Eating Tips from a Schizophrenic PerspectiveIf you are living with schizophrenia, you are well aware of the importance of managing your lifestyle to minimize your symptoms every day. Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Nowhere is this truer than in the field of mental health. If fact, many of the dietary changes that can help schizophrenics manage their symptoms can also benefit the general public. Here are some tips from a schizophrenic perspective to help anyone eat more healthily.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids, such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are compounds that the body needs to build cell membranes, but cannot make itself, and so must be found in the diet. It has been well documented that people with schizophrenia are often deficient in these fatty acids. As one of the main functions of these compounds is to help stabilize cell membranes of neurons in the brain, thereby making them more conducive to proper neural communication, it makes sense that schizophrenics who take an omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplement in addition to their prescribed medications tend to have fewer symptoms and better outcomes than those who don’t. For the average person, omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health, help control cholesterol levels, and support joint health. Increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption by eating oily, cold-water fish like salmon twice a week, or consider taking fish oil in the form of capsules, which are available at most pharmacies and health food stores.

Gluten

Doctors have speculated about the links between mental illness and gluten for more than 30 years. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, and it has commonly been implicated in food sensitivities and problems like celiac disease. In some cases, people with schizophrenia have been reported to spontaneously recover when bread products became unavailable, and some schizophrenics carry antibodies to gluten in their blood. The reality is that removing gluten from the diet improves symptoms in some, but not all, schizophrenics. Average people who eliminate gluten from their diets often report better digestion and a reduction in mental “fogginess.” Eliminating gluten from the diet is difficult and requires careful and thorough reading of food labels, but as medical understanding of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has improved, more grocery stores are carrying gluten-free pastas, flours, breads, and cereals.

Sugar

Recent research has indicated strong links between the consumption of refined sugar and mental illness – high levels of dietary sugar are shown to increase the risk of both depression and schizophrenia, and to worsen symptoms in patients who are already living with these challenges. There are a couple of reasons why this is the case. First, refined sugars, simple starches, and high fructose corn syrup inhibit hormones in the brain that help maintain neurons and keep their dendrite connections to one another healthy.

Second, high levels of dietary sugars promote chronic inflammation, which makes brain cells very unhappy. Patients with schizophrenia and depression have shown improvements in energy, mood, and clarity when they reduce the amounts of sugar in their diets. Some schizophrenics who have maintained very low carbohydrate diets, also called ketogenic diets, have reported a great reduction of symptoms. For average people, limiting sugar intake can promote weight loss, better mental clarity and focus, and reduce the risk of developing diabetes, which are of critical importance, as obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions. To reduce your sugar intake, avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, choose fruits and vegetables with a low glycemic index, and when you must eat carbohydrates choose whole grains such as brown rice.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are critical for normal brain function. Folate, B6, and B12 are all vitamins that act as antioxidants, scavenging free radicals that can harm neurons. They also help reduce a chemical in the brain called homocysteine, which can interfere with neuron communication. Niacin, or vitamin B3, deficiency is another cause of impaired mental function, mood disorders, and headaches. For many schizophrenics, supplementation of these vitamins can improve clinical signs. For the average individual, adequate B vitamin levels improve memory, mood, and energy levels, help prevent anemia, and help prevent birth defects. Consider taking a daily multivitamin, which often can provide sufficient levels of all of these B vitamins.

Whether you are living with schizophrenia or you are an average person trying to lead a healthy, active lifestyle, proper nutrition is critical. The statistics of schizophrenia make it very clear; we should make food our medicine for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

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