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A biochemistry approach to schizophrenia

A biochemistry approach to schizophrenia

A biochemistry approach to schizophrenia


Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It can cause many symptoms, including hallucinations, paranoia, breaking from reality, flat affect or a reduced ability to express emotions. 

People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment. Early treatment may help get symptoms under control before serious complications develop and may help improve the long-term outlook. Treatment usually includes antipsychotic medications. It may also include group or individual therapy, psychoeducation, and rehabilitation. 

Medication is important in managing schizophrenia. Complementary treatments should not replace the care of your GP or specialist. A Functional Medicine approach to treatment can be used in conjunction with traditional treatment. Talk with your doctor before using any other treatment to see if it’s safe.

Signs of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking, behaviour and emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech and reflect an impaired ability to function. 

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia

Positive signs of schizophrenia are obvious, outward signs that do not appear in people who do not have the disease. These can include:

  • Hallucinations – These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. Yet for the person with schizophrenia, they have the full force and impact of a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common hallucination.
  • Delusions – These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, you think that you’re being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; or a major catastrophe is about to occur. Delusions occur in most people with schizophrenia.
  • Disorganized thinking. Disorganized thinking is inferred from disorganized speech. Effective communication can be impaired, and answers to questions may be partially or completely unrelated. Rarely, speech may include putting together meaningless words that can’t be understood, sometimes known as word salad.
  • Inability to make sense of ordinary sights and sounds.
  • Inability to make decisions. 
  • Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour. This may show in a number of ways, from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation. Behaviour isn’t focused on a goal, so it’s hard to do tasks. Behaviour can include resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, moving slowly or making repetitive movements, such as pacing, a complete lack of response, or useless and excessive movement.

Negative symptoms of schizophrenia

Negative symptoms are described as normal behaviours that are absent in individuals with schizophrenia and refers to reduced or lack of ability to function normally. For example, the person may neglect personal hygiene or appear to lack emotion (doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t change facial expressions or speaks in a monotone). Also, the person may lose interest in everyday activities, socially withdraw or lack the ability to experience pleasure.

Negative symptoms may include:

  • Lack of emotion, or expression of emotions inappropriate for a situation.
  • Difficulty interpreting social cues.
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and social interactions.
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Difficulty functioning at work, school or in daily life.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Moodiness.
  • Catatonia – remaining in one position, with no sign of movement, for a lengthy period of time.

Research shows that a significant number of people who have schizophrenia aren’t even aware of it until it progresses into later stages.

Causes of schizophrenia

It’s not known what causes schizophrenia, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and environment contribute to development of the disorder.

Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, may contribute to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies show differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia. While researchers aren’t certain about the significance of these changes, they indicate that schizophrenia is a brain disease.

A biochemistry approach to Schizophrenia

The principles of Functional Medicine revolve around the idea that each person has a unique biochemistry, with individual bodily needs. Therefore, treating a disorder such as schizophrenia must be carefully tailored to the individual. 

Dr Carl C. Pfeiffer made major contributions to the understanding of trace element and mineral metabolism in the schizophrenias. 

“If there’s a drug that can alter the brain’s biochemistry, there’s usually a combination of nutrients that can achieve the same thing without side-effects,” said Dr. Pfeiffer.

Dr. Pfeiffer found that biochemical imbalances in the body were the blame for many psychological problems. His study on more than 20,000 schizophrenic patients enabled him to divide schizophrenia into three biochemical groupings called histapenia, histadelia and pyroluric 2, 3.

Following on from Pfeiffer’s work, Dr William Walsh, an internationally recognized expert in the field of nutritional medicine and a key scientist paving the way for nutrient-based psychiatry and nutritional medicine, determined that schizophrenia is an umbrella term that includes at least three very different disorders, each presenting a distinctive set of symptoms and traits, unlikely to arise from the same underlying cause.  

Although different in nature, each schizophrenic disorder is vulnerable to epigenetic errors that can alter gene expression and have weakened protection against oxidative stress.

Walsh concluded:

  • Schizophrenia is epigenetic in nature. Epigenetics are DNA modifications that do not change the DNA sequence and can affect gene activity. Due to the epigenetic nature of schizophrenia, it doesn’t follow classical laws of genetics. Although it runs in families, it doesn’t follow classic laws of genetic inheritance. For example, in many identical twins, one sibling develops the disorder and the other does not.
  • Weak antioxidant protection is a distinctive feature of schizophrenia displaying low levels of glutathione, cysteine, selenium, zinc, polyunsaturated fats, together with high levels of non-ceruloplasmin bound copper.
  • Oxidative overload produces deviant epigenetic marks in schizophrenia. The onset of schizophrenia occurs when oxidative stresses exceed the threshold level needed to alter chromatin marks that regulate gene expression.
  • Methylation imbalances promote epigenetic vulnerability to oxidative stress. Abnormal methylation of chromatin is a leading cause of epigenetic errors in gene expression. The combination of oxidative overload and a methyl imbalance can produce gene expression changes that result in a chronic schizophrenia condition. The two most prevalent forms of schizophrenia develop in people who exhibit either (a) methyl overload or (b) methyl deficiency.  

The two resulting psychotic disorders exhibit very different brain chemistry and symptoms –

1. Overmethylation Mental breakdowns generally occur during severe physical or emotional traumatic events that produce overwhelming oxidative stress and deviant gene marks. This schizophrenia biotype is a sensory disorder that generally involves auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations. This condition is associated with elevated activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, and reduced glutamate activity at NMDA receptors. The most common DSM-5 diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia.

2. Undermethylation Mental breakdowns generally occur during severe physical or emotional traumatic events that produce a separate set of altered gene marks.  This schizophrenia biotype essentially is a thought disorder with delusions and catatonic tendencies the primary symptoms.  This condition is associated with low activity at serotonin, dopamine, and NMDA receptors.  The most common DSM-5 diagnoses are Schizoaffective Disorder or Delusional Disorder.

  • Low antioxidant protection can produce schizophrenia in the absence of methyl imbalances. People with pyrrole disorder have excessive pyrrole levels in blood and urine. This condition is often accompanied by anxiety, rapid mood swings and auditory hallucinations and delusional beliefs.  Brain chemistry abnormalities include (a) depressed glutamate activity at NMDA receptors, and (b) very depressed GABA activity.

Because mental illness has been clearly linked to chemical imbalances, using nutrition as the basis for treatment can be highly successful in restoring brain function.

For decades, it has been known that schizophrenics tend to be severely deficient in niacin (vitamin B3). Over 30 years ago, Dr. Abram Hoffer began to use this understanding as the basis for treating schizophrenics with large doses of B3. Since that time, patients with mental illnesses ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia have been successfully treated with megadoses of vitamins and other nutrients based on their own personal biochemistry.

The low-histamine biotype of schizophrenia is frequently an environmentally produced copper overload with a resultant nutrient imbalance. Patients may be deficient in folate, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and manganese. 

Behavioural symptoms in high-copper histapenia include paranoia and hallucinations in younger patients, but depression may predominate in older patients. The patient is usually classified as having chronic or process schizophrenia. Others have found that the administration of folate will correct severe psychosis caused by folate deficiency. Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) or the active form of B6, P5P (pyridoxine-5-phosphate) have also been known to greatly improved the patient’s condition.  

How a Functional Medicine health practitioner can help

Investigating a number of possible avenues has shown to be helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia. These include:

  • Supporting brain function and neurotransmitter balance
  • Balancing brain chemistry
  • Resolving Methylation problems helped by B12 and folate
  • Blood sugar problems made worse by excess stimulant and drug use
  • Essential fat imbalances
  • Too many oxidants and not enough antioxidants
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) therapy if indicated
  • Pyroluria and the need for zinc and vitamin B6
  • Food allergies
  • Addressing gut imbalances and dysbiosis
  • Calming sympathetic nervous system
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Supporting adrenal function
  • Addressing copper overload if present
  • Addressing any underlying contributing factors (diet, food allergy, heavy metal toxicity, drug use, hypoglycaemia, chronic infection etc.

Diet plan for schizophrenia

A nutritional approach works alongside conventional treatment and may improve both positive and negative symptoms, and also reduce the side-effects of medication. In some cases, the improvements are so great that the patient’s doctor may take the decision to cut down or discontinue medication.

A tailored diet plan may include:

  • Eating low GL carbohydrates, as well as combining your low GL carbohydrates with protein in a ratio of 1:1.
  • Eating fresh, whole food, unrefined diet, high in fibre, fruit and vegetables, quality proteins and healthy fats
  • People with pyroluria need to eat a healthy diet and supplement relatively large amounts of zinc, perhaps 25mg – 50mg a day, as well as vitamin B6, perhaps 100mg daily.
  • Eat lots of fresh (or frozen, but not tinned or dried) fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours, and also supplement daily with 2,000 mg of vitamin C
  • Eating fish at least twice a week, seeds on most days and supplementing omega 3 fish oils. Look for a supplement that contains EPA, DHA and GLA.
  • Eating regular meals and avoiding missing meals
  • Including high-quality grass-fed protein such as chicken, fish, nuts and seeds
  • Avoiding stimulants such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol
  • Identify food intolerances/try an elimination diet. You may suspect some foods which may or may not be one of the usual suspects – are gluten (wheat, rye, barley), wheat, dairy (all types – cow, sheep, goat, milk, cheese, cream etc), soya, yeast and eggs. If this is the case, you could try an exclusion of the food or foods for a brief trial period.
  • Get a food intolerance test. You could undertake an IgG ELISA blood test to determine whether you have raised antibody levels to specific foods in your blood which is a good indication. 

We now know that for everyone, managing nutrition can be an important part of staying healthy but for people with schizophrenia this is more important than ever because people with schizophrenia tend to suffer more from physical ailments than other people.

Get in touch with us to find out more

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we here to support you with a tailored, individualised plan to reduce symptoms and live well with schizophrenia. We take a thorough functional testing approach, testing a wide array of the patient’s brain chemistry and overall body chemistry.  

Using targeted nutrient therapy we are aim to minimise symptoms and return a high level of quality of life.  

Many anti-psychotic drugs can harsh side effects, with nutrient therapy and support and in conjunction with the patient’s psychiatrist, these medications may be able to be reduced.

Feel free to get in touch for more information regarding testing and treatment approaches.

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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