From fish oil to keto, here are nine research-backed natural remedies for schizophrenia that you can discuss with your treatment team.
Schizophrenia is a complex psychiatric disorder that affects how a person thinks, acts, and perceives the world.
The mainstay treatment for schizophrenia continues to be antipsychotic medications, which attempt to create a better balance of dopamine in the brain. However, these drugs don’t work for everyone, and some people experience severe side effects, such as restlessness or tremors.
Another school of thought suggests that schizophrenia symptoms can be reduced with diet, vitamins, and other alternative approaches. Many people choose to use these natural remedies in addition to their medication.
Although research is relatively limited on nonpharmaceutical remedies, a few science-backed natural alternatives have been shown to reduce schizophrenia symptoms.
Still, it’s essential to discuss wanting to try natural remedies with your treatment team before changing your treatment regimen.
Positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia
It’s common to speak of “positive” and “negative” symptoms of schizophrenia, and these terms are used in this article.
Positive symptoms include:
- hallucinations (like hearing voices or seeing something that’s not there)
- delusions (believing something that’s untrue)
- abnormal body movements
- disorganized thinking
Negative symptoms include:
- social withdrawal
- a lack of emotional expression
- difficulties planning or sticking with an activity
Schizophrenia is a complex disorder that affects individuals differently.
There is no one-size-fits-all natural antipsychotic. However, a combination of nutritional strategies may help reduce symptoms. But what works for one person may not work for another.
And while there are people who’ve had great success with natural remedies — and may have even significantly reduced their medication — most people will need to continue their antipsychotic medications to maintain a good quality of life.
Several supplements have been shown to help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. Still, these may affect each person differently. It’s best to talk with your doctor before starting a new supplement.
It’s also important to keep in mind that research on these supplements is often very limited. Having results from only a few studies makes it difficult to draw clear conclusions about the supplements’ effectiveness for easing schizophrenia symptoms.
Taurine has a calming effect on the nervous system and may protect the brain from:
- protein deficiencies
Scientists have long suggested a connection between taurine and schizophrenia. For instance, some
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant that may help improve working memory in people with schizophrenia. Memory difficulties are a core feature of schizophrenia and can cause significant distress and dysfunction.
In the body, NAC is used to help produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that positively affects several brain processes dysregulated in schizophrenia, including:
- brain inflammation
- glutamate regulation (glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter)
- cell energy production
- apoptosis (cell death)
Three amino acids may also produce glutathione:
- glycine (another supplement that is sometimes used in schizophrenia)
Some research suggests that NAC may help improve these effects. For instance, a 2019 review of 7 studies found that 24 weeks of supplementation with NAC significantly improved cognition in people with schizophrenia.
No benefit was seen before 8 weeks. So the findings suggest that it’s important to stick with the supplement for at least a few months.
Overall, NAC had a positive effect on the working memory of people with schizophrenia in this study. However, it didn’t affect positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
Sulforaphane (SFN) is a compound in broccoli sprouts. It may have the potential to benefit the brain chemistry of people with schizophrenia.
This compound has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This is important, as research suggests that oxidative stress and inflammation are likely involved in psychiatric illness, including schizophrenia and psychosis.
Sulforaphane also activates a gene that produces an enzyme. This enzyme then causes the neurotransmitter glutamate to make glutathione.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress. Although your body produces it naturally, glutathione levels decrease with stress and age.
Evidence suggests that both glutamate and glutathione may be dysregulated in people with schizophrenia. For instance, one
In a small pilot
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil supplements, may improve cognition in people with schizophrenia and, as a result, help with social functioning.
These fatty acids have a protective effect on the brain, as they help reduce inflammation and guard against oxidative stress.
All participants took antipsychotic medications, and six of them were in an inpatient facility.
The findings show that participants with higher blood levels of omega-3 had better cognition. Plus, better cognition was significantly linked to better social functioning.
Participants who began the study with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were more responsive to the supplementation.
Still, whether vitamin D supplementation works in adults with schizophrenia is unclear.
This suggests that some individuals with schizophrenia may find symptom relief from using cannabis.
Still, research has long established that cannabis and psychosis are closely linked.
Several studies conclude that cannabis, particularly its active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), has a worsening effect on schizophrenia symptoms. However, some evidence suggests that CBD (cannabidiol) — another active ingredient in cannabis — may help treat specific schizophrenia symptoms.
Some of the findings show a negative link between schizophrenia and cannabis/THC:
- Frequent cannabis use, especially starting young, doubles the risk of schizophrenia development in the future.
- Daily use increases the risk of psychosis with as much as five times higher risk in people using high potency THC.
- Heavy chronic cannabis use after a diagnosis of schizophrenia can lead to more and earlier relapses with a worsening of symptoms and longer hospital stays, even in people who are stable on antipsychotics.
On the other hand, CBD alone may have a positive effect.
Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
A growing body of research suggests that the ketogenic (keto) diet may help reduce schizophrenia symptoms. This is a high fat, very low carb, moderate protein diet originally developed to help people with epilepsy.
But why would a high fat, low carb diet work for schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is linked to reduced energy production in the brain. In other words, the brains of people with schizophrenia cannot get enough energy from glucose, a type of sugar and the go-to source of energy for the human body.
When you’re on the keto diet, you severely limit your intake of carbs, which reduces your body’s supply of glucose. Instead, your body begins to produce ketones, which are byproducts of the breakdown of fatty acids. These ketones replace glucose as the primary fuel in the brain. It’s believed that ketones provide much-needed energy to insulin-resistant brain cells.
Some research shows promise in using a keto diet to help manage schizophrenia symptoms. The keto diet has also been shown to reduce inflammation and positively impact neurotransmitters.
Other dietary changes
Regardless of which supplements you do or don’t take, it’s wise to eat a balanced diet that provides your body with vital nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E and all the B vitamins.
Another consideration is eliminating potential food allergies that could manifest as psychiatric symptoms. Common ones include:
Finding food sensitivities or allergies can be tricky, however, as symptoms may not manifest until 3 days after you’ve eaten the culprit. It helps to keep a food journal and do a slow elimination diet, ideally under the guidance and supervision of a medical professional, dietitian, or both.
Deep brain stimulation
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a neurosurgical technique that uses implanted electrodes and electrical stimulation to treat neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.
Though DBS has been tried a few times in treatment-resistant schizophrenia, there’s a lack of research — mostly due to researchers not knowing where to put the electrodes.
Of the three participants with NAcc treatment, two showed symptom improvement. Of the four who received subgenual ACC treatment, two showed improvement.
When DBS was discontinued, most of these participants got worse. Two participants also developed persistent side effects, including apathy and mood instability.
The researchers conclude that DBS may have therapeutic effects for people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia. But larger trials are needed to better understand these benefits and whether or not they can be achieved without psychiatric side effects.
If you live with schizophrenia, several promising natural therapies may help reduce your symptoms. Still, it’s important to discuss alternative therapies with your treatment team to ensure they work in conjunction with any medications you may be taking.
But regardless of what alternative methods you opt to try, it’s important to eat a balanced diet, exercise, and take time to do what you love. Taking care of yourself in every area of your life may improve your schizophrenia symptoms and enhance your overall quality of life.