The common explanation for mental illness today is brain chemical (neurotransmitter) imbalances or dysfunction. “[T]he serotonin hypothesis is typically presented as a collective scientific belief,” write Lacasse and Leo, though, as they note: “There is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to directly support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counter-evidence."
Even today, few people realize that was not the case until after Pozac (Fluoxetine) developed the theory to support sales. This interests me because my son is schizophrenic. I want to know the scientific merit of the drugs used to treat mental health issues, particularly psychosis, because those are among the most toxic and with the worst common side effects. So my attempt to understand mental illness and psychosis has gone deep. I'd like to share with you an alternative model I have found to make more sense. It starts with the assertion that the brain/mind is only an extension of the body and in terms of health, it is no different than other body systems. It requires nutrients and fluids in certain ratios to maintain homeostasis and relies on other organs to function optimally to maintain this balance and not allow toxins to overwhelm it.
Regarding toxins, the body has measures to protect itself against the damage of toxins it comes into contact with. It endogenously creates antioxidants and also extracts them from food, both of which are used to disarm any unstable molecules before they can do damage to the cellular structure or to the DNA. It’s almost certain you have heard of antioxidants before, even if you’re not a nutrition science type. You will know of vitamin C and its use as an anti-viral. You will have heard of the term oxidative stress – which in essence means cellular damage by the unstable molecules. You may have heard this oxidative stress plays a role in ageing and in disease risk and in cancers, so, eating your fruit and veggies or vitamins is important to keep your antioxidants up.
What you may not know is how oxidative stress impacts psychosis. And, as I found out as I went down this rabbit hole, it’s essential in approaching psychosis from an integrative perspective to better understand this.
Oxidative stress can – and does – happen anywhere in the body. ‘Where’ it strikes depends on your particular, genetically inherited weaknesses and ‘when’ it strikes depends on the various factors in your life that come together to overwhelm your body’s capacity to protect itself. In this way, psychosis is no different than any other disease: a system in the body becomes overwhelmed by stress and its function is compromised. In some people that is a tumor, in others it’s diabetes, in others it’s atherosclerosis, in others it’s psychosis. Seen as such, we can better understand why some patients experience psychosis only for a brief period of time then become asymptomatic again and return to life as usual. Their mind is only temporarily overwhelmed by stressors, then they regain equilibrium and carry on.
I wish it were so with my son.
An oxidative stress approach to psychosis also enables us to better evaluate the appropriateness of antipsychotics (brain damaging chemicals to sedate, reduce cognition, reduce drive and essentially induce a chemical lobotomy) in clients who exhibit psychosis. If indeed psychosis is a byproduct of oxidative stress, additional stressors in the form of brain damaging medications will only add to the dilemma over time. I understand the reasons such ‘therapies’ are employed in resistant cases, but if we are to be honest, as a first line treatment it’s barbaric and unsophisticated and does more damage than good.
We have data that shows higher than normal levels of oxidative stress in patients exhibiting psychosis. Dr. Abram Hoffer and colleagues discovered an indole excreted in the urine to detect this abnormal oxidation back in the 1950’s – and published extensively about it.
We also have data that demonstrates the ability of very inexpensive and easy to access, antioxidants to reverse psychosis. Dr. Hoffer again, pioneer that he was, conducted research into intravenous ascorbic acid and nicotinic acid in reversing psychosis. And published extensively about it. He did this in the 1950's and treated thousands of patients with this therapy thereafter. It is still not known in mainstream psychiatry today. I have heard psychiatrists call him a quack to dismiss him or say he was stripped of his medical license. He was not, in both cases. He was, in fact, a biochemist and psychiatrist, and esteemed in both fields. Never was anyone able to strip his license. And his work was scientific: he conducted and published the first ever double blind studies in psychiatry. And published extensively. He was continually testing new theories with colleagues. And continually publishing. And if he isn't demonized on this front he is dismissed for his experimentation with psychedelics in inducing psychosis, which he would then treat. But now we see the most advanced trauma work focusing on these very psychedelic drugs as therapy. Hoffer was, by all accounts, just too far ahead of his time to be fully appreciated. He did surrender his license at the end of his career, not because he had to, but because he was broken hearted with the profession and didn't want his name tarnished by the direction psychiatry had taken.
Now there are other pioneers. We have methods of analysis to map the brain structure and activity (SPECT) and we know this analysis tells us that in brain injury and problems like dementia, trauma, and learning disorders nutrient therapy can physically heal brain and bring incredible positive changes to its function. Dr. Daniel Amen is currently spearheading that avenue of research.
So when will we see the medical establishment start to apply this science to the treatment model for psychosis? Hmmmm...
In the meantime, for patients interested in exploring a biochemical treatment for psychosis, from my research I discern the approach must be fivefold:
1) reduce inflammation by identifying food intolerances and creating a very customized diet that keeps insulin levels as flat as possible, with high reliance on proteins, fats, and antioxidant foods in easily digested forms
2) test for nutrient deficiencies and heavy metals, as well as organ function
3) customize supplement intake according to testing and clinical evaluations to determine imbalances or greater than higher need for any
4) address any pathology in the gut biome with fermented foods and adequate supplementation
5) create a supportive and reduced stress environment for the client to live in during rehabilitition, with as few triggers as possible, and with a very structured, low stimulation, and holistic routine, including sunlight and fresh air, whole, natural foods, a safe, quiet, comfortable home and bed, and regular sleep and meal schedule, with very little electronic stimulation
I also suggest that clients or client families only withdraw any long term or high dose medications in slow increments one at a time, with physician support and supervision, to ensure there are no abrupt changes in symptomatology that can set the client back.
In my clinical practice I see patients unable to make this shift without clinical support, because of the volume of misinformation on what constitutes a healthy diet on the web. Even if they learn what is healthy it is difficult to switch patterns of eating and shopping without a new model and new go-to recipes. So the pragmatic steps must be part of the therapy. I also believe some clients benefit greatly from adding herbal and homeopathic treatments to this template, for example when the patient does not fully respond to this therapy or needs help to overcome blocks that make it impossible to follow through, such as addiction behaviour or nightmares or hostility or delusions. These compound the difficulty but it is not impossible to treat when there is stable housing that will enforce a healthy diet and routine. Diet and routine are essential for success with this model.
Patients wishing personal assist with this protocol can contact me directly. Namaste!