when a number of conditions exhibit simultaneously to produce the symptoms that typify the disease; there is no single root cause of this debilitating illness. However, numerous studies have demonstrated that schizophrenia is, indeed, a biological illness and not simply “all in the mind.”
It is clear that there is a genetic component to the disease, as it has a tendency to run in families. Abnormalities in brain chemistry and anatomy have been identified in patients with schizophrenia, as well, although they do not occur in all schizophrenics. Perhaps most importantly, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that schizophrenia may be linked to a variety of imbalances in the body. Poor nutrition, autoimmune disorders, hormone imbalances, and heavy metal toxicity have all been associated with the symptoms of schizophrenia.
An emerging field of medicine based on orthomolecular theory holds that many physiological and mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the body. The word “orthomolecular” literally means “the right molecules” and refers to using the right nutrients in the right amounts to correct the imbalances that lead to various health disorders. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants and enzymes.
Orthomolecular medicine is a term coined by Linus Pauling, the 20th-century physician whose research led to the discovery of the double-helix nature of DNA. In his later years, he was intrigued by the use of high dosages of nutrients such as vitamin C in the treatment of various diseases.
The principles of orthomolecular medicine revolve around the idea that each person has a unique biochemistry, with individual bodily needs. Therefore, treating physical and mental disorders must be carefully tailored to the individual. Because mental illness has been clearly linked to chemical imbalances, using nutrition as the basis for treatment can be highly successful in restoring brain function.
For decades, it has been known that schizophrenics tend to be severely deficient in niacin (vitamin B3). Over 30 years ago, Dr. Abram Hoffer began to use this understanding as the basis for treating schizophrenics with large doses of B3. Since that time, patients with mental illnesses ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia have been successfully treated with megadoses of vitamins and other nutrients based on their own personal biochemistry.
The various chemical imbalances and physiological disorders that are most closely linked to schizophrenia are described here:
In order to determine the appropriate functional treatment for schizophrenia, you will need to work with a naturopathic health care provider to identify the chemical imbalances which are responsible for your symptoms. Laboratory tests such as the following can pinpoint the various disorders at the root of your illness and help your health care practitioner determine the most appropriate course of treatment for you.
Functional treatment of schizophrenia focuses on correcting chemical imbalances through nutrition. Orthomolecular psychiatry requires the full participation of the patient; treatment can only be successful if the schizophrenia sufferer is willing to adhere to the recommended changes in his or her diet. Additional lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress management are also an important part of eliminating the symptoms of schizophrenia.
In order to successfully treat schizophrenia through nutrition, it is necessary to eliminate processed foods and “junk” foods from the diet. Food items containing refined flours, added sugars, and chemical additives must be avoided, and snack foods that provide only empty calories are forbidden. In addition, foods that are known to cause an allergic response in an individual must be eliminated.
Once testing has identified the chemical imbalances that are affecting a particular individual, one or more of the following nutritional measures may be recommended:
Conventional medicine holds that schizophrenia is a disease for which there is no known cure; patients are advised that they will require life-long treatment and medication to control the worst of their symptoms. However, through the use of orthomolecular therapy, an increasing number of schizophrenics have experienced great improvement in their symptoms.
While the best results come with early intervention, patients at any stage of the disease have been shown to respond well to treatment through nutrition. With the help of a naturopathic healer, many people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders have gone on to live healthy and fulfilling lives.