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Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Schizophrenia

Overview

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder. It can cause many symptoms, including:

  • hallucinations
  • paranoia
  • breaking from reality
  • flat affect, or a reduced ability to express emotions

Treatment usually includes antipsychotic medications. It may also include group or individual therapy, psychoeducation, and rehabilitation. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments are another option that people like to explore.

The terms “complementary” and “alternative” are often used interchangeably. But these words actually describe two different types of treatment. The term “complementary” refers to nonmainstream treatments used along with traditional treatments. An “alternative” treatment is when nonmainstream approaches are used instead of traditional medicine.

Medication is important in managing schizophrenia. Complementary treatments should not replace the care of a doctor. Talk with your doctor before using any CAM treatment to see if it’s safe.

Vitamin treatment

According to the nonprofit group Food for the Brain, people with schizophrenia often have low blood levels of folic acid, or vitamin B9. Taking folic acid supplements may help reduce symptoms. A 2014 research review notes that other B vitamins, including vitamins B12 and B6, may also be helpful. Several studies have used a combination of these vitamins.

The research review also looked at a few small studies that suggest vitamins C and E may be beneficial. But the review concluded that more research is needed. Some studies have linked vitamin D deficiency, especially early in life, with schizophrenia. It isn’t clear whether people who have already been diagnosed benefit from taking the vitamin.

Fish oil supplements

Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are known to reduce inflammation in your body. Inflammation may play a role in many mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. In a study involving 81 young people at high risk of schizophrenia, those who took fish oil supplements were less likely to develop the condition. The results are promising, but more research is needed.

It isn’t clear whether fish oil supplements improve symptoms in people who have already been diagnosed with schizophrenia. But there may be other benefits. Improved heart health is one of them. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that people with schizophrenia are at higher risk of metabolic syndrome. This, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease. Some people may decide to try omega-3 fatty acids for the heart health benefits alone.

Glycine

Glycine is a protein building block, or an amino acid. It works with glutamine, which aids in brain function. Some studies have found that high doses of glycine may boost the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia. But there are exceptions. Glycine may actually decrease the effectiveness of the drug clozapine.

Glycine may also decrease negative symptoms of schizophrenia, like flat affect or depression. More research needs to be done to determine glycine’s potential benefits.

Diet management

A gluten-free diet has been found to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia in some studies. However, the benefits were only realized in a specific subgroup of people. Gluten is component of certain grains, especially wheat. Research on ketogenic diets has also shown promising results. A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that also includes high-protein foods. But diet changes do not always make a difference for people with schizophrenia. More research is needed to determine if there’s a relationship between diet and schizophrenia.

Always talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet. A diet change should not be used to replace medication.

Takeaway

If you have schizophrenia, complementary and alternative treatments may be an option for you. But it’s important to speak with your doctor before trying any new treatments. Vitamins and natural supplements can interfere with some medications. Some alternative treatments are not based on solid evidence. They may also be dangerous. Be sure to ask your doctor about the safety of any new treatment you are considering. 

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