Improving Mood and Brain Function Naturally to Avoid Neuroleptics
Dennis was twenty-three when his mother brought him into my office. She was leading him by the hand, as he walked haltingly, and sat him down in the chair. He was drooling, his mouth open, staring straight ahead. He could answer, but only “yes” or “no.” His mom said his condition was now worse than when he was having hallucinations and was totally paranoid and had to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I asked him if he still had hallucinations, and he slowly responded, “yes.” Then I asked him he was paranoid, and he slowly said, “yes.” He was still having symptoms, but was unable to respond to them because of the sedating effects of the medications.
We did some tests and found he had some nutrient deficiencies, so we put him on a regimen to correct them while slowly weaning him off the drugs. Within months he was off all medications and was doing much better. He no longer had hallucinations and was not paranoid. He got a dog, and a fish, and began playing the fiddle (he was an accomplished Irish fiddler) at a couple of the nursing homes in town.
Neuroleptics, or antipsychotic medications like those given to Dennis, are drugs that suppress the nervous system. There are many different types, but they all have similar effects… and side-effects.
Symptoms of Psychosis
The word “psychosis” refers to a range of conditions that affect the mind, in which there has been some loss of contact with reality. A person with psychosis is, at times, unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is just in their minds.
Psychosis is characterized by significant changes in a person’s perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.
- A person may experience hallucinations (hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling things that actually aren’t real) and delusions (unshakable belief in something that is not true and that others do not share).
- Hallucinations and delusions are very real to the person and can be distressing and frightening.
- There can be other changes in thought processes, mood, sleep, and behavior.
The experience of psychosis varies greatly from person to person. Each person may have very different symptoms.
Psychosis can result from a number of different causes and can occur in a variety of mental and physical illnesses.
Antipsychotic medications are often prescribed for treating psychosis in efforts to reduce or stop the frequency and intensity of psychotic symptoms. Common brands of antipsychotics include Haldol, Abilify, Clozaril, Geodon, Invega, Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa (Olanzapine) and Fanapt (Iloperidone).
Do Antipsychotic Meds Work?
The effectiveness of neuroleptics for even schizophrenia is questionable. One analysis of multiple studies showed the effectiveness only slightly better than placebo. What’s most interesting is that the placebo worked about a fourth of the time. The medications worked less than half the time.
Many are using antipsychotics to “head off” or prevent the onset of psychosis in those who seem to be at risk. But there is no evidence of mental-stabilizing properties. In fact, the evidence seems to show that they don’t prevent psychosis.
While these medications may decrease the symptoms of psychosis in a minority of people, they don’t seem to be able to improve the function of the brain. They merely mask the symptoms by causing sedation so the patient doesn’t respond to the psychosis, as was the case of Dennis, above.
The Biggest Problem with Neuroleptic Medicines are Side-effects
John is in his fifties and has a great deal of anxiety. He has been to many different doctors and has tried many medications for anxiety, but none of them worked. They either didn’t help or they made him drowsy so he couldn’t function. His psychiatrist decided to give him a neuroleptic medication, Iloperidone. He immediately started gaining weight due to uncontrollable hunger. Even right after eating two cans of beans each with a plate full of rice he was still hungry. Also, he was suddenly unable to sleep, staying up all night, and unable to function in the morning. After more than a month he had gained almost twenty pounds and didn’t remember sleeping at all. He went to his doctor, who took him off the medication, but the problems persisted.
After more than a year without the medications he still has constant hunger, doesn’t sleep, and now has diabetes. It’s a constant struggle just to get some sleep. Sleeping pills have not helped. His calcitonin hormone levels are still high, and fat makes up almost half his blood volume. He has been in the hospital for these issues, but none of the medications he is given are helping his problems. The damage seems to be permanent.
One of the big issues with all the neuroleptic medications is that they can cause permanent neurological and metabolic injury. A partial list of side-effects include:
Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Dry mouth
- Blurry vision
- Memory impairment
- Difficulty urinating
- Decreased sweating
Extrapyramidal (nerve/motor) Symptoms
- Acute dyskinesia (muscle movement problems)
- Dystonic reaction (spasms)
- Tardive dyskinesia (chronic involuntary movements)
- Bradykinesia (slowed movement)
- Akinesia (no movement, or use of muscles)
- Akathisia (lack of sensation)
- Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (severe reaction, sometimes fatal)
Hyperprolactinemia (pituitary hormone tumor)
Agranulocytosis (inability to make white blood cells)
Cardiac Arrhythmias (heart disease, prolonged Q-T interval)
Metabolic Syndrome Issues
- Dyslipidemia (high fat in the blood)
- Diabetes Mellitus, type 2
Death in Older Patients (“Black Box” warning)
These effects are not rare, but are very common. In one international survey of 353 patients taking antipsychotic medications, more than half had side effects, but fewer than 25% reported them to their doctor. Too often, the doctors aren’t even getting feedback from their patients that they are having problems. So, the doctors believe the neuroleptic medications are working and the patients don’t have any side-effects. This leads to more prescriptions of the same. Any doctor with a couple of patients like John would be much more careful in prescribing such medications.
Moreover, the effects, once a person gets them, last for life, or cause an early death.
For all of these reasons, the current guidelines urge caution in prescribing antipsychotics for patients who don’t have psychosis.
Many who don’t have psychosis are prescribed antipsychotics
Sherry works in the movie industry. She spends all day on movie sets, and is constantly stressed. She usually eats sandwiches, cookies and snacks from the catered food. She has weeks of high-stress, followed by months of nothing (no income, high-stress). Because she was dealing with anxiety and depression, her doctor put her on Olanzapine. It worked to keep her calm in her high-stress environment, but she started gaining weight. She became diabetic and came to see me. After testing, it was clear she had some metabolic disturbances from the medication, but she was unwilling to stop it. She is on a careful diet, but remains about fifty pounds overweight. She also remains at risk for the complications of diabetes such as heart disease, amputations, Alzheimer’s disease, blindness and dialysis.
There is an explosion of antipsychotic prescriptions for people who aren’t psychotic. Several studies show that more than half of all prescriptions are for diseases that the medications are not approved to treat. In other words, they are most often given to treat problems for which they have not been studied.
Antipsychotics are prescribed for a host of conditions, including:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sleep disruption
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Anorexia nervosa
- Substance abuse
Because the symptoms above are very common, the neuroleptic medications are being used more frequently, which leads to so many more people with the side-effects.
In the years from 1995-2002, one study found that there were nearly 6 million outpatient visits to health care providers by children between the ages of 2 and 18, during which antipsychotics were prescribed. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recently found that 19% of children who were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were being treated with the new antipsychotics. Thousands of veterans returning home were prescribed Seroquel to treat PTSD, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders….and some even died in their sleep while taking Seroquel. These military families deserve an explanation!
There Are Many Other Options to Antipsychotic Drugs
I prefer to find the underlying cause of these various brain dysfunctions and fix them. While this is not always possible, there are a few simple places to look.
For example, a deficiency disease known as