Diet and psychotic disorders      

Psychotic disorders and effects on health and well-being

Psychotic disorders (estimated prevalence one percent in Western populations) are serious neuropsychiatric disorders that result in significant levels of distress to the individual and their family and friends. The ongoing nature of the symptoms and behaviours in these conditions often result in chronic health challenges.

Psychotic disorders are considered a risk factor for many common non-infectious diseases, such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, people with schizophrenia have 20-year shorter lifespan than the general population. Increased illness and early death in those with psychosis are related to unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, obesity, smoking, low physical activity), and the side-effects of antipsychotic drugs. In particular, second-generation antipsychotics may lead to rapid weight gain, and disturbances in cardio- and glucose metabolism, possibly by modulation of gut microbiota. The weight gain and other metabolic disturbances that arise from treatment is a substantial issue in psychiatry, with limited options existing to avoid these. Therefore, there is an urgent need for better understanding of the underlying pathways that give rise to psychotic illnesses and their associated health conditions and for improved treatment options for these disorders that also address physical health.

Risk factors for psychotic disorders?

To date, we have some understanding of the factors that appear to increase the risk for psychotic disorders, such as susceptibility genes that play a role in brain development, and some environmental factors, such as maternal infections and malnutrition, as well as exposure to stress and early adversity. Many of these factors are not readily amenable to preventive interventions, so it is critical that we now identify risk factors for psychotic illness that are modifiable. We think that diet and nutrition may be such a risk factor!

Possibilities of dietary interventions in psychotic individuals

Numerous interventions in psychotic patients have targeted weight gain prevention, weight reduction and implementing healthier lifestyle, with varied success. However, such interventions have not focused on psychotic symptoms as outcomes, but rather only health behaviours and metabolic outcomes, such as weight gain. In contrast, there is good evidence from the new field of nutritional psychiatry to suggest that diet and nutrition play an important role in preventing and treating common mental disorders. The new evidence in this field has prompted a paradigm shift in psychiatry and is now giving rise to new treatments and preventive interventions. However, we lack an equivalent evidence base in psychotic disorders and this gap in research needs to be filled.

What are we doing?

An important research aim for members of the Food & Mood Centre is to investigate, in people with psychotic illnesses, dietary patterns, intake of nutrients and nutrient status, the presence of food allergies and sensitivities, and the composition of gut microbiota, in order to evaluate the possible role of each in the onset and progression of psychotic disorders. In addition, we aim to conduct dietary intervention studies in people with psychotic symptoms.

To do this we need your help! Any amount, no matter how small, will help to support this important new program of research.