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Causes & Perceptions of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects approximately 1% of the world population. One or more of a number of varying factors, including genetic malformations or nutritional imbalances can cause it, and it is an often-misunderstood disease.

Thought to be a disturbance in the brain’s chemistry, schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by disordered thinking, delusions (fixed beliefs that are odd or highly unusual), and hallucinations (hearing sounds and seeing things that don’t exist for others).

The illness can be either progressive or episodic. It is sometimes a serious illness; however, the prognosis varies from individual to individual, and many patients experience a full or almost full recovery from schizophrenia, although this might take many years.

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Schizophrenia has been a long misunderstood illness and to be labeled as a schizophrenic ironically brings with it all these misunderstandings.

However, many people do not realize that anyone can experience a schizophrenic episode once in their lifetime and that schizophrenia is such a general label that it can apply to someone who becomes regularly and slightly paranoid during their menstrual period to someone who constantly hallucinates and must be institutionalized.

In the 1999 movie, The Sixth Sense, schizophrenics are represented as possible visionaries. This is not a new idea. In ancient times, schizophrenics were labeled as intuitive and visionaries and were believed to be able to see things that normal people could not see. They were revered and left to wander from home to home. It was thought that having one in your village was a blessing.

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In his book, The New Orthomolecular Nutrition, Abraham Hoffer, MD relates that schizophrenics have been imprisoned, and even in recent history, they have been locked away in institutions and given shock “therapy” (pp. 27-31). Some people have even accused entire groups of modern religious fanatics of being “schizophrenic” in their behavior and fervor for God.

Today, however, modern health care professionals have been able to use historical and alternative information to glean a more complete view of what schizophrenia is. In their book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis Balch, RN, and James Balch, MD, list many possible causes of schizophrenia.

These include: inherited traits, defects in brain chemistry, complications during birth, reaction to a virus in or out of the womb, mercury poisoning from silver amalgam dental fillings, head injury, reactions to vaccines, prescription and non-prescription drugs, undiagnosed pellagra (Vitamin B deficiency), undiagnosed celiac disease (gluten intolerance), and pre-natal or post-natal zinc deficiency or Vitamin C deficiency (pp. 465-467).

In Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pritchard lists undiagnosed candida, allergies, and hypoglycemia as possible causes for schizophrenia. With all the possible causes of schizophrenia, it is prudent to explore all possibilities before settling on a general treatment, psychiatric treatment or treatment for just one cause (pp. 402-404).

Western medical opinion has found that the chemical balance in the brains of schizophrenics is different from that of people without schizophrenia. However, it is important to stress that this could easily be a symptom of schizophrenia rather than the cause. This is something that is over-looked by psychiatric medicine, which is frightening when you think that their treatments are often geared solely towards messing about with this “chemical imbalance.”

Neuroleptics that affect dopamine neurotransmitter systems are effective in managing and reducing psychotic symptoms. This group of drugs traditionally includes haloperidol (Haldol), fluphenazine (Prolixin), chlorpromazine (Thorazine), and thioridazine (Mellaril).

However, these drugs can produce problematic side effects including low blood pressure, drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, lethargy, constipation, and weight gain.

The high potency medications like Haldol and Prolixin may produce restlessness, muscle spasms, and tremors as well, but tend to cause fewer problems with blood pressure, blurred visions, dry mouth, and drowsiness.

The most disturbing side-effect, tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary series of tics in the tongue, facial muscles, arms and legs, can occur after years of taking the drugs.

The general medical field largely blames schizophrenia on inherited brain dysfunction. They state that schizophrenia comes about by “defects in a single, complex brain circuit” (psychiatrist, Nancy C. Andreasen of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, in Iowa City).

However, even the researchers themselves are not sure how much of this activity has come about because of the illness itself or the drugs taken for it. Dr. Daniel Weinberger, of the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health, said there was a growing body of evidence that people who develop schizophrenia in adulthood had a brain abnormality from their earliest months of life.

However, the same studies that support this statement also indicate that familial genetic transmission can account for only a portion of the cases of schizophrenia; for example, the concordance rate in monozygotic twins is approximately 40%, suggesting that non-genetic factors must also have a role (Yeager, pp. 7-8).

Dr. Andreasen, furthermore, found in her research that schizophrenia persists as an illness despite the fact that the majority of its victims never marries or procreates, so it seems likely that multiple different nonspecific, non-genetic factors that affect neurodevelopment are implicated.

Such non-genetic factors could come into play at any time during brain development and may primarily affect the regulation of the statement of the many genes that influence brain development and function (Yeager, p. 8).

Neuroscientists believe that the seeds of the disorder are often sown during fetal development. That is when the brain is wired up; nerve cells grow, divide, and build connections with each other. The basic flaw in the brains of many schizophrenics seems to be that certain nerve cells migrate to the wrong areas when the brain is first taking shape, leaving small regions of the brain permanently out of place or mis-wired.

If this is true, then anything that interferes with the wiring of the brain could also be a possible cause for schizophrenia as the child develops out of the womb. It is well known that in the first seven years neurotransmitters in the brain are connecting at a rapid pace. Watching television adversely effects these connections.

Natural health practitioners have long stated that schizophrenia was a result of nutritional deficiencies and now some doctors are beginning to accept this as well.

A Hadith states, “If anyone refrains from eating meat for forty days, his character deteriorates,” highlighting the importance of eating a balanced diet and what may happen if one does not. In fact, the brain is an organ like any other and when nutritional deficiencies exhibit themselves, they can show up there just as easily as in the liver, kidney or heart. Where your nutritional deficiencies and illnesses show up is largely a symptom of your inherited weaknesses. This can be seen in the use of niacin treatment for heart patients and schizophrenia patients.

Abraham Hoffer found in 1960 that there was an excessive conversion of adrenaline into adrenalone in the schizophrenic body. Later research turned up this same imbalance in people with heart disease. Therefore, Dr. Hoffer looked for ways to reverse this. He discovered that administration of high doses of niacin (Vitamin B3 administered under medical supervision in doses of 1-3mg a day for up to five or ten years) would cure both problems (Hoffer and Walker, pp. 110-112).

Essential fatty acids have also been implicated in schizophrenia; infants deprived of breast milk may be at higher risk for developing schizophrenia later in life. Furthermore, in The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicines, authors Michael T. Murray, ND and Joseph Pizzorno, ND state, “Wheat Gluten components have demonstrated opioid (opium like) activity.

This activity is believed to be the factor responsible for the association between wheat consumption and schizophrenia. The hypothesis that gluten is a causative factor in the development of schizophrenia is substantiated by epidemiological, clinical and experimental studies” (p. 223).


This article was first published in 2001 and is currently republished for its importance.


  • Balch, Phyllis, RN and Balch, James, MD. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery Press, 1996.
  • Hoffer, Abraham, MD, Phd. and Walker, Morton, DPM. Putting it all Together: The New Orthomolecular Nutrition. New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1996.
  • Murray, Michael, ND and Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Roklin, California: Prima Publishing, 1991.
  • Pitchford, Paul. Healing With Whole Foods. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1993.
  • Yeager, Selene. New Foods for Healing. Emaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc., 1998.
About Dr. Karima Burns
Dr. Karima Burns has been counseling as a Home-path for over 9 years. From the U.S. she is a doctor in Naturopathy, a Master Herbalist, and teaches with inspiration from the Waldorf school. She uses art, health and education to heal others.