An internet search about treatment for mental illnesses quickly reveals that the pharmaceutical industry no longer reigns unquestioned about its promises and pursuits. The issue of side effects remains a big problem as does a lack of positive results. At the same time the field of psychiatry is undergoing a crisis of its own. In the words of Dr. Ronald Pies, Editor in Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times, “Charles Dickens might well say of American psychiatry, ‘These are the best of times and the worst of times.’”¹
Pies notes the current outcry “that psychiatry has abandoned its most fundamental and sacred obligation: to see the suffering patient as a whole person and not merely as a cerebral container in which a bunch of chemicals are sloshing around.” How does the “whole person,” one created spirit, soul, and body, tackle symptoms of schizophrenia? What will help, beyond psychiatry and pharmaceuticals?
In light of the ongoing revolution in attitudes about treatment, these are the best of times to consider more than medication alone. Perhaps a moderate approach is the best place to begin, with supplements and dietary changes that traditional and alternative practitioners can agree on. Considering the overwhelming number of supplements and conflicting studies about them (see earlier post, “Is Alternative Medicine A Safe Remedy for Schizophrenia?”), these recent findings point to alternatives and complements most of us would consider “safe” to investigate:
• Fish oil being studied for its potential to help prevent psychosis in young adults at risk for schizophrenia. Researchers at several universities in the United States and Canada are participating in the study. According to Dr. Barbara Cornblatt, director of the Recognition and Prevention Program in New York, therapy with omega-3 fatty acid “could offer a natural alternative to the range of medications and therapies that we currently use.”² The National Institute of Mental Health supports the study.
• Acne antibiotic undergoing testing as treatment for psychotic symptoms in patients with schizophrenia. The National Institute for Health Research in the UK will begin a trial study of Minocycline after studies in Israel, Pakistan, and Brazil have already shown promising results. According to the UK news article authored by Jeremy Laurance of The Independent,³ scientists believe the “anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects” of the antibiotic might account for the drug’s positive effects.
• Deplin, a prescription form of the B vitamin folate, has helped improve the effects of antidepressants in patients with resistant depression. Folate undergoes conversion to L-methylfolate in our bodies, a form necessary to produce three neurotransmitters which affect mood: serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine.4 Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.
• Current research also shows that approximately 95% of serotonin levels are produced by the stomach, not the brain. The stomach and intestines, which produce neurotransmitters and hormones, have a nervous system which operates “independently of the brain.”5 New studies are focusing on links between the stomach and autism, Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric conditions. The use of probiotics and consideration of diets related to food allergy and sensitivity are worth examining, in my opinion, if you have already noticed stomach and bowel problems.
The news sounds hopeful and intriguing, yet no one dealing with symptoms of schizophrenia or depression has to wait for research results to begin sound foundational therapies: a healthy diet,* exercise, modification of thought patterns, and growth in our faith and spiritual practices. We cannot circumvent these basics to well-being. God created us spirit, soul, and body, (the “whole person” Dr. Pies refers to), and it seems wise to tend to all three areas when faced with chronic sickness and torment.
If you are a care giver you might find one of the biggest hurdles to implementing healthy changes is resistance from your family member affected with paranoid symptoms of schizophrenia. Another hurdle is the facility he or she lives in, which perhaps cannot accommodate gluten free diets, the addition of supplements, or daily prayer. Until the time when you can introduce a new or alternative option, study the past health history of your loved one, track patterns, note reactions, and be prepared with informed choices for when a door does open for you. Pick one area and focus on it until more opportunities for change arise.
Overwhelmed by all the choices, all the possibilities? This is where your spiritual walk upholds you. This is the time to hold the shield of faith high against the onslaught of “I can’t do this,” “he will never get better,” “we can’t wait for a month or a year to find out if this works,” “I’m harming him (or her) by the medical choice I’ve made,” “if only I had…”
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him and he shall direct they paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Gather understanding, but don’t place your complete trust in your grasp of remedies alone.
Commit your way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:5)
Commit thy works unto the Lord and thy thoughts (plans) will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)
I hope you find comfort in knowing the whole plan does not come from you alone. The burden is too great for one person to carry. May you find abiding peace and strength from your communion with God, prayer, and fellowship with others who are willing to share the load.
[*The simplest version of dietary improvement: add fruit and vegetables, eliminate white flour and sugar. As for modifying thoughts, the bible speaks of renewing the mind through study of scripture and psychology points to counseling, support groups, or cognitive training.]
1 “How American Psychiatry Can Save Itself,” by Ronald W. Pies, MD., Psychiatric Times, February 8, 2012.
2 “NIMH to Investigate Fish Oil for Psychosis,” by Megan Brooks, Medscape, February 13, 2012. http://www.medscape.com
3 “Scientists Shocked to Find Antibiotics Alleviate Symptoms of Schizophrenia,” by Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, March 2, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk
4 “Giving Antidepressants a Boost With a Vitamin,” by Melinda Beck, The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2012.
5 “A Gut Check for Many Ailments,” by Shirley S. Wang, The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012.