Among the many pharmaceutical options available for treating mental health issues, antipsychotic medications are some of the most over-prescibed. So much so in fact, that in 2015 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the U.S. issued a report urging lower uses of antipsychotic meds for elderly patients suffering from symptoms of dementia, citing a number of dangerous side effects of this class of drugs.
“They blunt behaviour. They can cause sedation. It increases a patient’s risk for falls. And, if you just want to get to the very basic bottom line, why should someone pay for something that’s not needed?” says Bradley Williams, geriatric pharmacist, University of Southern California.
Just as with depression and anxiety, numerous cases demonstrate that dietary changes and other lifestyle changes can oftentimes achieve better results, and more safely, than using psychotropic medications.
Georgia Ede, MD, psychiatrist and pharmacologist in Massachusetts reports on two interesting cases where low-carb diets, specifically ketogenic diets, seemed to be exceptionally beneficial in improving conditions in patients who would ordinarily have been prescribed antipsychotic medications.
The cases involved “Dr. Chris Palmer, a psychiatrist from Harvard’s McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.” Dr Palmer described the experiences of two adults in his practice with schizoaffective disorder who had tried a ketogenic diet.
“Where schizophrenia is characterised primarily by psychotic symptoms, people with schizoaffective disorder have to cope not only with psychosis but also with overlapping periods of severe mood symptoms. Signs of psychosis include paranoia, auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, intrusive thoughts/images, and/or disorganised thinking. Mood episodes may include depression, euphoria, irritability, rage, suicidal thoughts, and/or mood swings. As a practising psychiatrist for more than 15 years, I can tell you that schizoaffective disorder is a particularly challenging diagnosis for people to live with and for psychiatrists to treat. Even the most potent antipsychotic and mood stabilising medications available often don’t bring sufficient relief, and those medications come with a significant risk of side effects.”
The first case outlined involved a 31-year-old woman with an eight year diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder who had tried twelve different medications, including, “a powerful antipsychotic agent considered by many psychiatrists to be the medication of last resort due to its risk of serious side effects.” The patient had also undergone extensive electroshock therapy, but saw incredible changes with a ketogenic diet.
“She had also undergone 23 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT or what used to be called “electric shock treatments”), yet remained troubled by serious symptoms. She decided to try a ketogenic diet with the hope of losing some weight. After four weeks on the diet, her delusions had resolved and she’d lost ten pounds. At four months’ time, she’d lost 30 pounds and her score on a clinical questionnaire called the PANSS (Positive and Negative Symptom Scale), which ranks symptoms on a scale from 30 (best) to 210 (worst), had come down from 107 to 70.”
In a second case, a 33-year-old man with a fourteen year diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, who had tried seventeen medication without success, had decided to try a ketogenic diet for weight loss.
“Within three weeks, he reported a “dramatic” reduction in auditory hallucinations and delusions, as well as better mood, energy, and concentration. Over the course of a year, he lost a total of 104 pounds. When in ketosis, his PANSS scores improved significantly—falling from 98 to only 49. His daily function and quality of life also improved dramatically; he moved out of his father’s home, began dating, and started taking college courses.”
In both of these cases, the patient’s negative side-effects returned once the ketogenic diet was abandoned, giving a strong indication of the power of a low-carb diet to treat the mental disorders for which antipsychotic medications are prescribed