Affecting more than 21 million people across the world, schizophrenia can distort your perception, thinking, emotions, sense of self, behavior, and language.1 While the exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, an interaction between genes and environmental factors like malnutrition prior to birth, exposure to viruses, and psychosocial factors are considered to play a role in its development. Your brain chemistry is also thought to play a part.
It is important to get consistent professional help if you have schizophrenia. Treatment may include the use of antipsychotic medication and psychosocial treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy to cope with day to day challenges.2 Several alternative treatments have also been found to help people with schizophrenia. However, it should be noted that these treatments work as a supplement to conventional treatments and shouldn’t replace them.
1. Explore Psychotherapy: CBT, Art, And Family Therapy
Psychological treatment helps schizophrenic patients cope with symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations better and also helps teat symptoms like apathy. Some common treatments used for this condition include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify unhelpful thought patterns behind undesirable feelings and behaviors and aims to replace these with more useful thoughts. Unlike other talking treatments that dwell on the past, CBT focuses on the current issues and practical solutions to get around these.
- Art therapy encourages creative expression of your experience of schizophrenia. For schizophrenics who are unable to verbalize their feelings, art therapy often proves to be a catalytic outlet for their frustrations. Expressing themselves non-verbally can also help figure out new ways of relating to others.
- Family therapy aims to help your family and you cope better with this condition. it generally involves informal meeting with the patient and their family over the course of months. People with schizophrenia may need to rely on the support and care of family members, so it helps to have family understand and empathize with the needs of the patient.3
2. Play Interactive Sports Video Games
Playing an interactive video game has been found to improve daily activity levels and motivation, improve social functioning, and ease pain associated with schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia commonly experience a state known as hypofrontality. This involves a reduction in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain and affects executive functions. But engaging in the interactive video game improves cerebral blood flow and has been linked to increased prefrontal cortex activation.4 Your therapist should be able to recommend a suitable therapeutic game for you.
3. Practice Yoga
Yoga is an ancient Indian mind and body practice which usually combines physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation. The practice of yoga has been found to be beneficial as an add-on to antipsychotic treatment in people with schizophrenia. One study compared schizophrenic patients who practiced physical exercise therapy for 4 months to those who practiced yoga. It was found that the yoga group had significantly greater occupational and social functioning and quality of life as well as less psychopathology at the end of that period.5It’s best to work with a yoga practitioner with expertise in this area. Some poses that might be helpful to you include:
- Adhomukhasvana asana: This asana can be helpful in tackling anxiety and depression that comes with schizophrenia.
- Urdhvadhanura asana: This asana can help stimulate the brain to tackle symptoms like social withdrawal and loss of judgment and motivation.
- Shalabh asana: This asana helps work on disorganized speech and thoughts. 6
But do note that meditative practices are generally not included in yoga programs for people with schizophrenia as it could worsen psychosis.7
4. Have B Vitamins: Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, And B6
Supplementing with folic acid, vitamin B 12, and vitamin B 6 may be helpful to some people with schizophrenia. These vitamins can lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been found to be elevated in many people with schizophrenia. One study found that when 42 schizophrenic patients with high homocysteine levels were treated with these vitamins for a period of 3 months the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia reduced and neuropsychological test results improved significantly. It is thought that, at least in schizophrenic patients with high homocysteine levels, treatment with these B vitamins can be helpful.8 While your doctor can help you decide whether supplementation will help, get these vital nutrients from natural foods as well.
5. Get Enough Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid EPA From Fish
There is evidence that people with schizophrenia don’t metabolize polyunsaturated fatty acids properly. One study found that people who were treated with a polyunsaturated fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) for a period of 3 months experienced a greater improvement than those on a placebo. In fact, research has also indicated that it can even reduce the need for antipsychotic drugs in some people. EPA is naturally present in fish such as salmon, herring, sardines as well as fish oils.11 12
6. Have A Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a protein present in foods like barley, rye, and wheat. We’ve all heard of how it causes digestive problems in people with celiac disease because their immune system reacts against the component gliadin present in it. Several studies have also found that going gluten-free can improve symptoms in people with schizophrenia. Though the underlying mechanism through which gluten affects schizophrenia is still not clear, research does show that celiac disease is almost twice as prevalent in schizophrenic patients as in the general population. Moreover, like those with celiac disease, people with schizophrenia also seem to have a higher level of anti-gliadin antibodies, pointing to the possibility of a shared immunological abnormality.13
7. Have Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo is a popular herb that is known to have a range of medicinal benefits, including improving memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. And as it turns out, it may be beneficial for people with schizophrenia too. One study found that when 120 mg of ginkgo biloba extract was administered daily along with an antipsychotic medicine for 12 weeks, it enhanced the effect of the medicine. Patients treated with it experienced a greater improvement in several symptoms such as reduced involvement and pleasure in daily life and impaired emotional expression.14
8. Take Brahmi
People with schizophrenia commonly experience cognitive impairment. Brahmi or Bacopa monnieri, a herb that has been traditionally been used in Ayurveda to improve cognition, may be helpful in this regard. One study found that brahmi had neuroprotective properties and could improve cognition in a schizophrenic animal model.15 Traditional practices use 5–10 gm of this herb in powdered form per day. Speak to your doctor or a trained naturopath to determine an appropriate dose for you.16
9. Try American Ginseng
American ginseng is another herb that can improve cognition. When people with schizophrenia were treated with an extract of this herb for 4 weeks in one study, they showed a significant improvement in working memory. Moreover, it also led to a reduction in side effects related to medication used to treat schizophrenia. American ginseng (rather than Chinese ginseng) has been studied in this context and may, therefore, work as an adjunct therapy for people with this condition.17
|↑1||Schizophrenia. World Health Organisation.|
|↑2||Schizophrenia. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑4||Shimizu, Nobuko, Tomohiro Umemura, Masahiro Matsunaga, and Takayoshi Hirai. “An interactive sports video game as an intervention for rehabilitation of community-living patients with schizophrenia: A controlled, single-blind, crossover study.” PloS one 12, no. 11 (2017): e0187480.|
|↑5||Duraiswamy, Ganesan, Jagadisha Thirthalli, H. R. Nagendra, and B. N. Gangadhar. “Yoga therapy as an add‐on treatment in the management of patients with schizophrenia–a randomized controlled trial.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 116, no. 3 (2007): 226-232.|
|↑6||Pande-Bhargava, Navodita. Yoga: The Oriental Healing. Partridge Publishing, 2014.|
|↑7||Bangalore, N. Gangadhar, and Shivarama Varambally. “Yoga therapy for Schizophrenia.” International journal of yoga 5, no. 2 (2012): 85.|
|↑8||Levine, Joseph, Ziva Stahl, Ben-Ami Sela, Vladimir Ruderman, Oleg Shumaico, Ivgeny Babushkin, Yamima Osher, Yuly Bersudsky, and R. H. Belmaker. “Homocysteine-reducing strategies improve symptoms in chronic schizophrenic patients with hyperhomocysteinemia.” Biological psychiatry 60, no. 3 (2006): 265-269.|
|↑9||Action plan for managing schizophrenia. Food For The Brain.|
|↑10||Vitamin B6. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11||Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Peet, Malcolm, Jan Brind, C. N. Ramchand, Sandeep Shah, and G. K. Vankar. “Two double-blind placebo-controlled pilot studies of eicosapentaenoic acid in the treatment of schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia research 49, no. 3 (2001): 243-251.|
|↑13||Ergün, Can, Murat Urhan, and Ahmet Ayer. “A review on the relationship between gluten and schizophrenia: Is gluten the cause?.” Nutritional Neuroscience (2017).|
|↑14||Doruk, Ali, Özcan Uzun, and Aytekin Özsahin. “A placebo-controlled study of extract of ginkgo biloba added to clozapine in patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia.” International clinical psychopharmacology 23, no. 4 (2008): 223-227.|
|↑15||Piyabhan, P., and T. Wetchateng. “P-1288-Neuroprotective and cognitive enhancement effects of bacopa monnieri on novel object recognition in schizophrenic rat model.” European Psychiatry 27 (2012): 1.|
|↑16||Bacopa. University of Michigan.|
|↑17||Chen, Eric YH, and Christy LM Hui. “HT1001, A Proprietary North American Ginseng Extract, Improves Working Memory in Schizophrenia: A Double‐blind, Placebo‐Controlled Study.” Phytotherapy research 26, no. 8 (2012): 1166-1172.|