Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, disabling brain disease. People with schizophrenia often suffer terrifying symptoms, such as hearing internal voices not heard by others, or believing that other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. These symptoms may leave them fearful and withdrawn. Their speech and behavior can be so disorganized that they may be incomprehensible or frightening to others. Schizophrenia increases a person’s risk of suicide, self-mutilation, substance abuse, and other social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration.
Schizophrenia is found all over the world. The severity of the symptoms and the long-lasting, chronic pattern of schizophrenia often cause a high degree of disability. Approximately 1% of the population develops this condition during their lifetime; more than 2 million Americans suffer from the illness in a given year. Although schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency, the disorder often appears earlier in men. Men are usually affected in their late teens or early twenties, while women are generally affected in their twenties to early thirties.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes schizophrenia. Problems with brain structure and chemistry are thought to play a role. There appears to be a strong genetic component, but some researchers believe that environmental factors may contribute. They theorize that a viral infection in infancy and/or extreme stress may trigger schizophrenia in people who are predisposed to it.
Conventional drug treatment for schizophrenia is moderately effective. While it seldom produces a true cure, it can enable a person with schizophrenia to function in society.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Untreated schizophrenia is a very dangerous disease for which there is effective treatment, and for this reason it is not ethical to perform studies that compare a hypothetical new treatment against placebo. Therefore, studies of natural treatments for schizophrenia have looked at their potential benefit for enhancing the effects of standard treatment (or minimizing its side effects). No natural treatments have been studied as sole therapy for schizophrenia.
Up until recently, all common medications used for schizophrenia fell into a class called phenothiazines . These drugs are most effective for the "positive" symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions. (Such symptoms are called "positive" because they indicate the presence of abnormal mental functions, rather than the absence of normal mental functions.) In general, however, these medications are less helpful for the "negative" symptoms of schizophrenia, such as apathy, depression, and social withdrawal.
Significant improvements (about 30%) in symptoms such as depression and apathy were seen with glycine when compared to placebo. Additionally, glycine appeared to reduce some of the side effects caused by the prescription drugs. Furthermore, the benefits apparently continued for another 8 weeks after glycine was discontinued.
No changes were seen in positive symptoms (for instance, hallucinations), but it isn’t possible to tell whether that is because these symptoms were already being controlled by prescription medications or whether glycine simply has no effect on that aspect of schizophrenia.
Four other small double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of glycine together with standard drugs for schizophrenia (including the newer drugs olanzapine and risperidone) also found it to be helpful for negative symptoms.
However, one small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (19 participants) suggests that adding glycine to the drug clozapine may not be a good idea.
Curiously, a natural substance (sarcosine) that
the action of glycine has also shown promise for schizophrenia.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Numerous other natural therapies have shown promise for aiding various aspects of treatment for schizophrenia, but, in most cases, the current supporting evidence is weak at best.
Enhancing Drug Action
For a number of theoretical reasons, it has been suggested that
and its constituents (especially a slightly modified constituent called ethyl-EPA) might enhance the effectiveness of standard drugs used for schizophrenia; however, current evidence for benefit remains incomplete and inconsistent.
A small 6-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the potential effectiveness of the supplement
Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a potentially permanent side effect of drugs used to control schizophrenia and other psychoses. This late-developing (tardy, or tardive) complication consists of annoying, mostly uncontrollable movements (dyskinesias). Typical symptoms include repetitive sucking or blinking, slow twisting of the hands, or other movements of the face and limbs. TD can cause tremendous social embarrassment.
Several natural treatments have shown promise for preventing or treating TD. For more information, see the
Other Drug Side Effects
Vitamin B6 might also reduce symptoms of akathesia, a type of restlessness associated with phenothiazine antipsychotics.
Preliminary studies suggest that phenothiazine drugs might deplete the body of
Preliminary evidence suggests that a special form of
High doses of various vitamins, including
Herbs and Supplements to Avoid
There are some indications that using the supplement phenylalanine
Antipsychotic drugs can cause dystonic reactions—sudden intense movements, and prolonged muscle contraction of the neck and eyes. There is some evidence that the herb
Phenothiazine drugs can cause increased sensitivity to the sun. Various herbs, including
St. John’s wort might also interact adversely with the newer antipsychotic drugs in the clozapine family. If you take one of these drugs and then start taking St. John’s wort, your blood levels of the drug may fall. However, if you are already taking both the herb and the drug, and then you stop St. John’s wort, the level of drug in your body could reach the toxic point.
7. Liu P, Luo H, Shen Y, et al. Combined use of Ginkgo biloba extracts on the efficacy and adverse reactions of various antipsychotics [translated from Chinese]. Chin J Clin Pharmacol. 1997;13:193-198.
8. Zhang XY, Zhou DF, Zhang PY, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of extract of Ginkgo biloba added to haloperidol in treatment-resistant patients with schizophrenia. J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;62:878-883.
11. Fenton WS, Dickerson F, Boronow J, et al. A placebo-controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acid (ethyl eicosapentaenoic acid) supplementation for residual symptoms and cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158:2071-2074.
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39. Nachshoni T, Ebert T, Abramovitch Y, et al. Improvement of extrapyramidal symptoms following dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) administration in antipsychotic treated schizophrenia patients: A randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial. Schizophr Res . 2005 Aug 25. [Epub ahead of print]
40. Ritsner MS, Gibel A, Ratner Y, et al. Improvement of sustained attention and visual and movement skills, but not clinical symptoms, after dehydroepiandrosterone augmentation in schizophrenia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover Trial. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006;26:495-499.
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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