In cases of schizophrenia, a severe mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, lack of emotion, and social isolation, most individuals are treated by a psychiatrist with an atypical antipsychotic medication. Without getting too technical, these medications are thought to block receptors in the brain’s dopamine pathways to help reduce symptoms. Atypical antipsychotics were created with the intention of providing a more effective treatment option with fewer side effects compared to older, typical antipsychotic medications.
Although many would argue that these newer medications are superior in reducing motor control disabilities and involuntary tremors, most research suggests otherwise. Many atypical antipsychotics come with severe side effects including tardive dyskinesia, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, major weight gain, blood clots, diabetes, and increased risk of stroke. For most people, these side effects can make life a living hell.
People with schizophrenia may question whether it may be a better idea to pursue natural remedies as opposed to expose their bodies to a highly potent antipsychotic medication. After all, even antipsychotic medications aren’t perfect because researchers still aren’t sure what causes schizophrenia in the first place. Even though natural remedies may not be as potent as an antipsychotic medication, it is important to highlight the fact that some people have successfully managed their symptoms with these remedies.
Although the majority of natural remedies have not been as extensively researched as antipsychotic medications, they may be something to consider even as an augmentation strategy. You are probably wondering, “Can schizophrenia be cured naturally?” No. Even though various treatments are able to reduce symptoms there is no natural or pharmaceutical cure for this mental illness.
7 Natural Remedies for Schizophrenia
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids with High EPA (Fish Oil)
Most research is conflicting regarding the usage of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from omega-3 fatty acids. Some research suggests that if you take high amounts of fish oil with EPA, that it may significantly reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. Should you try to use EPA omega-3 fatty acids for schizophrenia, make sure you are buying a pure product.
Some fish oils are not filtered and/or laboratory tested for safety. I highly recommend doing your research and looking for a pure product. One newer product that you may want to check out is Krill Oil. Krill is able to filter out most harmful mercury and toxins that would otherwise be found in fish. With that said, make sure it comes with enhanced amounts of EPA if you go the Krill route.
Even if you do not want to take EPA omega-3 fatty acids as a standalone treatment, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that proper amounts of supplementation may reduce symptoms of mental illness as well as improve physical health. It certainly could not hurt to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Just make sure you look for EPA amount on the label before you order and make sure it is up to standards – 2g to 4g per day is recommended.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14661986
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18587166
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15907142
2. Antioxidants: Vitamins E and C, Melatonin, Alpha Lipoic Acid
It has been found that taking vitamins E and C with omega-3 fatty acids show the best overall benefit among individuals with schizophrenia. Vitamins E/C (400 IU: 500mg) being supplemented for a 4 month period along with omega-3 fatty acids showed a major reduction in both positive and negative schizophrenic symptoms. Essential PUFA’s (polyunsaturated fatty acids) were the most effective at preventing symptoms
Vitamin E and other antioxidants help target tardive dyskinesia – a neurological syndrom caused by antipsychotic medications. Although there is not significant evidence showing that it is effective at reducing and/or preventing tardive dyskinesia, some research has suggested that there may be a slight benefit. Other antioxidants such as Alpha Lipoic Acid or neuroprotective supplements such as melatonin
After a 4 month supplement “washout” phase, most patients returned to their normal set of symptoms. Obviously the easiest way to stop tardive dyskinesia (TD) is to discontinue usage of a certain medication and consider another. If you are having symptoms of TD or want to take extra precaution, some of these antioxidants may be smart to consider.
Some also think that oxidative stress may play a role in development of schizophrenia as well as symptoms. This suggests that antioxidants may reduce free radical activity and oxidative stress in the brain. Foods that are high in antioxidants and supplementation of high antioxidant vitamins (Alpha Lipoic Acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E) may have benefit in schizophrenia.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12837515
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11695951
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19444377
3. Personal Therapy / Supportive Therapy / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Personal therapy has been shown to be an effective intervention among individuals with schizophrenia. It helps them recognize and respond to various stimuli that would otherwise lead to relapse in symptoms. Personal therapy works by creating a therapeutic network that helps prevent patients from falling victim to significant amounts of stress.
In one study involving patients with schizophrenia, it was found that personal therapy was more effective than familial support in preventing psychotic relapse and noncompliance. It should be noted that among individuals who live alone with schizophrenia, personal therapy isn’t as effective as among individuals living with family members. It is recommended that personal therapy in combination with supportive therapy from family will provide the most relief from relapse.
There is also some newer evidence that suggests (fCBT) Functional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may also be effective in helping individuals with schizophrenia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to help individuals reduce and better cope with positive symptoms associated with schizophrenia. A certain amount of psychoeducation also had an effect at helping people better cope with their condition. Currently there is a need for more studies regarding CBT and schizophrenia – but preliminary evidence suggests that it may work well.
It should be noted that there is no cure and that therapy alone may not be substantial treatment for schizophrenia. However, therapy may help the individual to ensure the best overall long term prognosis. There is significant evidence to suggest that individuals receiving some sort of therapy tend to be better off and better functioning than those who don’t receive any.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9356557
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9356558
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2632337/
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11869579
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15722000
4. Glycine, Sarcosine, D-Serine
Glycine is an agonist at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain and will cross the blood-brain barrier with high doses of oral administration. In one study involving 21 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, significant improvements in both cognition and negative symptoms were observed when high-dose glycine was supplemented with an antipsychotic treatment. In many cases, negative symptoms of schizophrenia (e.g. flat affect) were reduced by over 30% during glycine supplementation.
Although there have been findings that show D-serine is beneficial for individuals with schizophrenia, Sarcosine has been shown to be a superior option. In a (2005) study conducted in 2 major medical centers in Taiwan, 65 schizophrenic patients were given either 2g/day sarcosine, 2g/day D-serine, or a placebo along with risperidone treatment. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that sarcosine had superior effects to D-serine and could benefit individuals who have had both short term and long term schizophrenia.
The major improvements as a result of sarcosine supplementation are likely due to the fact that they influence the NMDA receptors. In cases of schizophrenia, it has been noted that there is hypofunction among the NMDA receptors. Glycine transporter-1 is a pharmacoptherapy that may enhance functioning in the NMDA receptors.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11806864
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14732596
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16275807
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15023571
5. Nutrition: Low Sugar, Low Fat / Gluten Free Diet
Nutrition can play a huge role in improving mental health. If your brain is getting the nutrients that it needs, cognition and other mental processing tends to be enhanced. Most studies show that diets high in sugar and saturated fat tend to worsen symptoms and long-term prognosis among individuals with schizophrenia. It is hypothesized that high levels of sugar and saturated fat cause the brain to produce less BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF aids in the formation of neural connections and increases are considered beneficial for brain functioning.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15041037
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20196981
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15682652
Other nutritional research has shown that there may be a link between schizophrenia and celiac disease or gluten-intolerance. There have been small findings that show genetic gluten (found in wheat and grains) intolerance have a three-fold risk of developing schizophrenia. Although not many people end up with gluten allergies, it is hypothesized that a gluten and/or wheat free diet could be a beneficial at reducing both the symptoms and severity of schizophrenia.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1246624
- Source: http://publichealth.doctorsonly.co.il/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/2008_1_4.pdf
6. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
In some cases, individuals with schizophrenia may end up trying Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) which involves electrical currents passing through the brain to trigger a controlled seizure. This technique seems to cause changes in brain chemistry and has been found to be effective at reversing symptoms of mental illness. However, the side effect profile as well as other effects of ECT can at times be unfavorable. For this reason, it is important to weigh the pros and cons associated with ECT to determine whether it is necessary.
Most research suggests that ECT may have a slight benefit for individuals with schizophrenia. Throughout Europe, this treatment is pretty common use for severe mental illness. Although there is evidence supporting the usage of Electroconvulsive therapy, most of this evidence is pretty limited. Unless you are heart-set on getting ECT or feel as though it will be effective, I would steer clear from this treatment – there are other options that have been proven more effective.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12076380
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15846598
7. Transcranial-Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
There is some early evidence that transcranial-magnetic stimulation (TMS) may yield a reduced side effect profile in comparison to Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Unfortunately there hasn’t been as much research done with TMS to know the long term implications or how exactly if affects the brain. This is a relatively new treatment, but researchers hypothesize that it may help treat schizophrenia by reducing symptoms of auditory hallucinations.
One study by Yale University School of Medicine reported that repetitive TMS explosure significantly reduced auditory people in a sample of 12 schizophrenics. Most hallucinations are of auditory nature in which people hear voices in their head. Since auditory hallucinations have been linked to abnormal activity in speech-related areas of the brain (i.e. the left temporal parietal cortex), scientists delivered magnetic pulses to this area of the brain for 16 minutes per day for 4 days.
It was found that the symptoms were reduced in both severity and frequency with TMS treatment. In one schizophrenic patient, the reduction in hallucinations lasted for approximately 60 days. This could prove to be a very useful treatment – especially if auditory hallucinations are what is plaguing the individual. Yale is still conducting further research in regards to this treatment option.
- Source: http://psychiatry.yale.edu/research/programs/clinical_people/rtms.aspx
Other potential natural remedies for schizophrenia
Below are a few more remedies and therapies that some have considered for this illness. These lack conclusive evidence and require further studies before they can be recommended with any sort of confidence. These are just some natural therapies that warrant further research that you may want to consider.
The majority of research shows that animals (dogs and cats) offer comfort and are therapeutic for individuals with schizophrenia. Most researchers call this “Animal-assisted Therapy,” which works by promoting mobility, interpersonal contact, communication, personal hygiene and other aspects of self-care. There isn’t much research on animal-assisted therapy among individuals with schizophrenia other than one in the elderly and another for middle aged patients in a social institution.
Animal-assisted therapy proved to be a useful tool for promoting socialization, rehabilitation and enhancing overall well-being. Logically it would make sense that a well-trained animal companion may help individuals better cope with various aspects of life and social isolation.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11739071
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15293482
Musical therapy is a sub-type of psychotherapy that involves an individual listening to music as a means of improving both communication and interpersonal skills. Most types of music therapy are based loosely around traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy. Music therapy involves both listening as well as expression. It was noted that “active participation” among individuals with mental illness showed better results than individuals that remained passive. The majority of music therapy treatments occur over a three month period.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15846692
Chinese Herbal Medicine
There are some disputes as to whether “Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)” can improve symptoms in schizophrenia. It has been used to treat mental illness for over 2000 years and some suspect that these herbs could have antipsychotic properties. Most studies involving treatment of schizophrenia with Chinese herbs call for further research.
All trials involving Chinese herbs were either too small in sample size and length of study to be taken seriously. Some hypothesize that they may help if used along with antipsychotics. It is advised to avoid treating schizophrenia with “herbs” until there is conclusive evidence demonstrating their effectiveness.
- Source: http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD003444/chinese-herbal-medicine-for-schizophrenia