Excerpted from Nutrition and Mental Illness
by the late Carl C. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D.
Internationally renowned pioneer in the treatment of mental disturbances through nutrition.
(Our grateful acknowledgement to the Princeton Bio Brain Center for permission to reprint. Following Dr. Pfeiffer’s text are sections added by the editor to define and explain each disorder.)
The term “schizophrenia” is an inadequate and misleading diagnosis. “Disperceptions of unknown cause” is a better term.
If we include fevers, environmental pains, and drug reactions, there must be a hundred ways to go crazy and be diagnosed as schizophrenic.
A comprehensive list of possible causes for disperceptions that cause schizophrenia is shown in the table below.
Causes of Schizophrenia – well-known, less-known, and almost unknown
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Sleep deprivation
- Folic acid/B12 deficiency
- Drug intoxications
- Dementia paralytica
- Psychomotor epilepsy
- Cerebral allergy
- Wheat-gluten sensitivity
- Histapenia – copper excess
- Wilson’s disease
- Chronic Candida infection
- Huntington’s chorea
- Dopamine excess
- Serine excess
- Prolactin excess
- Dialysis therapy
- Serotonin imbalance
- Leucine, histidine imbalance
- Interferon, amantadine, anti-viral drugs
- Platelets deficient in MAO (monoamine
This is a form of syphilis which generally affects patients in their
40s or 50s. Increased behavioral deterioration occurs and the person may
be believed to have a “psychiatric illness” or Alzheimer’s
disease. Symptoms can include convulsions, irritability, difficulty in
concentrating, deterioration of memory, defective judgment, headaches,
insomnia, fatigue, lethargy, deteriorated hygiene emotional instability,
depression, and delusions of grandeur with lack of insight. The patient
gradually progresses toward dementia and paralysis.
A disease caused by a lack of Vitamin B3 (niacin) in the
diet or poor absorption of the vitamin. It is common throughout the
world but infrequent in the U.S. It primarily strikes those lacking
protein in their diets or who have a high corn diet or are unable to
assimilate the vitamin. Symptoms often begin with weakness,
listlessness, insomnia, and weight loss. Exposed skin becomes red and
scaly. Loss of appetite, indigestion, and diarrhea occur. As the disease
progresses the nervous system is impacted, manifesting symptoms such as
headaches, dizziness, aches, muscle tremors and mental disturbances.
Porphyria is an inherited disease, usually first manifesting after
puberty, that prevents the synthesis of heme, the part of blood that
carries oxygen and makes blood red. There are a number of types of
porphyria, some from bone marrow and others from the liver. Neurological
symptoms frequently occur in those stemming from the liver. A review of
2500 psychiatric patients showed a 1.5% occurrence of porphyria.
Porphyria is identified by port-colored urine and feces which darken
on exposure to light. Additional symptoms can be loss of vision,
sensitivity to light, aches and pains, acne, vomiting, diarrhea,
constipation, and abnormal fat metabolism.
Mental and neurological symptoms include irritability, confusion,
delirium, psychosis, depression, hallucinations, seizures, altered
consciousness, mood swings, and paralysis. Genetic carriers can
experience mood swings and body pain while exhibiting no other signs of
This is characterized by insufficient production of thyroid hormone.
It can also be caused by poor metabolism of the thyroid hormone. The
general net result is a slowing of the metabolism. This ailment is
thoroughly covered in Dr. Broda Barnes’ Hypothyroidism: The
Unsuspected Illness. Broda’s book discusses the fact that
hypothyroidism may not show up on standard blood tests and
further testing may be required (covered in the book).
Physical symptoms can include weight increase, sensitivity to cold,
coarsened features, thinning hair, dry puffy skin, pallor, hoarseness,
slurred speech, night blindness, difficulty hearing, vision loss,
migraines, constipation, edema, anemia, joint pain, slowed pulse, muscle
aches, and weakness, and low libido.
Mental symptoms include terrifying dreams, obsessions, frightening
hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal ruminations, psychosis, depression,
emotional instability, delusions, fear, suspiciousness, resentment,
auditory or visual hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis.
Hypothyroidism often first manifests as a result of severe stress.
The book Natural Healing for Schizophrenia reports that 10% of
patients diagnosed with “schizophrenia” have been found to
have thyroid imbalances. It has been estimated that up to 20% of women
over 60 have evidence of hypothyroidism.
This is self-evident.
The compound homocysteine is normally not found in the blood or urine
in noteworthy amounts. Homocysteinuria is a metabolic disorder resulting
in an excessive accumulation of homocysteine in the blood and urine.
Frequency of occurrence is 1 in 100,000 patients.
Elevated homocysteine levels are a risk factor for all kinds of
vascular disease including strokes and heart ailments. Homocysteinuria
can result in mental retardation and seizures.
Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is needed for forming body protein and
hemoglobin. It is also needed to utilize B12. Folic acid and
B12 work together to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and
proteins and to form red blood cells. Older people are most
at risk for developing B12 deficiencies. Also, surgical
removal of part of the intestine can lead to B12 deficiency.
B12 deficiency is the cause of pernicious anemia,
characterized by a gradual reduction in the number of red blood cells
and by gastrointestinal and nervous disturbances. Eighty percent of
pernicious anemia patients show neurological changes and 60% exhibit
Physical symptoms of folic acid deficiency include fatigue and
weakness, paleness, red, sore tongue, lesions in the corner of the
mouth, burning feet, restless leg syndrome, shortness of breath, nausea,
vomiting and, rarely, diarrhea.
Physical symptoms of B12 deficiency include weakness in
the arms and legs (sometimes being mistaken for multiple sclerosis) in
addition to the signs of pernicious anemia.
Mental symptoms of B12 or folic acid deficiency includes
confusion, fatigue, poor memory, difficulty concentrating or learning,
and mental lethargy. It can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s in older
patients. Additional mental disturbances include: loss of alertness,
drive, self-confidence, and independence, social withdrawal, nervous
irritability, headaches, insomnia, moodiness, severe agitation, lack of
coordination, anxiety, delusions of persecution, and mania. Deficiency
may also induce auditory hallucinations, psychosis, and paranoia.
Lack of sleep can occur a number of ways. Total sleep deprivation is
complete absence of sleep. Partial is insufficient sleep night after
night. Sleep can also appear to be sufficient in amount yet be poor in
quality. This occurs with sleep apnea, marked by heavy snoring and
occasional gasps for air – the person is awakened often hundreds of
times a night without knowing it, gulping air due to a closed airway in
Sleep deprivation symptoms include irritability, fatigue, blurred
vision, slurring of speech, memory lapses, and inability to concentrate.
In extreme stages bizarre behavior and hallucinations can occur.
Heavy metals is the term used for a group of elements that have
particular weight characteristics. They are on the “heavier”
end of the periodic table of elements. Some heavy metals – such as
cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, strontium, and
zinc – are essential to health in trace amounts. Others are
non-essential and can be harmful to health in excessive amounts. These
include cadmium, antimony, chromium, mercury, lead, and arsenic –
these last three being the most common in cases of heavy metal toxicity.
Sources of toxicity can include environmental, water supply,
industrial, hobbies, and others, thus a full history of the person’s
work and living habits can help pinpoint potential heavy metal sources.
As an example of the scope of a heavy metal’s toxicity, lead can
affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular
system, blood production, kidneys, and reproductive system.
Lead toxicity physical symptoms include a combinations of
gastrointestinal complaints, anemia and neurological problems; also
headaches and convulsions. Mental symptoms include restlessness,
insomnia, irritability, confusion, excitement, anxiety, delusions, and
Arsenic symptoms include stomach problems, neurological troubles,
kidney failure, increased pigmentation of soles, palms, or other areas,
garlic odor on breath, excessive salivation, progressive blindness, and
others. Mental symptoms include apathy, dementia, and anorexia.
Mercury toxicity has been linked to, among other things, mercury
dental fillings, particularly when people have a large number of them.
Symptoms include a metallic taste in the mouth, excess salivation,
gingivitis, tremors, stomach and kidney troubles. Mental symptoms
include shyness, irritability, apathy and depression, psychosis, mental
deterioration, and anorexia.
This is a common condition of an abnormally low level of sugar in the
blood. Sugar levels frequently change throughout the day and may be
normal sometimes and abnormal at others. Symptoms include weakness,
shakiness, excess hunger, anxiety, outbursts, faintness, headaches,
passing out, delirium, coma, hallucinations, excess sweating, the
appearance of intoxication, marked personality changes, irritability,
negativism, mood swings, depression, crying spells, and a panorama of
similar mental symptoms.
Numerous patients given psychiatric diagnoses have actually turned
out to have hypoglycemia, including those classified with depression,
manic-depressive disorder, and schizophrenia.
Psychomotor epilepsy is also known as temporal lobe epilepsy or
complex partial seizures. Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder in which
the electrical activity of the brain is periodically temporarily
interrupted resulting in a seizure.
Not all seizures are jerking motions. In psychomotor (mind-motion)
epilepsy the seizures are manifested in personality, emotional,
thinking, and behavioral changes. This condition is very likely to be
misdiagnosed as a mental disorder. People with psychomotor
epilepsy have been given schizophrenia, manic depressive, depression,
attention-deficit disorder, and other diagnoses.
The disorder has cyclical phases. The pre-seizure stage can last for
hours or up to seven days with symptoms of moodiness, depression,
anxiety or constant low-level anger, irritation, or annoyance,
accompanied by general unhappiness and constant arguments.
The seizure stage of 60 to 90 seconds can include misperceptions of
the environment, hallucinations, and bizarre sensations.
Between seizures, personality is affected by excessive, tangential
speech, overly emotional feelings, and lack of sexual desire. Under
physical or emotional stress, psychotic episodes can occur.
An allergy is a negative sensitivity, usually to a substance, which
causes a physical reaction. Classical responses include creation of
blood antibodies, histamine release, swelling, itching, runny nose, and
others. However, substances can cause many negative reactions
commonly not associated with allergies.
In the case of cerebral (brain) allergies – in which the allergies
affect the nervous system – reactions include brain inflammation,
irritability, fear, depression, aggression, extreme mood swings in a
single day, hyperactivity, and psychosis.
A study of “schizophrenics” by Dr. William Philpott showed
allergic responses as follows: Wheat (64%), Mature corn (51%),
Pasteurized whole cow milk (50%), Tobacco (75% with 10% becoming grossly
psychotic with delusions, hallucinations and particularly paranoia), and
Hydrocarbons (30% with weakness being common and some participants
reacting with delusions or suicidal inclinations). Ninety-two percent of
the patients showed allergic responses with an average of ten items per
person causing reactions.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats that gives
dough it’s sticky quality. An inability to digest these grains is
called celiac disease. It’s been estimated that up to 20% of Americans
have the disease to some degree.
Studies have shown celiac disease to be inordinately high in
“schizophrenic” populations. Research removing gluten and
dairy products (which often seems to add to the problem) from the diet
of a locked ward resulted in a significant improvement of patient
behavior. See also the Philpott study mentioned above under
Symptoms include mood swings (down after eating and up after
avoidance), severe depression, anxiety, irritability, compulsive
behavior, “schizophrenia” symptoms, and other mental
Histapenia – Copper Excess
Histapenia (hista-: histamine; -penia: deficiency of) is a shortage
of histamine in the body. Histamine is an important brain chemical
involved in many reactions. It has been found that 50% of patients
classified as “schizophrenic” have low histamine levels in the
blood and it rises to normal as they improve.
These same patients are found to have high copper levels. Elevated
copper decreases blood histamine. Excess copper is linked with
According to Pfeiffer, people with histapenia tend to have classic
signs, including canker sores, difficult orgasm with sex, no headaches
or allergies, heavy growth of body hair, ideas of grandeur, undue
suspicion of people, racing thoughts, the feeling that someone controls
one’s mind, seeing or hearing things abnormally, ringing in the ears,
This is a disorder, prominent in males, of too much histamine in the
blood. (Compare to histapenia above). Estimated to affect 15-20% of
patients classified as “schizophrenic.”
Symptoms include hyperactivity, compulsions, obsessions, inner
tensions, blank mind episodes, phobias, chronic depression, and strong
Physical signs can include little tolerance for pain, rapid
metabolism, lean build, profuse sweating, seasonal allergies, and
A pyrrole is a chemical substance that is involved in the formation
of heme, which makes blood red. Pyrroles bind with B6 and
then with zinc, thus depleting these nutrients. Abnormal production of
pyrroles and their appearance in the urine of psychotics was first
noticed in 1958 during LSD experimentation. Approximately 15-30% of
“schizophrenics” have pyroluria. (At least 10% of these also
have histamine problems.)
Symptoms include sweet, fruity breath and body odor, general loss of
appetite, motion sickness, problems with sugar metabolism, allergies.
Mental phenomena include delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, occasional
loss of contact with reality, amnesia spells, and low stress tolerance.
Person has a tendency to have insight (understand they have mental
The ailment, which normally strikes females, generally responds well
to B6 and zinc treatment.
This is an inherited liver disorder named after British neurologist
Samuel Wilson. The small intestine absorbs too much copper and the liver
excretes too little of it, resulting in a copper buildup in the liver
and brain. Onset is slow and begins between 11 and 25 years of age.
A wide array of symptoms occur, fitting a number of psychiatric
diagnoses, including “major depression,”
“schizophrenia,” and “hysteria.” Children with
Wilson’s disease can appear to be mentally retarded. Appetite loss and
weight loss can appear along with hallucinations and delusions.
The physical manifestations of Wilson’s disease do not appear until
the late stages, thus it is easily misdiagnosed as “psychiatric
Refer to Dr. William Crook’s article on “Candida and Mental
Health” on this web site.
Candida is a yeast that lives in the body normally. However,
broad-spectrum antibiotics tend to kill off Candida’s enemies in the
body and can result in Candida overgrowth. The yeasts put out toxins
that can weaken the immune system and cause a long list of symptoms.
Although psychosis is not a common manifestation of Candida, it has
occurred. Mental symptoms have included fatigue, inability to
concentrate, depression, mood swings, anxiety, hyperactivity, delusions,
“manic depression,” psychosis, and suicidal or violent
A chorea is a nervous disorder marked by involuntary movements of the
body and face and lack of coordination of the limbs. Huntington’s
chorea, a rare, inherited illness named after American neurologist
George Huntington, is commonly labeled as “schizophrenia”
because of its progression of mental decline. Even when involuntary
movements appear, they may be mistaken for drug side effects.
Huntington’s chorea usually appears in midlife. Beginning symptoms
can include irritability, eccentricity and psychosis. Further signs
include paranoia, obstinacy , indifference, euphoria, and violence. The
disorder results in complete mental deterioration. Dr. Abram Hoffer
reports successfully treating two cases with nutrition.
An important diagnostic tool in spotting Huntington’s chorea is
family history of the disease.
Prostaglandins (“prosta”: standing before; “glandin”:
gland) are substances that act like hormones in the body. They effect
blood pressure, metabolism, body temperature, and other important
functions. Prostaglandin levels that are too high or too low can create
symptoms. There are different kinds of prostaglandins with specific
functions, thus different physical and mental reactions occur with
imbalances in each one. Elevated prostaglandin levels have been observed
in, for example, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Research has shown that
high levels of a prostaglandin called E2 coupled with low levels of one
called E1 have been seen as a major cause of certain forms of
depression. E2 is a central nervous system depressant.
It’s been observed that geographical regions with low selenium
levels in the soil and less sunshine have higher rates of
“schizophrenia.” Since some prostaglandins require selenium
for their synthesis, it’s believed prostaglandin deficiency may be a
source of “schizophrenia.”
Dopamine is a substance involved with emotional and hormonal response
and the integration of experience, emotion, and thought. Additionally,
it stimulates the brain’s pleasure center and is involved in sexual
arousal. Dopamine appears to be a factor in producing hallucinations,
voices and other symptoms associated with “schizophrenia.”
Those with histapenia (see above) often have elevated dopamine levels.
Endorphins, discovered in 1975, are substances secreted in the brain.
They have a pain-relieving and stress-relieving effect similar to
morphine. Endorphin molecules lock onto receptors in the brain to remove
the perception of pain.
It has been shown that drugs which artificially stimulate and
suppress the endorphin receptors can produce symptoms bordering on
psychosis. Gluten molecules (see “Wheat-gluten Sensitivity”
above) are molecularly similar in shape to endorphins and thus can
create the same stimulatory/suppression activity. Certain dairy proteins
have been shown to have similar qualities.
Serine is an amino acid that is part of many proteins. It plays a
critical role in maintaining blood sugar levels. It has a vital part in
the production of the myelin sheath – the coating that protects
certain nerve fibers.
In numerous studies the plasma levels of serine have been found to be
significantly higher in “schizophrenics” than in control
groups. There is also evidence that serine metabolism is abnormal in
psychotics. In one study a limited sector of psychiatric patients who
responded to a carbohydrate-rich, low-protein diet became psychotic
again after oral intake of serine.
Prolactin is a hormone also known as luteotropic hormone. It comes
from the pituitary gland and induces lactation. Non-pregnant women have
low levels of it and it increases about ten times in pregnant women.
When prolactin levels are excessive in non-pregnant women, the condition
is known as hyperprolactinemia.
This condition can produce a number of symptoms including lactation
by a non-nursing woman and irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Excess prolactin has been connected with pre-menstrual syndrome and a
host of extreme mental states that can occur with it. In some people
tranquilizers can increase prolactin levels.
Patients who undergo dialysis regularly may be exposed to high levels
of aluminum in dialysis fluids and medicines. A reaction called dialysis
encephalopathy can occur. (Encephalopathy is a general term for
“brain disease.”) What follows is a progressive mental
degeneration manifested by tremors, convulsions, psychosis and other
changes in speech and behavior. Reduction of aluminum levels
significantly reduces the incidence of this problem.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that transmits messages
from one nerve to another. Too much or too little serotonin has been
associated with depression, psychosis, and other problems. While drugs
can be used to mask the symptoms of this problem, they do not solve the
problem of the imbalance. Further medical inquiry in indicated in these
situations to find the cause or to find nutritional supplementation that
will permit the body to produce correct serotonin levels.
Leucine and histidine are essential amino acids (the body doesn’t
make them). The leucine, histidine imbalance – high leucine and low
histidine – was a condition Pfeiffer theorized as being a cause of
“schizophrenia.” Modern research has shown, however, that
leucine-histidine imbalance does not play a significant role.
A number of non-psychotropic drugs can create psychosis. It must be
remembered that the nervous system is intimately connected with other
bodily systems. Medical drugs can effect blood chemistry, hormonal
balances, and a host of other areas that directly impact the brain and
Interferon is a treatment for hepatitis. An estimated 1-2% of
interferon users manifest psychosis or suicidal behavior.
Amantadine, a drug for Parkinson’s Disease, can cause
hallucinations, depression, jitteriness, and confusion. Caution is
recommended in it’s use in people with a history of psychosis.
In anyone experiencing a psychotic episode, recent drug ingestion
must be considered as a cause.
Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that metabolizes (destroys) the
neurotransmitter serotonin. Platelets are small blood cells involved in
the formation of blood clots. If platelets have too little MAO, the
serotonin levels increase. High serotonin is connected with a number of
severe mental states such as the one classified as “paranoid
In researching this particular malady of platelets low in MAO, we
were told by Dr. William Walsh, who worked with Dr. Pfieffer for 12
years, that he did not recall dealing with any cases of MAO deficiency
so he was uncertain if MAO deficiency is a verified condition or a