The Causes for and Treatments of Schizophrenia: The Latest Research

I realize this piece is not about dissociative identity disorder, but what I am about to share with you today is very important. I have been wanting to write this piece for a while now but had to find the time, and today is the day.

While reading, please, remember I am not a mental health professional or a professional of any type for that matter. I only hold an Associate in Arts degree in psychology. However, I have spent many hours reading research papers detailing new information about schizophrenia and wish to inform you so you can take it to your mental health provider.

Recent research has uncovered three main culprits that work together to form the perfect storm of schizophrenia. What has been coming out of recent research projects, and what I’m going to share with you today, should fill you with hope especially if you or someone you love has schizophrenia.

So, sit back, hold on tight, and be prepared to be amazed.

The Genetic Component of Schizophrenia

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There can be no doubt that schizophrenia does have a hereditary component. However, just because someone inherits the correct combination of the possible genes for the disorder does not necessarily mean they will have them express and form schizophrenia.

 

In fact, in 1997, Dr. Steven E. Hyman, Chairperson of the National Advisory Mental Health Council and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health stated in a speech he gave that there are approximately ten genetic variables that come to play in schizophrenia.

Not only are there genetic alterations that can create the opportunity for schizophrenia to develop, but there is also a growing belief that schizophrenia is preventable and possibly, in the future, curable.

To give you an idea of the reality of this line of thinking, researchers have studied twins who have both inherited the genetic propensity for forming schizophrenia.  In Denmark, in 2017, scientists undertook the largest genetic research using twins who have inherited the genes related to the disorder.

To perform their study, the researchers combined two nationwide registries, the registry of twins and of the psychiatric research, a sample of people born between 1950 and 2000 including 31,524 twins. They followed the lives of these people from 1997 to 2001 to see who would develop schizophrenia.

They concluded that although there was a 79% risk that the genes for schizophrenia would lead to illness, there was only 33% of the twins formed the disorder. That meant that genetics are not solely the cause of schizophrenia.

There must be other triggers to identify too.

Brain Inflammation and Schizophrenia

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As far back as 1998, and possibly sooner, researchers indicated that viral prenatal or adult infections from toxoplasmosis or Lyme disease were involved in the formation of schizophrenia. The researchers realized that “normal complex proteins” that our immune system recognizes when we have an autoimmune reaction related to RNA and DNA), are inherited from our parents.

The genetic code for all organisms on earth are nearly the same, so, the language of the proteins we normally create inside white blood cells (the cells that fight infection) make it easy for invading viruses to exist despite our immune system.

Protected by the blood/brain barrier, normally pathogens cannot enter the brain while helpful cells like white blood cells can enter.

So, a person who has the genetic components for schizophrenia contracts an infection and produces white blood cells to kill the invading virus. The virus mimics the proteins in the white blood cells to survive their onslaught and in doing so bypasses the blood/brain barrier to cause a mild to severe inflammatory response in the brain. To rid itself of the virus, the autoimmune response inside the brain causes it to begin destroying even after the invasion has passed and the virus is long dead. The inflammatory response in the brain activates the genes for schizophrenia causing them to express themselves and bring on the first episode of psychosis.

Further research1 suggests that while many regions of the brain become affected by this inflammation, the corpus callosum is one that has a major impact on the lives of those living with any mental health disorder, especially schizophrenia.

To explain this further, consider an appliance in your home that does not work properly because the insulation of a damaged cord leaving the wire exposed.

This leaves the signal from the wall outlet to the device either disrupted or intermittently disrupted leaving the appliance to work but turning off and on at random. Sometimes you may notice that your appliance works well for a long time but then suddenly and without warning, stops working. We describe this scenario as the appliance having a short.

The “insulation” of the corpus callosum consists of a fatty substance called myelin that acts as insulation. Without myelin, or with gaps in it, the brains “wiring” cannot propagate a signal properly. If this hypothesis proves correct, the reason people diagnosed with schizophrenia seem to get better then experience the sudden return of symptoms is the same as the in your home appliance, their brain is experiencing a short.

The Western Diet

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 I think all of us have heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Well, that is more truthful than once thought. The diet that exists in the western developed countries filled with artificial substances and extremely processed to the point where what we eat is no longer necessarily healthy for us, is killing us.

The microbiota living in our gut is vital to good health both mentally and physically as it keeps our bodies free of viruses and bacteria that are harmful to our organs, including the brain. Because of how we eat, the balance of beneficial and unhealthy microbes becomes disrupted leaving us vulnerable to diseases and disorders. If the fauna growing in our gut cannot do its job properly, then inflammation will appear as our bodies struggle to rid itself of the harmful pathogens introduced to our form every day.

Implicated in the breaking down of the brain’s defenses causing damage to vital regions of the brain, inflammation is a vital component to consider. In a research paper written by Senit, et. al2., they report that there are times during our lives when the gut microbiota its most unstable. Although adult brains, influenced to a certain extent, are vulnerable, it is during early childhood and mid to late adolescence when the microbes living in our gut are the least likely to help keep inflammation at bay.

Think about it.

When does schizophrenia usually strike? Isn’t it in late adolescence when our children are beginning to strike out on their own as adults? Going to college, moving out, and getting their first job?

The Tragic Cascade of Events Leading to the First Psychotic Episode

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I would like you to track the following scenario to help you understand how schizophrenia may occur and is stealing the lives of our youth.

Your son is born in the winter during the heart of flu season. Although you received exposure to the flu virus during your pregnancy, you were pleasantly surprised when your immune system successfully kept you from becoming ill.

Your boy is born healthy, and you take him home to raise him in a typical American household feeding him the typical American diet.

The boy grows well and shows no signs of having anything but a healthy and normal childhood. He is intelligent and decides when he is a senior in high school that he will attend college at a university in a different state. Although you know you will miss him, when the day comes, you help him pack his things and watch as he drives away to his new adventure.

Your boy does well his first semester bringing home excellent grades, and during Christmas break seems happy and ready to take on his second semester.

He returns to school.

Then a few weeks later, you receive a phone call from his roommate who is very concerned. He tells you that your son is acting erratically and recently began talking to people who are not there. You ask the young man on the other end of the phone if they had been doing any drugs, but he emphatically denies that they have or that he has seen your son do so. You call your son the next morning and listen frightened as your child describes how people are out to get him and that he doesn’t believe you are who you say you are. Within a week he is in the hospital for the first of many times to come.

While talking to the doctor, he asks if there is any history of schizophrenia in your family and you admit that a cousin twice removed lived with the disorder until his early death a decade earlier.

What happened here?

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There were four strikes against this young man.

First, although the gene for schizophrenia had lain dormant in your parent related to the cousin and you, the genes became inherited by your son.

Second, while he was in your womb, you received exposure to the flu virus which set your immune system busy carrying out immune responses to kill the invader. To survive, the flu virus mimicked the white blood cells in your bloodstream sent to kill it and was successful. After flowing around your body, it reaches your unborn child, breaches the placenta, and then crosses through the blood/brain barrier to enter the brain of your child. This causes the beginning of an inflammatory response that will last for decades gradually destroying myelin and creating shorts in the “wiring” of the corpus callosum.

Third, raised in an American household, his body and brain became flooded with foods rich in unnatural ingredients and highly processed that heightened the inflammation in his brain by destroying the gut bacteria that protects it. This process speeds up the damaging of the corpus callosum and other regions in his brain.

Fourth, he reached late adolescence when his gut bacteria were the most unstable and incapable of controlling the cascading attack on the boy’s brain any longer. Thus, the “wiring” insulation collapses causing a “short” creating his first psychotic break.

How Can We Prevent this Fateful Cascade?

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One of the saddest parts of my investigation into the connection between brain inflammation and the formation of schizophrenia is that this is knowledge learned over a century ago.3

 Why is it only now that we are looking into this vital connection is coming to the forefront?

It may be that researchers were so determined that schizophrenia was a genetic disorder that they became blind to any other explanation. It may also be true that the huge profits earned by big Pharma in the treatment of schizophrenia kept the findings of researchers silenced. I sincerely hope that the latter is false but would not be surprised it is true.

One preventative measure to prevent schizophrenia is to address the chances of a virus setting up inflammation in the infant’s brain while in utero. By treating the [mother with anti-viral medications such as TamifluR[4] during pregnancy or the baby after birth the tragedy of schizophrenia is possibly avoidable.

Another preventative measure would be for parents to opt not to feed their children with highly processed foods. That would be extremely difficult in our modern world, but it may come to families growing their own food and staying away as much as possible from any type of food prepackaged and then sold at the grocery store.

One other thing to consider, which I will not go into deep detail about in this piece, is that we are harming ourselves because Americans love convenience. We package things in Styrofoam, aluminum, and plastic that then leaches into what we eat greatly increasing the risk of inflammation not just in our brains but in our bodies as well. We make things worse by cooking in containers made by these substances, further allowing harmful chemicals to enter our bodies.

Future Treatments

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Since inflammation is the main culprit here, the most obvious treatment for adults living with schizophrenia are anti-inflammatory medications. In fact, clinical trials and research is ongoing to see if such medications can help. What they are finding is promising.

Another future treatment is using engineered viruses to repair the damages done to the “wiring” in the white matter of the brain (corpus callosum included.) This research carried out as a treatment for multiple sclerosis, has huge implications for not just MS and schizophrenia, but also for most other mental health disorders.

Bottom line, we are looking at the beginning of a revolution in the detection, treatment, and possible cure for many if not most mental health disorders.

I hope you have found this article as helpful to you as it was interesting to write for me. I shall keep you apprised of future findings and better understanding in the fight against schizophrenia.

References

 

  1. Khandaker, G. M., Cousins, L., Deakin, J., Lennox, B. R., Yolken, R., & Jones,

P.B. (2015). Inflammation and immunity in schizophrenia: implications for

pathophysiology and treatment. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 258-270.

 

  1. Cenit, M. C., Sanz, Y., & Codoñer-Franch, P. (2017). Influence of gut

microbiota on neuropsychiatric disorders. World journal

Gastroenterology, 23(30), 5486.

Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5558112/

 

  1. Brown, A. S., & Patterson, P. H. (2010). Maternal infection and schizophrenia:

implications for prevention. Schizophrenia bulletin, 37(2), 284-290.

Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044639/

 

  1. Khandaker, G. M., Cousins, L., Deakin, J., Lennox, B. R., Yolken, R., & Jones,

B. (2015). Inflammation and immunity in schizophrenia: implications for

pathophysiology and treatment. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 258-270.

Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26359903

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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