In earlier posts ("Too Much Pop Psytchology and "Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia"), I talked about the medical and scientific evidence that exists demonstrating that schizophrenia (and other serious mental illnesses) are diseases of the brain. While these are diseases, many people commonly refer to them as mental health issues or mental health problems.
Issues and problems are terms that, frankly, I fail to understand. After all, we do not call insulin-dependent diabetes a pancreatic issue or a pancreatic problem. Even type II diabetes which has a considerable life style cause, is not referred to as a problem or an issue. Why, then, do we not recognize schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses as diseases?
Part of the answer can be found in an excellent article in Forbes Magazine on the ever present debate over vaccines entitled "Anti-Vaccine Activists Apparently Immune to Science." After reviewing the numerous studies that debunk the myth that vaccines cause autism, the author, Sally Pipe, concludes "children continue to be at risk because of an urban legend seemingly immune to modern science. The public health is far too valuable to be threatened by such myths."
But, what of schizophrenia? There are many who believe the urban legend that there are no neurological contributions to any mental illness, no genetic marker, no proof of chemical imbalance, no evidence of biological causation. Science tells us the opposite. Rarely a week goes by when there isn't some new announcement about another discovery in the attempt to uncover the mystery that is serious mental illness.
A recent study cited in Psychiatric Times found a relationship between schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy. I doubt if anyone today considers epilepsy to be anything but a disease of the brain. People with schizophrenia have an increased activity of the enzyme phospholipase A2 (PLA2). This increased enzyme activity was also found in both patients with temporal lobe epilepsy with psychosis and those with bipolar disorder with psychosis. The researchers suggested that "increased PLA2 activity is not specific for schizophrenia, but may be more broadly related to the onset of psychiatric symptoms in general."
In another current study reported in Psychiatric Times, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio stated that "schizophrenia probably is not caused by mutations in just a few specific genes but rather is caused by the disruption of any number of genes involved in key developmental signalling pathways, such as the immune system pathway."
The implications of their research suggest that by performing a comprehensive analysis of inflammatory molecules involved in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, it may become possible to identify specific disease signatures, which will provide valuable clues to understanding the progression to a particular disease.
How schizophrenia works at the cellular level is being studied at , among other centres, the University of Pennsylvania. What they found was that "differences in the interactions between various types of nerve cells lead to schizophrenia. Specifically, they have found a link between genetic risk factors for the disease and how the brain responds to sound."
A Scientific American article reviewed the recent findings of the North American Prodromal Longitudinal Study involving eight universities and the brain scans of 400 adolescents. Two-thirds of the subjects were high risk for developing schizophrenia. Those at high risk lost grey matter in their prefrontal and temporal cortex. As their symptoms increased, their grey matter loss increased. Brain cells in adolescence are trimmed but in those developing schizophrenia, more cells are trimmed than normal. There is also an increased lack of white matter in the brains of those who were diagnosed with schizophrenia. This lack of white matter cripples the brain circuitry.
Meanwhile, an international team of scientists is developing a blood test to diagnose schizophrenia. So far, they have found 51 biomarkers linked to schizophrenia. The team's examination of postmortem brain tissue of patients with schizophrenia found evidence of abnormal glucose utilization suggesting that Schizophrenia might be considered "diabetes of the brain."
They then looked at the cerebrospinal fluid of newly diagnosed patients with schizophrenia. These patients had not yet been treated with drugs (drug naive) and they found glucose regulation disruptions. Drug treatment with anti-psychotic medication led to normalization of the glucose in half the patients before results were seen in their overt psychotic symptoms.
And these are only some of the studies reported in just the past few months.
Ignoring the science of vaccinations is leading to a resurgence of infectious diseases that had previously been eradicated. Ignoring the science of mental illness does nothing but put extra stress on those with these illnesses and their families who helplessly watch the suffering of their loved ones. Its time to put science back into mental illness and to stop pretending these illnesses are choice, poor parenting or stress.