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Schizophrenia and Nutrition

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 84 - January 2003

Schizophrenia is a psychotic condition and is a most distressing form of mental illness characterized by disturbances in thought processes, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions. However, David Horrobin MD feels that a touch of schizophrenia may be a valuable asset to society as many people who are schizophrenic or who have family members with schizophrenia have made extraordinary achievements in music, writing, philosophy and science, such as Beethoven, Huxley, Pascal and Einstein.[1]

Unbelievably, the illness affects one in 100 people in most countries, irrespective of race, culture or religion, and the lifetime severity is worse in developed countries. The onset can be acute, blighting the sufferer's life dramatically, or it may be gradual, as it often is in teenagers, where the normal brain changes of adolescence producing the well-known moodiness and odd behaviour, mask early signs and symptoms. No one knows the exact cause(s) of schizophrenia, but genetics, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obstetric complications, cognitive deficit and nutritional deficiencies have been implicated. The trigger for the first episode is often stress, particularly physiological stress from recreational drug abuse. There is as yet no evidence that drugs such as cannabis cause schizophrenia, but it may speed up the process in a person who is susceptible.

Mainstream medicine treats schizophrenia with anti-psychotic drugs (neuroleptics) discovered in the 1950s by Henri Laborit, a French surgeon. These drugs, which affect the action of the neurotransmitter dopamine, have helped many sufferers, but they rarely cure the condition and cause extra pyramidal side effects similar to Parkinson's disease. More advanced atypical drugs appeared in the '90s, with their detrimental side effects of sedation, cardiac problems and severe weight gain.

An orthomolecular approach using a combination of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, which are natural brain foods, may be a drug-free alternative without the side effects, or used alongside neuroleptics, may help to reduce the dosage and side effects. This is not a new concept for mainstream medicine as, in 1937, Elvehjem used nicotinic acid (B3) to eliminate Pellagra, the psychotic mental symptoms of which are similar to schizophrenia.[2]

Orthomolecular psychiatrists contributed much to the understanding of schizophrenia in the 1950s and '60s. Abram Hoffer MD worked successfully with B3, B12 and folic acid.[3] Carl Pfeiffer MD studied more than 20,000 patients with schizophrenia and found that most fell into one of three biotypes: histapenia needing B3, B12, C, folate and a high protein diet; histadelia needing calcium, magnesium, methionine, B3, B6, essential fatty acids and a vegetarian diet; and pyroluric needing B6, manganese, zinc and a vegetarian diet. Pfeiffer also dealt individually with physiological problems such as digestive mal-absorption, depressed antioxidant levels, neurotoxins etc. He reported striking improvements in each of the groups, but in the absence of double blind studies his work was unproven. Although he is now deceased, the Pfeiffer Treatment Centre continues and develops his excellent work under the direction of William Walsh PhD.[4]

In 2000, David Horrobin noted that schizophrenics rarely suffered from arthritis or other inflammatory diseases and had a high pain threshold. Their psychotic symptoms disappeared when they had a fever and returned when the fever abated, and they failed to flush on B3. Their red blood cells were deficient in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and anti-psychotic drugs raised the level of the hormone prolactin. Eventually, he linked all this information with low levels of arachidonic, docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic essential fatty acids and abnormal proteins in the phospholipid cell membranes. These essential fats and proteins are central to the development of the cognitive, intellectual and creative functions in the brain. If this is so, then schizophrenia is not primarily a problem with neurotransmitters, which send signals between nerve cells, but in the phospholipid cell signalling mechanisms, which translate the neurotransmitter signals into action.[1]

A study, which reveals the effectiveness of essential fats, was carried out at the Charing Cross hospital on 31-year-old Jonathan, who had his first schizophrenic breakdown at 19 years, and had refused medication because of the side effects. His MRI scans showed that his ventricles (fluid filled spaces within the brain) were increasing in size, indicating a loss of brain tissue. Jonathan took eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. After eight weeks his delusions and hallucinations had reduced and he felt more alert. Three years later he was well enough to return to his studies and his MRI scans revealed a reduction in the size of his ventricles and an increase in brain tissue.[1]

Continued research is vitally important for this complicated illness and a combination of mainstream medicine and nutrition plus other complementary therapies, such as relaxation techniques, counselling, massage etc., is the only way forward.

Elimination of the ignorance, prejudice and fear surrounding schizophrenia is also paramount to the healing process. It is an illness affecting brain function just as arthritis is an illness affecting movement. A small minority do develop highly disturbed behaviour, but the majority, given treatment and support, cope and integrate well in society. Although the schizophrenic's behaviour may appear irrational or crazy to us, the sufferer is merely responding in a logical and rational way to his/her brain's stimuli. This is wonderfully explained by John Nash, a victim of schizophrenia who won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics, when questioned by Professor George Mackey about his delusional beliefs.

"How could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical proof believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages – how could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world?"

"Because, the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously."[5]

Notes and References

1. Horrobin David, MD. The Madness of Adam and Eve. Bantam Press. ISBN 0 593 04649 8. 2001.
2. Elvehjen et al. Relation of nicotinic acid and nicotinic acid amide to canine black tongue. Journal American Chemical Society. 59:1767-8, 1937.
3. Edelman Eva. Natural Healing for Schizophrenia. Borage Books. ISBN 0 9650976 7 6. 2001.
4. Health Research Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Centre:
5. Torrey E Fuller, MD. Surviving Schizophrenia. HarperCollins. ISBN 0 06 095919 3. 2001.

Further Information

The National Schizophrenic Fellowship Tel: 020-8974 6814.


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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;

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