Schizophrenia And The Paleo Diet

Schizophrenia And The Paleo Diet

If you have a loved one who suffers from the debilitating mental condition of schizophrenia, the quality of life is often very low.1, 2 With a growing rate of schizophrenia worldwide, any measures that may help improve this, should be considered.3, 4

Even more sadly, sometimes improvements in symptoms do not necessarily equate to a better quality of life.5 Cognitive impairment, however, can be correlated with perceived quality of life, where improved cognition could potentially lead to a better life in schizophrenics.6, 7, 8

Scientifically, it seems mental disorders, like schizophrenia, may be an issue of glutamatergic transmission.9, 10 Researchers note the deletion at the SLC1A1 glutamate transporter gene,11 which has also been shown in sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder.12 Glutamatergic theories of schizophrenia are based on the ability of N-methyl-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonists to induce schizophrenia-like symptoms.13

Schizophrenia and Diet

(As Seen In: Zhou Y, Danbolt NC. GABA and Glutamate Transporters in Brain. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2013;4:165.)

If the glutamatergic hypothesis is indeed correct, it stands to reason that altering one’s diet may result in cognitive improvements.14 Couple this with the fact that schizophrenia has been shown to present with intestinal permeability15 Also of note, schizophrenics are 50 times more likely to have celiac disease,16 correlation that is very intriguing, if somewhat unsurprising.

We have discussed gluten’s negative cognitive effects previously in Gluten and the Brain, 17, 18 but besides gluten, deficiencies in vitamin C, niacin and folate may worsen symptoms of schizophrenia.19 As researchers noted in 2003, a growing body of evidence implicates GABA (an important inhibitory neurotransmitter) in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.20, 21 Schizophrenics, especially when eating an unhealthy diet, may have altered GABA synthesis.22 Researchers found that a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet, may be useful in treating schizophrenic patients.23 This is thought to partially be from the increased synthesis of GABA in the brain.24

Schizophrenia and Diet

(As Seen In: Gordon JA. Testing the glutamate hypothesis of schizophrenia. Nat Neurosci. 2010;13(1):2-4.)

Schizophrenia and Diet

(As Seen In: Schwartz TL, Sachdeva S, Stahl SM. Glutamate neurocircuitry: theoretical underpinnings in schizophrenia. Front Pharmacol. 2012;3:195.)

The Paleo Diet is rich in “brain foods,” that are shown to have positive effects on cognition.25

These foods include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can be found in wild-caught fish.26

It also includes flavonoids, which have been shown to help with cognitive decline.27

Choline is also an overlooked essential nutrient. It can be found in egg yolks28 In fact, lower amounts of choline acetyltransferase in the pontine tegmentum of schizophrenic patients suggests involvement of pontine cholinergic neurons in the disorder.29

If you, or a loved one, are diagnosed with a debilitating mental disorder like schizophrenia, it’s important to try any and all methods, in hopes that quality of life can be improved. A Paleo Diet that is low in carbohydrate, and removes problematic proteins like gluten, would be a good start. Couple this with a regimen that is high in vitamins and minerals, and great results are likely be seen. The formula is simple: If improving the quality of food, can help improve the quality of life, what have you got to lose?

Table of Contents


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17. Available at: Accessed August 15, 2014.

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22. Vierling-claassen D, Siekmeier P, Stufflebeam S, Kopell N. Modeling GABA alterations in schizophrenia: a link between impaired inhibition and altered gamma and beta range auditory entrainment. J Neurophysiol. 2008;99(5):2656-71.

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24 Bough KJ, Rho JM. Anticonvulsant mechanisms of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2007;48(1):43-58.

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28. Mccann JC, Hudes M, Ames BN. An overview of evidence for a causal relationship between dietary availability of choline during development and cognitive function in offspring. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(5):696-712.

29. Karson CN, Casanova MF, Kleinman JE, Griffin WS. Choline acetyltransferase in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 1993;150(3):454-9.