Hoffer, who turned 80 in 1998, is world famous for his outstanding contribution in the area of nutrition and mental illness. He is founder of a branch of psychiatry known as orthomolecular psychiatry. Hoffer has achieved remarkable success in treating both acute and chronic schizophrenics with large doses of vitamins. His landmark work has not been recognized by the psychiatric profession.
"I am very frustrated by the massive inertia of my psychiatric colleagues who are still searching for the Holy Grail: that new tranquilizer which appears every year, which will do for schizophrenia what insulin does for diabetes." says Hoffer, "The number of homeless chronic schizophrenics in the streets of all large American and Canadian cities is evidence of psychiatrists' inability to do more for them than we could in 1950, before we had any tranquilizers."
Hoffer was born on a farm in southern Saskatchewan and later combined an interest in agriculture with biochemistry. In 1944, he received his PHD degree in agricultural chemistry. By this time he was interested in human nutrition and enrolled in medical school, later specializing in psychiatry. From 1950 to 1957, he was the Director of Psychiatric Research, Department of Public Health in the province of Saskatchewan.
In the 1950's half of all mental hospital beds were occupied by schizophrenic patients and one quarter of all hospital beds in Canada. The introduction of potent drugs with serious and disabling side effects, dramatically changed this picture and enabled most hospitalized patients to go home.
But as Hoffer points out, the standard drugs used for schizophrenia do not enable schizophrenics to function normally in society. Not only can schizophrenia be treated nutritionally, Hoffer has found, but such patients can lead useful and productive lives and even pay income tax. In fact, at least twenty schizophrenics treated with Hoffer's regimen have gone on to become medical doctors.
The newer drugs for schizophrenia target specific receptor sites in the brain, thus eliminating the worst side effects. However, these drugs are rarely used in first episodes with schizophrenia but are reserved for cases in which other treatments fail. UBC Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Peter Liddle argues that the newer drugs should be the treatment of choice for the initial treatment since they control symptoms better and have better occupational and social outcomes.
Hoffer and his British colleague, Dr. Humphry Osmond postulate that schizophrenia is caused by a biochemical abnormality (excessive oxidation of the neurotransmitter adrenalin into adrenochrome). An excess of this adrenochrome can produce all the symptoms of schizophrenia, including the hallucinations. Treatment with high doses of vitamins, particularly niacinamide, a form of vitamin-B-3, have been shown to prevent excess accumulation of adrenochrome in the brain.
Hoffer and Osmond were the first psychiatrists to conduct double blind trials. They are also credited with the discovery that vitamin-B-3, or niacin, lowers cholesterol. In addition, they developed two innovative diagnostic tools for the early diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Hoffer's early research showed that niacinamide was very helpful in the treatment of acute schizophrenia. Since that time Hoffer has found that his programme is effective for chronic schizophrenics but it takes longer, sometimes as long as seven years.
Hoffer's complete treatment programme for schizophrenia includes vitamin-B-3 as well as vitamin-B-6, zinc, and manganese working in conjunction with a diet free of sugar additives and allergens. Hoffer will also use low doses of drugs, if necessary, to start the process of recovery.
Elizabeth Wade is one of many patients whose life has been transformed by Hoffer's treatments. She had relapsing recurrent schizophrenia which was resistant to both drug treatment and shock treatment. "I almost resigned myself to living as a vegetable propped up with drugs wandering aimlessly through the rest of my days as an outcast from society." wrote Wade.
Fortunately, her mother stumbled across an article on Hoffer, wrote to him and was referred to the nearest clinic in England which used Dr. Hoffer's treatments. Wade eventually made a complete recovery, and is now working as a registered nutritionist.
Hoffer recommends that schizophrenic patients and their families read his book, Common Questions on Schizophrenia and Their Answers (Keats, 1987). Readers can also contact The Canadian Schizophrenia Foundation (416-733-2117) for further information and an extensive book list.
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