From fish oil to amino acids: While they can’t replace treatment, these supplements may help ease some schizophrenia symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental health disorder marked by disruptions in perception, emotions, and thinking.
The disorder is known primarily for its “positive” symptoms of psychosis — such as hallucinations and delusions — which are typically controlled with atypical antipsychotics.
But some of the most challenging symptoms are the disorder’s “negative” symptoms, such as lack of concentration, motivation, and word fluency. These symptoms have been more difficult to treat with pharmaceutical medications.
While a few of the supplements suggested in this article may improve the positive symptoms, many may help ease the negative and cognitive aspects of the disorder.
Still, supplements can’t replace treatment for schizophrenia, though they may be used as an add-on.
If you’re interested in trying a supplement, it’s vital to speak with your treatment team first. They can help you determine the best dosage and determine possible risks, side effects, or medication interactions.
Some supplements that may help with easing particular symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- omega-3 fatty acids
- Ginkgo biloba
All supplements on this list are supported by scientific evidence. Still, research on supplements and schizophrenia often has limitations, such as small sample sizes or mixed results. Plus, what may work for one person may not work for another.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
Cognitive deficits, particularly with working memory, are consistently seen in people with schizophrenia. These cognitive problems contribute to a majority of the daily dysfunction experienced by individuals with this condition.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a powerful amino acid that may help these deficits.
NAC produces an antioxidant called glutathione, which
- enhance cell energy production
- regulate glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter often dysregulated in schizophrenia)
Plus, glutathione depletion
One 2019 review found that people with schizophrenia experienced improved working memory after taking NAC for 24 weeks. No benefit was seen before 8 weeks, so it’s important to continue with supplementation for several months.
NAC had no observable effect on positive symptoms.
The amino acid glycine may help reduce the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
A few small trials have been conducted on the effects of adding glycine to antipsychotic medications. These have had mostly positive results.
Notably, in a small 2004 trial, 17 people with schizophrenia took either olanzapine or risperidone, supplementing with 0.8 grams of glycine per kilogram of body weight daily for 6 weeks in addition to their regular medication significantly reduced negative schizophrenia symptoms. Cognitive and positive symptoms also improved.
The researchers conclude that the high dose glycine treatment may increase the effectiveness of antipsychotic medications.
Sarcosine, or N-methylglycine, is an amino acid derivative found naturally in the body.
Sarcosine supplements may help with the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia, particularly when taken alongside an antipsychotic medication.
Sarcosine prevents glycine from being taken back into the brain cells from where it was released. This action allows more glycine to stick around longer to stimulate other brain cells, which may improve memory.
One 2020 review of 7 trials that used sarcosine supplements with 326 participants with schizophrenia found that sarcosine supplements reduced clinical symptoms — though not to a significant degree. Researchers observed that adding sarcosine to first- and second-generation antipsychotics — except for clozapine — had a positive effect.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil supplements, which contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, may help improve cognition in people with schizophrenia.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative stress in the brain. This is important as oxidative stress and inflammation are likely involved in psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia.
Plus, some research suggests that when young people with a high risk of developing schizophrenia take fish oil supplements in the early stages of illness, it may help prevent the onset of the disorder.
Seven years later, only 10% of the participants who had taken fish oil supplements developed schizophrenia, compared with 40% of those in the control group.
Ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medication to help prevent and treat various conditions, including:
- memory loss
- schizophrenia-like disorders
As with all herbs, results may vary. Also, it’s important to use them with caution.
- difficulty in controlling anger
Within the past decade, numerous studies have looked at the effects of gut bacteria on several psychiatric conditions, including:
- depressive disorders
Still, gut-brain research for schizophrenia is in its infancy stage.
There are encouraging findings for pro- and prebiotics for schizophrenia. But most evidence is not strong enough at this point. More research is needed on this topic.
It has been shown that probiotic supplements may help with gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, which are common in people with schizophrenia.
Some evidence from 2017 suggests that probiotic supplements may help with positive symptoms of schizophrenia but primarily in people with no history of yeast infections (where high levels of candida might overwhelm gut bacteria).
Sulforaphane (SFN), a compound found in broccoli, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
This substance may benefit the brain chemistry of people with schizophrenia.
Sulforaphane helps the body produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress.
Scientific evidence suggests that glutathione is often dysregulated in people with schizophrenia. Therefore, helping your body boost glutathione levels may improve symptoms of schizophrenia.
A small 8-week pilot
Taurine is an amino acid that may help reduce symptoms of psychosis and improve the mental health of people with schizophrenia.
Taurine helps protect the brain from toxins, inflammation, and protein deficiencies.
Evidence suggests that people with schizophrenia often have reduced levels of taurine in the brain.
Schizophrenia is a complex disorder, and antipsychotic medications don’t always take away the symptoms entirely. Plus, very often, these medications cause unwanted side effects.
Some natural supplements may help ease both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia when taken alongside prescribed medications.
But what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to talk with your treatment team before trying new supplements.