Using the Paleo diet to treat schizophrenia

By: Bel Marra Health | Brain Function | Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 04:00 PM

Using the Paleo diet to treat schizophreniaThe Paleo diet has gained popularity as of late, but can it be the ideal diet to treat schizophrenia as well? The Paleo diet is a style of eating similar to our ancestors – cavemen so to speak. This involves a hunter-gatherer mentality – what could previously be hunted and gathered by ancient civilization is what is allowed in the diet. Therefore, you won’t see any processed or refined foods.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness which affects how a person acts, thinks and feels. Schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personality disorder, but this is not the case. A person with schizophrenia may have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. They may become withdrawn and act inappropriately in social situations.

Diet changes, essential steps to treat schizophrenia

Diet changes, essential steps to treat schizophreniaDiet can play a large role in many different aspects in our health. Food can help us sleep, reduce stress and even promote cardiovascular health, so it should be of no surprise that food and diet can play a role in mental well-being also.

There are a few recommendations for those with schizophrenia in regards to food. These dietary changes include:

  • Reducing sugar, carbohydrate and caffeine consumption – reducing these foods can help better manage blood sugar; these foods can typically act as stimulants, which can worsen schizophrenia symptoms.
  • Consume more foods with essential fatty acids – fatty acids have been noted to be reduced in those with schizophrenia.
  • Eat more antioxidant-rich foods – oxidization can occur in the brains of people with schizophrenia. Antioxidants can help combat this.
  • Take a multivitamin to ensure you receive adequate vitamins and minerals – this may help control hallucinations.
  • Cut out gluten – mental illness has been shown to increase a person’s sensitivity to gluten.

Is the Paleo diet useful for schizophrenia treatment?

Is the Paleo diet useful for schizophrenia treatment?The premise of the paleo diet is to consume foods which ancient civilizations would eat. There are seven premises which the Paleo diet is based on which include:

  • High protein
  • Low carbohydrates and low glycemic index
  • High fiber
  • Moderate to high fat intake
  • High potassium, low sodium
  • Dietary alkaline balances dietary acid
  • High intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

Essentially, the Paleo diet consists of all things natural, so if it’s processed, packaged or contains added sugars, it is not allowed in the Paleo diet. Foods to completely avoid when you’re on the Paleo diet are dairy, grains, processed foods and sugar, legumes, starches and alcohol.

There is a hypothesis known as the glutamatergic hypothesis which refers to an issue with glutamatergic transmission. People with mental illness have shown a deletion of the SLC1A1 glutamate transporter gene. In regards to schizophrenia, the glutamatergic theory explains the ability of N-methyl-aspartate receptor antagonists to induce schizophrenia-like symptoms.

Essentially, diet can play a role in cognitive improvements. It has also been shown that many schizophrenics have celiac disease, which outlines a gut-mind connection as well. Because the Paleo diet does not allow for grains – which contain gluten – it is recommended for those with schizophrenia. Furthermore, the Paleo diet contains many other essential “brain foods” which can help promote cognitive function.

Recommended foods for the Paleo diet include:

Meat: Grass-fed beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork, etc.

Fish and seafood: Salmon, shrimp, trout, shellfish, etc.


Vegetables: Kale, peppers, onions, etc.

Fruits: Avocados, tomatoes, apples, bananas, berries, etc.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.

Healthy fats and oils: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil

Salt and spices: Sea salt is best

Foods suitable for schizophrenics

Schizophrenics are recommended to consume the following:

  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids – oily fish, vegetable oils, purslane, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, cucumber, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, pineapples and nuts
  • Foods high in vitamin B
  • Foods high in vitamin C, A, and E

As you can see, many of the recommended foods for schizophrenics are also the same foods which appear on the Paleo diet’s approved food list. Furthermore, even the foods which schizophrenics should avoid – sugar, processed food, alcohol and carbohydrates – are the same foods to avoid on the Paleo diet. Therefore, the Paleo diet would be a suitable diet for a person with schizophrenia to embark on.

Case study: How diet change helped treat schizophrenia

Bernice Royal wrote about her experience with schizophrenia and how dietary changes helped improve her condition. Royal was diagnosed with schizophrenia back in 2002 and was determined to find alternative means to treat it.

Royal acknowledged she had a poor diet prior to their diagnosis, consuming pasta, coffee and sandwiches. Since her diagnosis she changed her diet to consume minimal sugar, reduced the amount of coffee she drank, and primarily sticks with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Even though Royal is on medication she believes her diet changes help maintain her health and help control negative symptoms related to schizophrenia. You can read more about Royal’s journey here.

We are continuously reminded that food can have a large impact on our health – and often for the better if we make the right choices. If you’re unsure how to eat healthy or need assistance in doing so, you can always speak with a doctor or dietician.

Related Reading:

Paleo diet: Is eating like a caveman best for our health?

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Paleo diet vs. ketogenic diet

In the world of diets it’s hard to pick the one best suited for you. This is why it’s important to understand each diet and how each one can help you achieve your goals. Both the Paleo diet and ketogenic diet have been increasing in popularity. Continue reading…


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