Better Outcomes for Mental Illness Through Orthomolecular Medicine

By Rosalie Moscoe, RHN, RNCP

When a family member of mine was travelling overseas, he fainted on the top of a mountain, and became paranoid and psychotic. He was hospitalized for a short time and was released with antipsychotic medication. His personality changed. Not only was my family member traumatized by these events, but also, family members were horrified.

An outgoing, friendly, person, he now spent hours at his home, asleep. Awake, he suffered Parkinson-like tremors and tardive dyskinesia, a side effect of his medication. His progress was negligible and within a year, he was hospitalized with symptoms of schizophrenia. Upon his release, he was marginally better. What was to become of him?

By sheer luck, I came across a book by psychiatrist, Dr. Abram Hoffer, M.D. PhD., psychiatrist, and a scholar of bio-chemistry. The book (now renamed Healing Schizophrenia) discussed healthy diets, free of allergens that could help his condition.

Also emphasized were various nutrients in supplement form such as Vitamin B3 (niacin) and Vitamin C – both natural and essential to the human body for restoring health.

Orthomolecular medicine is the practice of optimizing health and treating disease by providing correct amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, essential fatty acids and other substances which are natural to the body’s environment. In other words, find out what’s missing in the body and give it what it needs and wants. My family member wanted to try this.

The family was led to the International Schizophrenia Foundation, (ISF), enabling those with all forms of mental illness to lead healthy and independent lives, The ISF has over 40 years of research published in the archives of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, (JOM), ( We learned that the research led to treatments that not only offers help for schizophrenia, but also for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, autism, dementia and additional forms of mental illness as well as other physical disease states.


According to the JOM and the ISF, if patients are started on orthomolecular treatment of B3 (niacin) for serious schizophrenia symptoms (including paranoia), within the first two years of onset, those symptoms can be reversed in 80% of cases. Hoffer’s findings were unheard of in traditional medical circles for mentally ill patients, where treatment was usually based solely on medication. Other treatment protocols natural to the body were researched by scientists throughout the years and added for even more benefit. You can source doctors and other health professionals who practice orthomolecular medicine at the Canadian Society for Orthomolecular Medicine – which is part of the ISF. You can also contact the ISF office, 16 Florence Avenue, Toronto, ON, Canada, at 416.733.2117 for further information.

You will find medical doctors and psychiatrists on the Practitioner’s List who combine orthomolecular medicine along with traditional medication. Naturopaths who specialize in orthomolecular medicine are also listed on the Practitioner’s List. Over the years, my family member worked with knowledgeable medical doctors as well as naturopathic doctors – (Pataracchia and Prousky) with much success.

The connection between food allergies and mental health is another issue that needs to be addressed since about half of the chemically ill patient population experiences allergies to one or more foods (Hoffer). According to Doris Rapp, M.D. in her books, “The Impossible Child” and “Is This Your Child?”, (about food allergies and mental health), as well as Dr. Mandel’s book, “5 Day Allergy Relief System” (information about rotation diets), and Brain Allergies by H. Philpott and W. Kalita, certain foods can cause cerebral or brain allergies in some individuals. Medication may help control some of the symptoms but an allergic individual will not respond to vitamin therapy alone. “If a person is allergic to dairy products, there will be no cure until the dairy products are removed from the diet.” – Hoffer.

My family member was tested for food allergies using ELIZA blood tests, prescribed by his doctor as well as tests for vitamin/mineral levels. Results of tests showed allergies to most of the foods he had been eating (clear reasons for his ongoing digestive problems), plus vitamin and mineral deficiencies and imbalances. Patients can be deficient in zinc, high in copper levels, low in Vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide; 3,000 mg. is also recommended (for schizophrenia), to be taken each day in divided dosages), as well as B complex (100 mg. per day), Vitamin C, (3,000 mg. to be taken daily) and zinc (50 mg. to be taken daily) – Hoffer. A multi vitamin/mineral is also generally prescribed. Each person needs to be evaluated due to individual biochemistry and generally started slowly on niacin – treated by a knowledgeable practitioner.

People need to be aware that vitamin dosages depend upon each individual’s tolerance and needs and can often change over time. (Niacin can cause a flush in the body, but is not dangerous. There are non-flush formulas available.)

Within just three weeks of taking the vitamins and changing his diet, there was a noticeable transformation in my family member – his thought disorder and paranoia began to subside. Over the years, other nutrients were added by his orthomolecular physicians, such as B6, B12, folic acid, amino acids, essential fatty acids, NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine), and a calcium magnesium supplement. Medication was also continued. This is not a simple process, but it made sense when we saw the positive results of a balanced mental state.

Orthomolecular treatments are inexpensive, safe and effective and can be included with medication to optimize outcomes. People can get well, though Hoffer cautions that those with chronic schizophrenia may take longer to show measurable progress. However, they can still improve over time.

Some fear that vitamins in high dosages are unsafe. Yet testimony before the Government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, by Andrew Saul, PhD, reaffirmed that nutritional supplements overall are indeed quite safe (Ottawa, May 12, 2005). To view Saul’s testimony go to BIOLOGICAL CAUSES OF MENTAL ILLNESS

Hoffer’s pamphlet, “Orthomolecular Treatment for Schizophrenia” documents schizophrenia as a group of diseases, a syndrome. Several factors lead to the constellation of perceptual disturbances and thought disorders such as:

Cerebral allergies

Vitamin B3 and B6 dependencies

Vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy or pellagra

Essential fatty acid deficiencies

Mineral deficiencies, such as zinc deficiency

Toxic reactions to lead or to drugs

LSD and similar hallucinogens

Infections (such as rheumatic fever, syphilis, and many others)

While these above factors were identified and documented decades ago as probable causes for mental disorders, mental illness is still regarded as a non-organic illness. Doctors or psychiatrists can look up symptoms in the DSM IV Manual and prescribe medications without necessarily investigating other physical conditions first. This is a grave mistake.

Research studies in the American and British Journals of Psychiatry, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Annals of Allergy, and Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases clearly show that B12 deficiencies, thyroid problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hypoglycemia, high homocysteine, and other ailments such as poor bowel ecology, can all affect mental health.

Neuroleptic drugs can help extreme psychiatric symptoms, but Dr. Hoffer’s research, (cited in Outcomes of Patients with Schizophrenia: A Review, ‘Jobe et al,’ 2005, The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry), concedes that schizophrenia is a “poor-outcome disorder” and warns that more attention must be given to suicide and early death. The cautionary advice regarding antipsychotic drug treatments in this report is not new. Clearly, these treatments are not a fail-safe approach to mental illnesses.


In the early 1950’s, Abram Hoffer conducted the first double-blind studies for the treatment of schizophrenia using nutrients. Hoffer headed up a team of 30 researchers in four mental hospitals and three psychiatric wards in Saskatchewan. Tommy Douglas, (Premier at that time) sanctioned the extensive nutritional research for schizophrenia along with financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Initial success with using niacin soon grew into a considerable body of eight double-blind clinical trials. In these early trials, patients’ recovery rates doubled from 35% to an astonishing 70%. Some attempted to repeat the studies and failed due to poor methodology, but when Hoffer’s protocols were followed, as they were in the National Institute of Medicine study, the doubling of recovery rates was confirmed.


In Hoffer’s book “Mental Health Regained”, 18 personal stories of recovery are documented by Dr. Hoffer. Success stories are told from those afflicted with disorders such as ADHD, Schizo-Affective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Paranoid Schizophrenia. One person (let’s call him LM), said he was “rescued from madness” through Dr. Hoffer’s protocols. LM was hearing voices and became paranoid. Within a month, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was also suffering from migraines. He replaced sugar, white flour, and junk food with a healthy, holistic diet. As a result, he has been free of the symptoms of schizophrenia for over 30 years. LM works as an A/V technician and has written a motion picture. He is married and has a daughter.

LM recovered from serious mental illness by following the advice of Dr. Hoffer. To this day he continues to take many of the nutrients he initially was prescribed such as niacin, Vitamin C, zinc gluconate, thiamin, fish oils and Vitamin E. According to Dr. Hoffer, without the orthomolecular treatment, LM would likely be ill to this day, living a poor quality of life instead of a rich one. Such patients may still have occasional set-backs, but it doesn’t have to mean they are doomed. They can continue to progress and get well. Medications can be reduced slowly under medical supervision.


As for my family member, although he endured a difficult time fighting for his mental balance, especially watching his friends and colleagues move on to further their lives, he persevered and thrived. Today, my family member is thinking clearly with no obvious symptoms of paranoia. He is in excellent mental and physical health and is working to pursue his career, living independently with some family support. Due to the addition of the vitamins, he no longer has tardive dyskinesia (characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements). In his research paper D. Hawkins surveyed 57,000 patients taking orthomolecular treatments along with medication and none had tardive dyskinesia.

Our family is extremely grateful for the research and dedication of Dr. Hoffer and other orthomolecular physicians who practice world-wide. Orthomolecular medicine is now practiced in 39 countries. See ISOM – International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine (part of the ISF).


Can people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses recover using orthomolecular treatments? In orthomolecular terms, recovery means no visible signs of mental illness, getting along well with family and community and, if possible, paying taxes or at least being engaged in some useful activity.

There are no instant cures. Nonetheless, if people stick to their protocols of nutrients, healthy diet and some medication if necessary, they can enjoy a far better life.

I know from my research, education and practice as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist that the best road to recovery towards an improved mental and physical state is found in orthomolecular medicine which also includes a wholesome, natural diet and healthy lifestyle. I know that this powerful treatment along with family support helped to save my family member from the ravages of serious mental illness.