As a schizophrenic, the most important task in order to remain as fully functional as possible is to mitigate symptoms. Managing your symptoms is a multifaceted task, requiring large amounts of discipline in every area of life. And if you begin researching the fact, you will find lots of pop psychology advice, such as “Laughter is the best medicine” or “A strong body makes a strong mind.” Well, of course we should laugh and exercise. But today we are going to move beyond these platitudes and get into the specifics of the schizophrenia diet!
It has been said, “Let food be thy medicine.” Regardless of who you are, your lifestyle, your challenges, or your occupation, having a well-balanced diet is a must. But that is a pretty broad statement, because every person is an individual, and a brain with neurochemical imbalances will require a different balance of food intake as opposed to a more well-adjusted brain. As you would suspect, there are dietary modifications that can be adopted in order to adapt to the specific needs of the schizophrenic brain. Let us take a look!
A Diet for Schizophrenia
The two words schizophrenia and diet are rarely said together. People tend to turn to psychiatric medicines and psychotherapies before going back to the basics of a proper, fit lifestyle. Beyond the guidelines that are recommended for everyone by the United States Department of Agriculture, what information has been gathered through meticulous scientific research that can benefit those dealing with schizophrenia?
Sugar and Schizophrenia
All you have to do is feed a child a bowl of commercial cereal and you will quickly understand the relationship between sugar and schizophrenia and any other mental illness. The child will be bouncing off the walls like a manic lil’ monster! I know that I am personally very sensitive to sugar and was even before the onset of any symptoms.
A study in 2004 showed that the intake of refined sugar above the national average led to less recovery over a two year period in schizophrenics. Eating too much sugar literally meant a worse prognosis for at least two years! That is horrible. Why does this happen?
Refined sugar are not ‘refined’ in the sense that they are better. They are actually simple starches, which inhibit specific hormones that flow through the brain in order to help with the maintenance of neurons, specifically dendrite health. Dendrites are the connectors that attach neurons to one another, between which neurotransmitters flow in the synapse. You can see why this would be important!
It is also known that sustained inflated levels of sugars in the body can cause chronic inflammation in the brain. A reduction in sugar and inflammation has a positive correlation with the reduction of depression and an increase in energy, focus and clarity, and happiness. There have been self-reports regarding a ketogenic diet as well, which is a diet that limits the intake of carbohydrates that become sugars during metabolization. Secondary benefits are the reduced risk of diabetes and obesity.
Gluten and Schizophrenia
For as many as four decades now, there has been talk amongst the medical community regarding a connection between gluten and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Many people are familiar with gluten and its relation to celiac disease and other food sensitivity problems. Gluten is found in grains, which is unfortunately included in almost any processed meal. However, there are entire sections of grocery stores now devoted to gluten-free products.
There is no certainty as to why this is the case, but removing gluten from the diet has coincided with the positive progression of symptoms in a portion of schizophrenics. Causation has not been determined, only correlation, but it is certainly a step to be taken if there is a chance of reducing the severity of symptoms. Secondary benefits of reducing the intake of gluten is an improvement in the digestion process and an enhanced mental clarity.
Omega 3 and Schizophrenia
Omega 3 fatty acids and other essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are big time culprits in many people’s dietary issues. The body must have omega 3 in order to produce new cellular membranes. The only problem is that body doesn’t produce these compounds itself. These nutrients are found in fish, and for many people who do not live near a coastal region, the price of fish can become outlandish and scarce in the diet. Fortunately there are fish oil supplements that are commonly available at reasonable prices that can help solve this problem.
It is not just the average person who is lacking omega 3 and EFA’s. There is much documentation regarding the specific lack of omega 3 in the schizophrenic diet and its beneficial role in the treatment of symptoms. We mentioned the role of these compounds in the production of cell membranes. Well guess what neurons are? They are cells, and having strong membranes and myelin sheaths on the dendrites means better electrochemical communication. This can lead to a direct reduction of symptoms for the schizophrenic and better functioning for anyone. Secondary benefits to taking essential fatty acids are the benefit to cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol levels, and an increased health of joints.
B Vitamins and Schizophrenia
Taking a B-complex vitamin is really a must for anyone as it is required for brain function in many ways. The B vitamins, ranging from B1 through B12, are pertinent in the removal of free radicals in the brain. As antioxidants, they perform this task well, even removing homocysteine, an enemy of the neural networks communication abilities. B3 specifically, called Niacin, plays a role in maintaining a stable mood, the reduction of headaches, and other psychological issues.
Taking a B-complex, then, especially for a person living with schizophrenia, should show a marked improvement in cognitive functioning. There are also secondary benefits, such as enhanced memory and energy levels. B-vitamins are metabolized along with many other nutrients in the body, so taking a multi-vitamin can serve to replenish all of these that could be lacking.
The Schizophrenia and Diet Connection
As explained, the average person not dealing with forms of mental illness can even benefit from following the details of the schizophrenia diet! Just as you should have a daily exercise routine, healthy forms of entertainment, and effective coping methods, you should also have a nutritious and well-balanced diet. This will serve you well in reducing symptoms and maintaining the positive gains you make in your treatment.