Altering brain chemistry with nutrition
For decades, the only interventions available to those with mental health problems were heavy medication and talk or shock therapies. Just over 50 years ago, Abram Hoffer, Ph.D., M.D., became one of the first physicians to suggest that biochemistry played a significant role in psychiatry and that correcting chemical imbalances in the brain for mental health patients could improve their quality of life.
Dismissal & Determination
Dr. Hoffer helped a significant number of patients recover from schizophrenia by working with colleagues to develop treatments based on the patients’ nutritional status and individual biochemical levels. The treatments utilized nutritional components to restore brain chemical balance. While not rejecting the effectiveness of medication or other forms of therapy, Dr. Hoffer’s work in nutrition and brain chemistry inspired a paradigm shift in mental health services. It proved that nutritional therapy was a crucial, missing piece of the treatment puzzle, and that it was necessary for providing patients with a much-improved quality of life.
As is usually the case with pioneers in a field as set in its way as medicine, Dr. Hoffer’s findings were either mockingly dismissed or ignored by skeptical psychiatrists. In spite of the remarkable progress his patients were making and the reports he published in medical journals, the medical establishment continued to cling to the old ways. No one aside from his patients and research team believed that vitamins could heal serious mental conditions like schizophrenia. Even with his professional reputation at risk, Dr. Hoffer remained steadfast in his dedication to nutritional therapy for brain chemistry stabilization, not only because he knew it was effective, but because his instinct about the vital link between nutrition and mental health had been a major driving force for him since the early days of his career.
After receiving his early education in a one-room schoolhouse in Saskatchewan, Dr. Hoffer went on to earn his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and study for his medical degree at the University of Toronto. As a research assistant in the 1950s, Dr. Hoffer became intrigued by the circumstances that caused humans to hallucinate and interested in how brain chemistry could be stabilized. At that time, no one believed there was a cure for schizophrenia. Later on, as a team leader, Dr. Hoffer and his researchers focused on diagnosing psychosis and restoring brain chemistry through dietary changes and therapeutic doses of nutritional supplements. A large portion of Dr. Hoffer’s patients got well and enjoyed a greatly improved quality of life, as long as they continued with their nutritional regimens.
In his memoirs, Dr. Hoffer explained that it was the Hoffer-Osmond adrenochrome hypothesis, or the idea that dysfunctional metabolism of adrenaline can cause psychosis in some people, that first led him to consider nutritional therapy for mental illness. In vulnerable patients, adrenaline (a healthy brain chemical) can be converted into the hallucinogenic compounds, adrenochrome, and adrenolutin. In the first double-blind clinical trial ever in psychiatry, Dr. Hoffer and his partner, Dr. Osmond, found that divided doses of either niacin or niacinamide (vitamin B3, a methyl acceptor) with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, an antioxidant) consistently alleviated patients’ symptoms and proved more effective than antipsychotic medications, tranquilizers, insulin comas, and metrazole therapies. Taking each patient’s individual biochemistry into account, Dr. Hoffer and Dr. Osmond customized nutritional therapeutic regimens that included vitamins or vital amines, trace minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, methyl acceptors, enzyme co-factors, essential fatty acids, and precursors. As a result of these therapies, thousands of their patients became well enough to resume their jobs or complete their schooling, and get on with the rest of their lives.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.