Nature’s Cure for Mental Illness Orthomolecular Nutrition to the RescueRosalie Moscoe, RNCP April 1, 2008
My husband and I waved goodbye as we watched our son John (not his real name) board the plane, happily joking with his buddies. The year was 1989. John was 19, and headed for what we expected to be a wonderful youth tour overseas But after the fourth week, we received a shocking phone call. The trip organizers were sending him home. John had become paranoid and delusional; he had been taken to a hospital after fainting at the top of a mountain.
We left on the next plane and returned with a young man who not only looked physically ill and emaciated but also was totally psychotic. We were devastated. John was hospitalized for a short time and then released with antipsychotic medication. At the time, we were never given a proper diagnosis. When asked, the doctor told us it was “psychosis”. His personality changed. Our outgoing, friendly, affectionate boy and talented musician now spent hours in his room, asleep. Awake, he suffered Parkinson-like tremors and tardive dyskinesia, a side effect of his medication.
His progress was negligible and within a year he was hospitalized with symptoms of schizophrenia. Upon his release, John was marginally better. What was to become of him?
Frantically, I searched for answers. Traditional texts left me feeling hopeless. By sheer luck, I came across a book by psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD. The book (now renamed Healing Schizophrenia) outlined orthomolecular treatments for mental illness and even mentioned the word recovery! It discussed healthy diets, free of allergens, that could help his condition. Also emphasized were various nutrients in supplement form such as Vitamin B3 (niacin) and Vitamin C – both natural and essential to the human body for restoring health.
Orthomolecular medicine is the practice of optimizing health and treating disease by providing correct amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, essential fatty acids and other substances which are natural to the body’s environment. In other words, find out what’s missing in the body and give it what it needs and wants.
I became excited. I called Dr. Hoffer for advice, and he directed me to the organization which is now known as the International Schizophrenia Foundation (ISF). I learned that the Foundation, with over 40 years of research published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine (www.orthomed.org), not only offers help for schizophrenia, but also for depression, bi polar disorder, anxiety, autism, dementia and additional forms of mental illness as well as other physical disease states.
NUTRIENT THERAPY GETS GOOD RESULTS
According to the Journal and the International Schizophrenia Foundation, if patients are started on the orthomolecular treatment of B3 (niacin) for serious schizophrenia symptoms (including paranoia), those symptoms can be reversed in 80% of cases within two years. Hoffer’s findings were unheard of in traditional medical circles for mentally ill patients, where treatment was usually based solely on medication. Other treatment protocols natural to the body were researched by scientists throughout the years and added for even more benefit. I was directed to a psychiatrist/medical doctor in Toronto, who combines orthomolecular medicine along with traditional medication.
The connection between food allergies and mental health is another issue that needs to be addressed since about half of the chronically ill patient population experience allergies to one or more foods (Hoffer). At the hospital, I asked for a special diet to meet the requirements of John’s food allergies, but was told dieticians weren’t assigned to the psychiatric ward.
According to Doris Rapp, M.D. (in her books about food allergies and mental health, as well as information about rotation diets, Dr. Mandel’s 5 Day Allergy Relief System, and Brain Allergies by H. Philpott and W. Kalita), certain foods can cause cerebral or brain allergies in some individuals. Medication may help control some of the symptoms but an allergic individual will not respond to vitamin therapy alone. “If a person is allergic to dairy products, there will be no cure until the dairy products are removed from the diet.” (Hoffer)
John was tested for food allergies, and vitamin/mineral levels. Results of tests showed allergies to most of the foods he had been eating, (clear reasons for his ongoing digestive problems), plus vitamin and mineral deficiencies and imbalances. John proved deficient in zinc, high in copper levels, low in Vitamin B12 and other nutrients. He was put on Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide; 3,000 mg. to be taken each day in divided dosages), B complex (100 mg. per day), Vitamin C (3,000 mg. to be taken daily) and zinc (50 mg. to be taken daily). A multi vitamin/mineral was also prescribed for John.
People need to be aware that vitamin dosages depend upon each individual’s tolerance and needs and can often change over time. (Niacin can cause a flush in the body, but is not dangerous. There are non-flush formulas.)
Within three weeks of taking the vitamins and changing his diet, there was a noticeable transformation in our son – his thought disorder and paranoia began to subside. Over the years, other nutrients were added by his orthomolecular physicians, such as B6, B12, folic acid, amino acids, essential fatty acids, NAC (N-Acteyl Cysteine), and a calcium/magnesium supplement. Medication was also continued. This is not a simple process, but it made sense when we saw the positive results. Our son was regaining his balanced mental state before our eyes.
Some fear that vitamins in high dosages are unsafe. Yet testimony before the Government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, by Andrew Saul, PhD, reaffirmed that nutritional supplements overall are indeed quite safe (Ottawa, May 12, 2005). To view his testimony go to http://www.doctoryourself.com/testimony.htm.
BIOLOGICAL CAUSES OF MENTAL ILLNESS
Hoffer’s pamphlet, Orthomolecular Treatment for Schizophrenia, documents schizophrenia as a group of diseases, a syndrome. Several factors lead to the constellation of perceptual disturbances and thought disorders such as:
* Cerebral allergies
* Vitamin B3 and B6 dependencies
* Vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy or pellagra
* Essential fatty acid deficiencies
* Mineral deficiencies, such as zinc deficiency
* Toxic reactions to lead or to drugs
* LSD and similar hallucinogens
* Infections such as rheumatic fever syphilis, and many others
While these above factors were identified and documented decades ago as probable causes for mental disorders, mental illness is still regarded as a non-organic illness. Doctors or psychiatrists can look up symptoms in the DSM IV Manual and prescribe medications without necessarily investigating other physical conditions first. This is a grave mistake.
Research studies in the American and British Journals of Psychiatry, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Annals of Allergy, and Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases clearly show that B12 deficiencies, thyroid problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hypoglycemia, high homocysteine, and other physical ailments such as poor bowel ecology can all affect mental health.
Neuroleptic drugs can help extreme psychiatric symptoms, but Dr. Hoffer’s research (cited in Outcomes of Patients with Schizophrenia: A Review, Jobe et al, 2005, The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry), concedes that schizophrenia is a “poor-outcome disorder” and warns that more attention must be given to suicide and early death. The cautionary advice regarding antipsychotic drug treatments in this report is not new. Clearly, these treatments are not a failsafe approach to mental illnesses.
ORTHOMOLECULAR MEDICINE SUCCESS STORIES
So how did orthomolecular medicine start? In the early 1950s, Abram Hoffer conducted the first double-blind studies for the treatment of schizophrenia using nutrients. Hoffer headed up a team of 30 researchers in four mental hospitals and three psychiatric wards in Saskatchewan. Tommy Douglas (Premier at that time) sanctioned the extensive nutritional research for schizophrenia along with financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The very first patient to be given orthomolecular treatments was Ken, a 21 year old schizophrenic who was in a catatonic state and close to death. He was given liquid niacin through a stomach tube, and within minutes of receiving it he bolted up and regained consciousness. In a month’s time Ken was released from hospital. He went on to become a successful businessman.
Initial success with using niacin soon grew into eight double-blind clinical trials. In these early trials, patients’ recovery rates doubled from 35% to an astonishing 70%. Some attempted to repeat the studies and failed due to poor methodology, but when Hoffer’s protocols were followed, as they were in the National Institute of Medicine study, the doubling of recovery rates was confirmed.
Orthomolecular treatments are inexpensive, safe, effective, and can be included with medication to optimize outcomes. People can get well, though Hoffer cautions that those with chronic schizophrenia may take longer to show measurable progress. However, they can still improve over time.
In the book Mental Health Regained, 18 personal stories of recovery are documented by Dr. Hoffer. Success stories are told from those afflicted with disorders such as ADHD, Schizo-Affective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Paranoid Schizophrenia. One person (let’s call him RM), said he was “rescued from madness” through Dr. Hoffer’s protocols. RM was hearing voices and became paranoid. Within a month, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was also suffering from migraines. He replaced sugar, white flour, and junk food with a healthy, holistic diet. As a result, he has been free of the symptoms of schizophrenia for over 30 years. RM works as an A/V technician and is writing a motion picture. He is married and has a daughter.
RM recovered from serious mental illness by following the advice of Dr. Hoffer. To this day he continues to take many of the nutrients he initially was prescribed such as niacin, Vitamin C, zinc gluconate, thiamin, fish oils and Vitamin E. According to Dr. Hoffer, without the orthomolecular treatment, RM would likely be ill to this day, living a poor quality of life instead of a rich one. Such patients may still have occasional set backs, but it doesn’t have to mean they are doomed. They can continue to progress and get well.
A SCHIZOPHRENIC’S ROAD TO RECOVERY
As for our son John, the next few years after his first episode were an emotionally painful time for him and for us. He was often lonely and unhappy, abandoned by former friends. He felt angry that this illness had descended upon him.
However, he persevered with his vitamin protocol and medication. His newer medication, Respiradol, seems much more effective with less side effects than the Olanzapine that he was initially prescribed. Because of his steady improvement, the medication dosage has been lowered. We have also encouraged our son to continue with proper nutrition (initially a strict anti-Candida regime which limited certain foods that can cause a yeast overgrowth). A qualified holistic nutritionist is able to recommend which nutritional protocols are best for these and other imbalances.
Today, my husband and I are happy parents. Presently, John is thinking clearly with no obvious symptoms of paranoia. He is in excellent mental and physical health. Due to the addition of the vitamins, John no longer has tardive dyskinesia (characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements). In his paper, D. Hawkins surveyed 57,000 patients taking orthomolecular treatments along with medication and none had tardive dyskenesia.
For the past ten years, John has lived in his own apartment. He is a terrific cook, does his own shopping, house cleaning, laundry, and handles his own finances. Presently, he is being retrained for a new career. John has made new friends and has hope for the future.
Initially, we were given little hope by hospital psychiatrists for a positive outcome for our son. Our family is extremely grateful for the research and dedication of Dr. Hoffer and other orthomolecular physicians worldwide. Orthomolecular medicine is now practised in 39 countries.
I became so interested in nutrition as a way to better health that I returned to two separate colleges and have since completed a diploma program in holistic nutrition and in wellness education.
Since 1998, I have worked as a registered nutritional consultant using holistic nutrition with patients of three Toronto physicians, one of them the doctor that treated my son. I presently develop and present food plans to patients, many of whom suffer with varying forms of mental illness, cholesterol problems, diabetes or migraines. I am constantly encouraged by patients and their parents who call or email to tell me of either their own or their child’s positive progress due to holistic nutrition and orthomolecular medicine.
So can people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses recover using orthomolecular treatments? In orthomolecular terms, recovery means no visible signs of mental illness, getting along well with family and community and, if possible, paying taxes or at least being engaged in some useful activity.
There are no instant cures. Nonetheless, John has persevered, and (most of the time) has stuck to his protocols of nutrients, diet and some medication. He now enjoys a far better life, free of former symptoms and I am thankful.
I know from my research, education, and personal and professional experience that the best road to recovery towards an improved mental and physical state is found in orthomolecular medicine which also includes a healthy natural diet. I’ve never regretted the decision to embrace this powerful therapy for my son and for those I counsel.