Schizophrenia, one of the most disabling and persistent mental disorders, is a disease which carries a great deal of stigma. The name itself often inspires fear and prejudice among those who have little understanding of the illness. However, contrary to popular belief, schizophrenics are rarely dangerous. A type of psychosis, schizophrenia is an illness which impairs an individual’s ability to separate illusion from reality. People with schizophrenia may often experience what is referred to as a psychotic episode. During this time, the individual loses touch with the real world.
Because many of the indicators of schizophrenia 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.
- Hallucinations – sensations that are not real, such as hearing voices;
- Delusions – beliefs that have no basis in reality that the person refuses to give up, even in the face of evidence to the contrary;
- Speaking in a nonsensical manner, making communication with others difficult;
- Switching rapidly from one train of thought to another;
- Inability to make sense of ordinary sights and sounds;
- Inability to make decisions;
- Moving slowly or making repetitive movements, such as pacing.
- Lack of emotion, or expression of emotions inappropriate for a situation;
- Difficulty interpreting social cues;
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and social interactions;
- Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable;
- Lack of energy;
- Difficulty functioning at work, school, or in daily life;
- Poor personal hygiene;
- Catatonia – remaining in one position, with no sign of movement, for a lengthy period of time.
Causes of Schizophrenia
There is no single root cause of this debilitating illness. 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. There is also a great deal of evidence suggesting that schizophrenia may be linked to a variety of imbalances in the body.
The various chemical imbalances and physiological disorders that are most closely linked to schizophrenia are described here:
- Nutritional Deficiencies. Important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, antioxidants, and amino acids are needed in our diets in order to provide the body with the tools it needs to function properly. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to a wide array of health problems, including mental illness.
- Poor Methylation. Methylation is a process by which molecules known as methyl groups are added to proteins in order to keep them working at their optimum levels. When methylation is compromised, the result is the buildup of a substance known as homocysteine, which is responsible for a variety of physical and emotional disorders.
- Hormone Imbalances. Hormones are important chemical messengers that have a tremendous impact on how we think and feel. Abnormally high or low amounts of hormones such as estrogen, thyroid hormone, and adrenal hormones greatly affect mood and cognition.
- Pyroluria. This chemical imbalance is the result of an abnormally large number of molecules known as pyrroles in the body. Pyroluria is associated with a wide range of emotional and cognitive symptoms.
- Brain Inflammation. When the immune system attacks invaders such as environmental irritants and toxins, it triggers inflammation in the brain and body; brain inflammation has been linked to virtually every type of mental illness and mood disorder.
- Food Allergies. Allergic reactions to certain foods trigger inflammation that frequently leads to mental instability and problems with cognition.
- Poor Gut Function. Also known as “leaky gut,” this condition results in the release of mal-absorbed food particles; similar to food allergies, the immune system treats these particles as invaders, resulting in inflammation.
- Histamine. Histamine is a protein that helps to regulate our immune response; it also acts as a neurotransmitter, triggering the release of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. High levels of histamine are frequently present in schizophrenics and are responsible for a number of psychotic symptoms.
- Heavy Metals. Heavy metals such as mercury and lead are ubiquitous in our environment. These harmful chemicals tend to build up in the body, and their presence has been associated with decreased memory and cognitive ability as well as a number of mood disorders.
Testing for Chemical Imbalances
Laboratory tests such as the following can help pinpoint the various disorders at the root of your illness, but you will need to work with a professional health care provider to determine the best course of treatment for you.
- Nutritional Profile: A comprehensive nutritional analysis can disclose abnormal levels of the important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed to maintain optimum mental health;
- Adrenal Fatigue Testing: This urine or saliva test is useful in determining abnormal levels of adrenal hormones which lead to imbalances in the hormones that help regulate brain function.
- Thyroid Testing: A blood or saliva test can reveal abnormal levels of thyroid hormone; too much or too little thyroid hormone can lead to a variety of mental health disorders. Temperature monitoring can also reveal the presence of a thyroid problem; a body temperature which is regularly recorded below 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit may indicate thyroid dysfunction.
- Kryptopyrrole Urine Test: This urinalysis test can detect elevated levels of pyrroles, which have been linked to mood and behavioral disorders as well as schizophrenia.
- Food Allergy Testing: A finger stick food allergy test can reveal the presence of food allergy antibodies and help your health care provider determine whether a food allergy may be responsible for your symptoms.
- Candida Comprehensive Stool Test: A comprehensive stool analysis is useful in assessing digestive dysfunction which may lead to cognitive and emotional problems.
- Histamine Testing: Histamine, a neurotransmitter which is also associated with the body’s immune response, is frequently present in elevated levels in schizophrenic patients. A simple lab test can reveal elevated histamine levels.
- Heavy Metal Testing: Testing for high concentrations of heavy metals pinpoints environmental toxins which may cause psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia patients.
Once testing has identified the chemical imbalances that are affecting a particular individual, one or more of the following nutritional measures may be recommended:
- Vitamin and mineral supplementation: Large doses of vitamins and minerals may be used to compensate for deficient levels of these important nutrients which result in poor methylation, pyroluria, and other triggers for schizophrenia symptoms.
- Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid supplementation: These essential fatty acids are needed to promote healthy brain function.
- Amino acid therapy: Supplementation of amino acids is necessary to balance the neurotransmitters needed for healthy mental function.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine: This important metabolite protects and cleanses the body from heavy metals such as lead and mercury; it is also known to boost antioxidant activity.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs: There are a number of herbs that have known anti-inflammatory properties and can be used successfully to support the immune system and reduce inflammation; these include ginger, chamomile, capsaicin, turmeric, arnica, and many others.
Patients with schizophrenia 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.