DHEA Beneficial for People with Schizophrenia
Treatment with the adrenal hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can relieve some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, according to a report in Archives of General Psychiatry (2003;60:133–41). This study offers new hope for individuals suffering from this devastating, chronic, and difficult to treat mental illness.
Schizophrenia is characterized by a wide array of mental symptoms, which psychiatrists classify as either “positive” or “negative” symptoms. The positive symptoms, which include delusions, paranoid thoughts, and hallucinations, frequently respond to treatment with antipsychotic medications. The negative symptoms, on the other hand, which include blunting of the emotions, social withdrawal, and impairments in cognitive function, often fail to respond to medication. People with schizophrenia also frequently suffer from anxiety and depression.
In the new study, 30 schizophrenic inpatients in a state hospital who had been ill for more than two years were randomly assigned to receive DHEA or a placebo in addition to their usual medication for six weeks. The initial dose of DHEA was 25 mg per day; this was increased to 25 mg twice a day after two weeks, and then to 50 mg twice a day for the final two weeks of the study. The improvement in negative symptoms was significantly greater in the group receiving DHEA than in the placebo group; the beneficial effect of DHEA was noticeable by the third week and persisted until the end of the study. In addition, participants receiving DHEA experienced significant improvements in depression and anxiety. In contrast, DHEA had no effect on positive symptoms. No side effects of DHEA were reported.
It is not known how DHEA improves the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Although DHEA has previously been shown to be beneficial in some cases of depression, the results in the new study cannot be attributed solely to an antidepressant effect, since the improvement in negative symptoms was independent of any improvement in depression.
The results of this study add to the growing body of evidence that some cases of schizophrenia can be treated effectively by supplementing with molecules that are normally present in the brain. More than 40 years ago, Dr. Abram Hoffer reported that treatment with large doses of vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide) can aid in the recovery from schizophrenia. Since that time, other nutrients have been found to be helpful, including vitamin C, vitamin B6, zinc, manganese, and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Although the use of nutrients to treat schizophrenia has been a subject of great controversy, doctors who use this approach are convinced that it improves the outcome in many cases.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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