June is mental health awareness month and schizophrenia is arguably the most debilitating of psychiatric illnesses, psychologically, socially, and financially. It affects all aspects of a person’s life; how they feel, think, behave, and generally exist. Symptoms of schizophrenia include positive (hallucinations and delusions), negative (emotional blunting and apathy), and cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, schizophrenia patients require lifelong treatment. Antipsychotic medications are the mainstay in the acute and maintenance treatment of schizophrenia. Almost one-third of patients with positive psychotic schizophrenic symptoms do not respond to antipsychotic medication. Negative symptoms are also difficult to treat. Antipsychotic medications also come with significant negative side-effects and medication non-adherence rates can be over 70%. A combination of medications and natural supplements or alternative therapies may fill this gap.
Why go for natural treatments?
Natural treatments are not considered alternatives to pharmacological treatments. However, taking them is complementary to your regular medications. Natural treatments can enhance the efficacy of pharmacological medications by improving positive and negative symptoms. Moreover, they reduce the side effects of medications.
Natural treatments for schizophrenia
The following are some natural nutrients and supplements that help ease the negative and positive symptoms of schizophrenia. Be careful please as these treatments should not be used alone without your regular medical prescription. Also, ask your doctor please before using any of the following treatments.
- Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is converted naturally to retinoic acid. This process aids in neuronal differentiation and any disruption would contribute to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Additionally, scientists found that low vitamin A during the second trimester of pregnancy makes the baby prone to schizophrenia by 3 times according to this study. You can get vitamin A naturally by eating liver, kidney, dairy, and green vegetables.
- B vitamins:
A deficiency of serum B vitamins is significant in people with schizophrenia. Additionally, scientists in this study found that using vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid in combination with other standard treatments improved the symptoms of schizophrenia. Moreover, vitamin B3 (niacin) helps improve brain function because it enhances oxygen supply and serotonin production, and prevents hallucinations induction. However, this study stated that vitamin B may be effective only in early psychosis not in chronic schizophrenia.
Natural sources of B vitamins are meat, poultry, leafy green vegetables, and dairy.
Methylfolate is the biologically active form of folate. Unlike methylfolate, folate and folic acid must be reduced (metabolized) before they can be used in the body. Methylfolate is the main form of active folate that circulates in the blood and is involved in biological processes. Supplementation with 15 mg daily L-methylfolate was associated with improvements in several key biochemical, clinical, and brain imaging measures in this randomized clinical trial.
- Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is essential for calcium regulation and immune functions in our bodies. Researchers in this study concluded that treating vitamin D deficiency in schizophrenic patients improved their positive and negative symptoms. So, they suggested that everyone suffering from schizophrenia should monitor vitamin D levels. Foods that are rich in vitamin D are mushrooms, salmon, beef liver, and red meat.Optimal levels of Vitamin D3 are around 60 nanograms/ml although the NIH (National Institutes of Health) state 20 to 50 is within an adequate range. We believe 20 is too low and that the minimum should be 40 with the optimum being 60 to 80. If you fall below this range, consider supplementing with 2,500 -5,000 I.U. daily. Some people, even with additional daily D-3 supplementation, do not easily increase their vitamin D-3 levels, so you may need to double your daily intake and have your vitamin D levels rechecked by your healthcare provider.
Zinc acts as a neuromodulator and researchers in this study found that people with schizophrenia have lower levels of zinc than the control group. Also, when the patients received zinc sulfate with Risperidone treatment (a common drug for people with schizophrenia), they found improvement more than receiving Risperidone alone according to this study. Foods rich in zinc are seafood, fish, and meat.
- Fish oil supplements:
These supplements provide a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are essential for brain functions and development. People who received PUFAs experienced an improvement in psychotic symptoms according to this research. Furthermore, a recent study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease concluded that omega-3 PUFA may help in the treatment of schizophrenia.While some patients tend to use fish oil supplements to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as schizophrenic patients are at high risk of getting metabolic syndrome according to this study. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that together raise your risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems. Metabolic syndrome is also called insulin resistance syndrome. Natural sources of omega-3 PUFA are fish, walnuts, flax and sunflower seeds.
- Cannabis (CBD):
Cannabis is a plant that some research showed its effect on enhancing cognitive function with minimal adverse effects. However, another study concluded that CBD has no effect on treating schizophrenia and can interfere with some medications.
- Melatonin supplements:
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces to help you sleep well. According to this study, melatonin levels may be lower than normal in people with schizophrenia making them suffer from insomnia and involuntary body movements. So, taking melatonin supplements may help ease these symptoms.
The metabolization of oxygen in our bodies produces something called free radicals that damages cell membranes including cellular DNA and enzymes essential for proper cell functions. Taking sufficient amounts of antioxidants would protect your brain cells against free radicals and improve your response to the treatments. Examples of antioxidants are Vitamin E (vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds), Glutathione (okra, asparagus, spinach, and avocado), and N-acetyl cysteine which is present in onions.
- Glycine supplements:
Glycine is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter. According to this study, people with schizophrenia may have lower cerebral glycine levels than normal. Furthermore, they mentioned that some studies showed improvement from using glycine in combination with certain antipsychotics with no side effects except for mild gastrointestinal complaints. Foods rich in glycine are fish, dairy, meat, and legumes.
- Sacrosin (N-methyl glycine):
Sacrosin is an amino acid that is derived from glycine. It fosters glycine function in improving memory because it prevents glycine from going back to where it was released to stay around longer. Moreover, a recent study concluded that people who received sacrosin supplements in combination with first and second generation antipsychotics — except for clozapine — showed improvement in schizophrenia clinical symptoms. However, there was no effect on cognitive functions.
- Taurine supplements:
Taurine is another amino acid that protects your brain against toxins, inflammations, and protein deficiencies. Additionally, schizophrenic people often have low levels of taurine in the brain. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that taurine would improve psychosis symptoms when participants received 4 grams of taurine for 12 weeks. Also, they experienced fewer depressive symptoms and improvement in their work and social lives. Food sources of taurine are fish, meat, and dairy products.
- Ginkgo biloba:
Ginkgo biloba is extracted from the ginkgo biloba tree leaves. It improves blood- brain circulation in addition to having antioxidant properties . Additionally, It improves psychosis symptoms according to this study.
Do you know that your gut health impacts your brain? They are connected through many neurotransmitters via a relationship called the gut-brain axis. Additionally, around 90% of your serotonin is produced from your gut by the microbiome. Adding probiotics to your meals or taking them as supplements would enrich your gut microbiome. According to this study, probiotics could be promising in improving cognitive impairments in combination with other antipsychotics. Moreover, it boosts the action of antipsychotics in addition to reducing their side effects. Foods that are rich in probiotics are yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi.
- Sulforaphane (SFN):
Sulforaphane is a compound extracted from broccoli sprouts with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Also, it has a role in producing glutathione –a potent antioxidant- that is often present with decreased levels in people with schizophrenia as stated by this study. Furthermore, scientists in this research proved that having 30 mg of SFN per day improved the cognitive function of schizophrenic patients.
There is much evidence suggesting that ginseng would be a promising treatment for schizophrenia. As stated by this research, ginseng improved the working memory of participants and alleviated many side effects of other medications. Another animal study published in Molecular Medicine Reports concluded that ginseng improved behavioral impairments. Also, they said that it can be used as a treatment for schizophrenia due to its antipsychotic effects.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Indian herb with anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties. According to this study, Ashwagandha could be used in combination with other medicines in schizophrenia treatment as it reduced the negative symptoms and stress as well. It has been shown that ashwagandha interacts with the brain’s internal structures, particularly on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis which elicits a modulating or calming effect in response to stress. Ashwagandha benefits include;- Reducing cortisol levels
– Helping ease stress and anxiety
– Assisting in depression-related symptoms
– Improving overall brain functionality
D-seine is an amino acid that is formed naturally inside our bodies and found in high concentrations in the human brain. It has a role in boosting memory and brain functions. According to this study, there was decreased levels of plasma D-serine in people with schizophrenia. From this point, many researchers tested the efficacy of D-serine supplements on schizophrenic patients. They concluded that Patients who received D-serine supplement at doses ≥60 mg/kg/day experienced an improvement in their symptoms and cognitive functions. Relevant to both schizophrenia and depression, preclinical and clinical studies with D-serine indicate that it may be effective in reducing cognitive dysfunction.
Other Natural Ways That Help Treat Schizophrenia
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Multiple published studies and meta-analyses have shown that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation can have benefit in relieving positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia, particularly auditory hallucinations. It is also a treatment for depression. TMS is a noninvasive form of brain stimulation. The device operate completely outside of the body and affect central nervous system activity by applying powerful magnetic fields to specific areas of the brain
- Healthy Diet
Just like any other organ in the body, the brain needs energy to function. This energy comes from nutrients found in the things we consume, namely the foods we eat and any supplements we may take. Because the brain needs nutrients to do its job, it makes sense that the food we choose to consume influences our cognitive functions. Research suggests that the connection between diet and mental health may, at least in part, stem from the close relationship between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the “gut.”For instance, serotonin is a chemical that functions both as a hormone and as a neurotransmitter. Known as the “happy chemical,” serotonin is strongly connected with feelings of well-being and mood regulation. As a neurotransmitter, it helps relay messages to and from different parts of the brain. Recent research has also revealed that up to 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut, and just five percent is produced by the brainstem. The health of the bacteria that live in the gut (aka the microbiome) that produce serotonin and other chemicals depends immensely on our eating habits.
- Ketogenic Diet:
The keto diet is a high- healthy fat, moderate protein, and low- carb diet that help people lose extra pounds. However, it has additional benefits in treating some mental diseases including schizophrenia. The ketogenic diet provides the brain with ketone bodies that act as alternative fuel instead of glucose. According to this study, the keto diet improved the psychiatric symptoms and metabolic brain dysfunctions in people with schizophrenia.
- High-Fiber Diet:
There is evidence that high-fiber diets would improve the health of your immune and cardiovascular systems. Additionally, it reduces the risk of premature death in schizophrenic patients.
- Stay away from stimulant drugs:
Stimulant drugs from amphetamines to cocaine in addition to cigarettes would make your condition worse. Also, they can induce schizophrenia.
- Stress management and sleep:
Stress would negatively affect schizophrenia so try to learn how to relieve it. For instance, consider, mindfulness, meditation or yoga as well as getting good, consistent sleep.The Sleep-Stress Connection: Sleep and stress are sort of a chicken-and-egg situation. They’re so intricately related that it’s hard to know which one triggers which: Are you stressed because you can’t sleep, or you can’t sleep because you’re stressed?
A good night’s sleep is one of the best antidotes for stress and improves cognitive function. Sleep decreases cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone. It also helps with mood regulation, sharpens judgment, and improves decision making, helping you cope better with stressful situations. In fact, good sleep has been named one of the three pillars for mental health, alongside healthy eating and regular exercise. Researchers think cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may flush out toxic waste that builds up while you are awake, “cleaning” the brain.
Here are some easy-to-follow tips to combat the effects of stress at bedtime:
- Assess what’s making you feel stressed and make a plan to manage that stressor
- Improve your daytime habits: limit your caffeine consumption
- Is reading the news before bed making you anxious? Avoiding activities that increase stress before bed can help you get a better night’s sleep
- Make sure you have a consistent sleep routine
- Turn your bedroom into an optimal sleeping environment (dark, no loud noises, pleasant temperature)
- Learn relaxation techniques, like yoga, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing techniques.
- Consider an effective combination sleep supplement to help reestablish normal, healthy sleep patterns
- The Exercise Effect
The links between mental health and physical activity are not yet entirely clear. Still, research suggests that regular exercise can help ease anxiety and depression in several ways. For example, working out gets your blood pumping, including the blood that travels to and from the brain, which can help you think more clearly. Physical activity also releases endogenous cannabinoids, a cannabis-like chemical that induce a release of dopamine, another “feel good” chemical that influences our mood and motivation. Signs of low dopamine levels include depression, low sex drive, decreased energy levels, and trouble concentrating. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous. In fact just 15 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) a day can extend life by three years.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT):
Cognitive behavior therapy is a technique that helps people to change their feelings, behaviors, and thinking. It includes cognitive and behavioral therapies. Several studies suggested that CBT could improve schizophrenia symptoms. It improved auditory hallucination when combined with pharmacotherapy according to this study.
Schizophrenia is a lifelong condition with symptoms that should be managed and alleviated. Antipsychotic medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs and are necessary for many people. Many studies proved that introducing natural supplements and other alternative treatments along with medications showed great results. Always consult your mental health provider before starting any new regimen.
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