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Novel Solutions to an Old Problem

Schizophrenia, a complex illness that has baffled many great minds, is a serious mental illness that typically affects people during their teen years or early adulthood. Characteristic symptoms are classified into “positive” and “negative.” Positive symptoms include delusions (holding false beliefs) and hallucinations (such as hearing voices even when there is no source for the voice). Negative symptoms include memory problems, a severe loss of interest in people and activities, and an inability to experience emotions and feelings. When in active illness, patients are unable to function in many areas of life—work, interpersonal relationships, and even self-care is disrupted.

For most of the 20th century, the illness was thought to be a result of a chemical imbalance, and that it related to identifiable anatomical brain abnormalities—although the causes were not understood. These days, a relatively new thinking has emerged in the field of schizophrenia: that the underlying problem could be unchecked and chronic inflammation. There are many evidences that point to the role of inflammation, from the presence of inflammatory cells and molecules in the brain, to association with maternal viral infection during pregnancy, to concurrent high risk for autoimmune diseases and infections.

In integrative and functional medicine—where disease is seen as a physiological breakdown in the whole mind-body system—it is being recognized that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many modern illnesses plaguing mankind today. Inflammation is simply the body’s defense and repair response: When a person is cut or bruised, the area becomes red, swollen, hot and painful, which is the body repairing the injury. When the repair is complete, inflammation stops; however, chronic inflammation is now seen as damaging to various organ systems in the body.

The American diet, which is pro-inflammatory and filled with artificial foods and chemicals, is a chief cause of chronic inflammation. Between 2004 and 2015, multiple studies by science centers and hospitals in the UK have found correlations linking high sugar consumption as well as chemicals in processed food to the risk of schizophrenia and other mental health disorders. Chemicals in everyday items we use, such as shampoos, toothpaste, detergent, fragrances, and room fresheners, are also potential triggers. These chemicals did not exist in our environment prior to World War II, and our mind-body systems are failing to cope with them. Lack of a nutrition-dense diet intensifies the problem. The following steps, particularly when enacted as a single program, have shown promise in significantly reducing both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Changes to Diet. The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) elimination diet is recommended for those with chronic inflammation. Patients can also be taught the principles of clean eating. Depending upon the degree of the their symptoms, the support of a loved one or caregiver may be needed to help the patient stick to the appropriate foods.

Nutritional Supplementation. Targeted nutritional supplementation is helpful in addressing a patient’s nutritional deficiencies which factor into the underlying inflammation.

Regular Psychotherapy. Cognitive therapy can teach a patient behavioral and mind techniques to help them cope with, challenge and overcome their symptoms.

Such a plan can reduce the long-term risk for metabolic syndrome, and even reduce the possibility of early mortality, while increasing the patient’s potential for a more productive and happier life.

Recovery is possible. Given that schizophrenia is a complex and devastating illness, caregivers need to look at all possible solutions to help people with this disease. Integrative psychiatry seems to offer new hope as it strives to explore the reasons that people become ill, and then address those causes.

Aruna Tummala, MD, is an integrative psychiatrist at Trinergy Center for Integrative Psychiatry, located at 12800 W National Ave., New Berlin. For more information, call 262-955-6601, email or visit For additional reading on this subject, visit and

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