Could diet be a key to schizophrenia?

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Schizophrenia is one of the more severe forms of mental illness. The causes of this affliction are not fully understood. However, in recent years studies have suggested nutrition may play a role.

The World Health Organization has been compiling data for a number of years in regard to causes of diseases. In 2004 the British Medical Journal of Psychiatry reported a review of those international studies.

It was found that Western nations and those nations that have followed the lead of those nations as far as eating habits go had a higher incidence of schizophrenia as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease than the developing nations. There appears to be a common cause for these findings.

It has been recognized a diet high in saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, highly refined foods and foods low in fiber played a significant role in the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It now appears the same thing is true with schizophrenia, and incidentally, Alzheimer's disease.

In the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in August 2006 there was a review linking diet with inflammation. It appears that poor diet can stir up the body's immune system thus causing inflammation. And in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry it was demonstrated that giving aspirin, which is an antiflammatory agent, to people with schizophrenia reduced the symptoms of that illness.

The reduction was more pronounced in patients who had a greater alteration of their immune system.

At this point researchers feel there is enough evidence for a relationship between diet and schizophrenia that studies should be performed specifically to identify that relationship.

In general, doctors are taught to be conservative when it comes to making recommendations for changes in people's lifestyles. I suspect a major approach will be to feed schizophrenics several different diets, follow them for a period of time, and observe the results.

Until those studies are completed and reported, no one with schizophrenia should start taking aspirin to prevent or diminish their symptoms unless they have run that by their health care provider.

Likewise no one should stop taking any of their medications, even if they have changed their diet.

But it can be recommended to schizophrenics that a diet low in saturated fat, sugar and highly refined foods, no trans fats and high in fiber would at least help to prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease and may help to diminish the symptoms of their mental illness.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.

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