Fatty Acids and Antioxidants Useful for Schizophrenia
Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and specific antioxidants may relieve symptoms associated with schizophrenia and improve quality of life, according to a new study in Schizophrenia Research (2003;62:195–204). This is exciting news for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from this debilitating condition.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects more than 1% of the world’s population and accounts for 25% of all hospital admissions in the United States. It can affect multiple aspects of one's life, and is typically characterized by loss of contact with reality (psychosis), hallucinations, false beliefs (delusions), emotional changes, and decreased motivation. Many people with schizophrenia also experience memory difficulties and speech disturbances, and may have difficulty functioning socially or in the work place. The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, although some physicians believe that dietary and nutritional factors contribute to the development of symptoms.
In the new study, 28 chronically medicated schizophrenic adults and 45 healthy adults received a combination of omega-3 fatty acids (360 mg per day of EPA and 240 mg per day of DHA) plus two antioxidants (800 IU of vitamin E per day and 1,000 mg of vitamin C per day) for four months. Those with schizophrenia continued to take their prescription medications, including haloperidol (Haldol®), risperidone (Risperdal®), olanzapine (Zyprexa®), and clozapine (Clozaril®). Several psychological tests were performed monthly to evaluate whether symptoms had improved or worsened. Twenty-one of the 28 people with schizophrenia were additionally evaluated four months after discontinuing treatment to determine if the effects of treatment were sustained. Blood measurements of fatty acids were taken initially, at the conclusion of the study, and four months after stopping treatment.
Schizophrenics taking the fatty acids and antioxidants had significant improvements on most of the psychological tests and also showed improvement in quality of life after four months of treatment. These benefits were sustained for an additional four months after the supplements were discontinued. Those with schizophrenia were found to have lower levels of EPA and DHA prior to treatment compared with the healthy people, but these levels increased while taking the supplements.
Studies using omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants alone have showed inconsistent results. Some studies suggest that oxidative damage to nerve cells decreases fatty acid levels in the brain. Supplementing with fatty acids helps replenish the diminished stores in cells, while vitamins E and C help protect the cell wall from oxidative damage. Some of the newer anti-psychotic medications have been shown to have antioxidant properties, which might explain some of their benefit.
Other nutrients that have been shown to be beneficial in treating schizophrenia include niacin or niacinamide (vitamin B3), folic acid, glycine, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and melatonin. Consult a healthcare provider knowledgeable in nutritional medicine for more specific dose information.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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