Every year new research is produced concerning schizophrenia. Although schizophrenia is not fully understood, new research is identifying some potential interventions and possible causes of schizophrenia.
Prevention and Early Intervention Research
One new study found that taking a fish oil supplement prior to any symptoms of schizophrenia may actually help prevent psychosis from developing. Researchers tested the efficacy of taking long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of psychotic disorders. The results show that taking Omega-3 not only reduces the risk psychotic disorders developing further but may also provide a viable strategy of prevention in young children with a predisposition for psychotic states. Omega-3 fatty acids have lately become popular in mainstream society for potentially helping prevent heart disease and cancer. Often labeled as Omega-3 fish oil, it can be purchased in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Omega-3 fatty acids and the possible prevention of psychosis
In a randomized controlled study of at risk young adults, a European study showed that Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) reduced the number of young adults who develop psychosis. The effect was powerful but the total number of subjects was only 81, so the promising study needs to be replicated with a larger
sample. Despite this sample limitation, this is a powerful piece of the prevention literature and more needs to be understood about dosing and effect. At this time, NAMI's medical director advises individuals in the teen to young adult developmental stage who have early symptoms or prodrome of psychosis to take omega three fatty acids as there appear to be few risks in this strategy with potential benefit. The study can be found in the February 2010 edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry
The RAISE Project
The Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) Project is a research initiative started by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2009 to explore the benefits of early and aggressive treatment in reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia. Previous research has shown that stepping in during the early stages of psychosis proves to be most beneficial because symptoms are the most responsive to treatment. By addressing the illness early and designing a personalized program, individuals may have more success in accepting and maintaining treatment and consequently improved functional ability in life.
In August 2011 the RAISE Project began full-scale clinical trials. Two independent research groups are working in parallel to develop and test potential intervention approaches. The treatments are similar but the research approaches and settings are different, allowing RAISE researchers to rigorously test interventions under a variety of conditions. One group, led by John M. Kane, M.D., of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, is called the RAISE Early Treatment Program (ETP). The ETP will compare two different ways of providing care to people in early stages of schizophrenia. Treatment may include personalized medication treatment, individual resiliency training and supportive services such as family psychoeducation and education or employment assistance.
The second team, the RAISE Connection Program, headed by Susan Essock, Ph.D., of Columbia University, aims to engage participants in individually tailored treatment, illness management strategies, education and/or employment assistance, supportive services and follow-up care for up to two years.
Research into the Causes of Schizophrenia
Marijuana as Trigger in Some Individuals
There are two broad areas of causation for schizophrenia, genetic and environmental. One of these environmental factors that have been studied of late is the effect that smoking marijuana has on the increased risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms. Environmental causes act by triggering specific genes, causing them to "turn on or off." According to a study published in March 2011 by Dr. Jim van Os, researchers found that not only did smoking marijuana increase the risk psychotic incidents but increased the risk of ongoing psychotic experiences. Further results pointed to the notion that smoking marijuana was a causal factor to the onset of schizophrenia rather than a form of self-medication.
Corroborating this evidence is a study released in February of 2011, which found that the smoking of marijuana led to earlier onset of schizophrenia and almost always preceded the manifestation of the illness. The opinion that marijuana is a cause of schizophrenia as opposed to a byproduct is qualified by another study, also released this past February, which found that certain genetic variations increased the effects that marijuana had on triggering psychosis. This body of literature is strengthening the evidence for the risks that marijuana poses for the development of schizophrenia.
Genes and Risk
Unlike some other conditions, schizophrenia is not caused by just one genetic variation but rather is a complex interplay of many genetic and environmental influences. New research continues to find other genetic mutations as potential contributing causes, albeit to only small populations. For example, one genetic difference recently identified appears to increase the likelihood by 14 times. However, this genetic variation only appears in about one percent of patients. This study represents a trend in understanding in more detail some genetic vulnerabilities, but they do not yet account for more than a small percentage of overall genetic factors to understand risk. Each study in this genetic risk area represents progress but the field has a long way to go.
Schizophrenia Research Foundation
The Schizophrenia Research Forum website is a rich resource that fosters collaboration among researchers by providing an international online forum where ideas, research news and data can be presented and discussed. The website is independent of industry sponsorship and open to the public. Though geared toward researchers, they welcome other visitors-people with mental illnesses, families, the media and others who need accurate information on research into schizophrenia.
NAMI Family Support Found To Be Effective
Dr. Lisa Dixon and her colleagues at the University of Maryland evaluated NAMI's own Family-to-Family program. She designed a randomized controlled study to evaluate the impact of family to family on those who took it and a randomly assigned group who had to wait. The individuals who took the course felt better educated, more empowered and showed better coping strategies. This is a groundbreaking study of the intervention. This study makes advocating for the popular program even easier, as it now has a scientifically validated evidence base.
A new antipsychotic medication named lurasidone was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2011 and is distributed under the brand name Latuda. Lurasidone has been shown to be effective on both positive and negative symptoms, as well as possibly be efficacious in treating cognitive and memory deficits.
New, more effective medications are always needed. Recent developments point to ones that will be effective on both positive and negative symptoms, as well as possibly being efficacious in treating cognitive and memory deficits.
Taking medication is not, and should not be the only way a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia is treated. Education and social support are also critical to recovery. However, support is not only crucial for the individual living with schizophrenia; the family and loved ones of this individual sometimes need support as well. A recent study published looked at the helpfulness of enrolling in NAMI's Family-to-Family Program, an evidence-based practice. At the conclusion of the 12-week program, participants demonstrated greater feelings of empowerment and reduced displeasure and worry about the family member who live with mental illness. In a follow up six months later, these positive benefits were still maintained, pointing to the long term benefits of engaging in an education and support.