Schizophrenia and brain shinkage

Neuroleptic drugs, the same drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia, in Macacque monkeys have been shown to cause brain tissue loss comparable to the kind of brain tissue loss we find in human beings labeled schizophrenic. As this abstract of a study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, The Influence of Chronic Exposure to Antipsychotic Medications on Brain Size before and after Tissue Fixation: A Comparison of Haloperidol and Olanzapine in Macaque Monkeys, puts it, “In conclusion, chronic exposure of non-human primates to antipsychotics was associated with reduced brain volume.” It stands to reason that if neuroleptic drugs reduce brain volume in non-human primates, they also reduce brain volume in human primates.

Apparently researchers into the matter of brain mass loss don’t share notes the way they should. If they did, they could save themselves a lot of wasted time and energy. I’m thinking about a much more recent study showing a brain mass loss in adolescents diagnosed with schizophrenia. MedScape Medical News published a story on this research with the heading, Brain Changes Found in Youth with Schizophrenia, Psychosis.

In a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of more than 100 young people in Spain, those who were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychoses showed a greater loss of brain gray matter (GM) volume and a greater increase in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) volumes in the frontal lobe after 2 years than did their healthy peers.

This 2 years wouldn’t be 2 years on a prescription of neuroleptic drugs, would it? If so, that could explain a lot. If these researchers had known about the study on Macacque monkeys, is it conceivable that maybe they would try to identify whether the brain tissue loss was due to neuroleptic drugs or “mental illness“? There is no indication in this article that they did so..

Progressive brain changes were also more significant in the participants with schizophrenia than in those with bipolar disorder (BD).

Yes, and while bipolar disorder may be treated with neuroleptic drugs, this is not always the case. Bipolar disorder is also treated with anti-convulsants and lithium. This potentially differing drug regimen is certainly enough to explain significantly different results.

We get the same sort of thing at GoodTherapy.org in an article that asks, Is Cognitive Impairment a Feature of Schizophrenia? This short piece tells us about IQ tests conducted to determine whether or not cognitive impairment was a feature of schizophrenia, and it answers it’s own question in the affirmative. The question this piece doesn’t ask is whether the primary form of treatment for schizophrenia, neuroleptic drugs, had anything to do with this cognitive decline. One other thing that should be apparent is that significant brain shrinkage would mean cognitive decline, too.

What these researchers have neglected to do is to consider whether the brain shrinkage, and attendent cognitive decline, is caused by the “disease” or the treatment. The studies dealing with the monkeys showed brain mass loss associated with the use of neuroleptic drugs. The studies on humans don’t consider this factor, a factor of crucial importance, as to whether this brain tissue loss and cognitive decline is the result of the “disorder” or the drugs used to treat the “disorder”. Until they do so, this kind of research will remain misleading, and partial, as all the factors that might account for brain shrinkage and cognitive decline have not been factored in. Although we know that neuroleptic drugs are associated with brain shrinkage, and that this shrinkage must entail some cognitive decline, we can’t make the same claim for the schizophrenia label itself.

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5 Responses

  1. Unbelieveable. I cannot help thinking that if drugs discovered to cause brain shrinkage in macaques were being used to treat a group of patients other than those labelled mentally ill, their use would be halted immediately pending further studies.

    • Many people have had similar thoughts. Once when the feds were using neuroleptic drugs to remove illegal aliens and unwanted foreigners from our shores, the ACLU got involved in defending the people threatened with removal. The ACLU has shown itself to be much less adamant about defending the rights of people threatened with psychiatric oppression and incarceration.

      It is my feeling that much of this research is so stilted because the research is either being conducted by pharmaceutical companies, or researchers who have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. There is much we do know about psychiatric drugs, and what they do to the brain. The question is, why does so much of this knowledge go out the window when certain researchers get down to the business of conducting investigations? I suggest that those same researchers entertain a very great need NOT to know. The question I always have when I see research suggesting that this disorder or that disorder adversely affects intelligence is have they looked at the role of the drugs used to treat the ailment might have in this deficit? If they’re going to take these things into account then they need a population who have a psychiatric label, and who are not taking psychiatric drugs, too. If they don’t have this population, then the study results can’t be trusted.

  2. Exactly. I couldn’t agree more.

    I shall take a look online for this study.

    I cannot currently concur with the notion that schizophrenia is synonymous with a loss of intelligence, at the very least. I question the results reported, as do you. It is not possible to analyse them without having knowledge of the medications each individual has been subjected to, not only during the two years specified, but during the course of their lives. What “other psychoses”? What mix of illnesses are they talking about? How many “healthy” individuals and how many “sick”? What percentage of the “sick” showed changes?
    And “more than 100” means 101 or 102 would suffice. Less than 200, anyway. More than likely less than 150, and possibly less than 125. So let’s say that, if the numbers were split fifty-fifty, there was a minimum of 51 people per group and a probable maximum of 74. They are talking about a small number of individuals, particularly as the “sick” group was sub-divided further. Is it the case that medication is the thing that links these psychoses? What age are these “young people”? If they were medicated whilst their brains were still in development, then they would have been up against an even more potent antagonist.

    I knew a man with schizophrenia who was an excellent jazz pianist, and that certainly takes a high level of brain function. And what about John Nash who won the Nobel Laureate in Economics? (A Beautiful Mind.) Interestingly, he had a habit of stopping taking his medication.

    From his autobiography, quoted on Wikipedia:

    “I later spent times of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis and always attempting a legal argument for release. And it did happen that when I had been long enough hospitalized that I would finally renounce delusional hypotheses and revert to thinking of myself as a human of more conventional circumstances and return to mathematical research. In these interludes of, as it were, enforced rationality, I did succeed in doing some respectable mathematical research. Thus there came about the research for “Le Probleme de Cauchy pour les Equations Differentielles d’un Fluide Generale”; the idea that Prof. Hironaka called “the Nash blowing-up transformation”; and those of “Arc Structure of Singularities” and “Analyticity of Solutions of Implicit Function Problems with Analytic Data”. But after my return to the dream-like delusional hypotheses in the later 60’s I became a person of delusionally influenced thinking but of relatively moderate behavior and thus tended to avoid hospitalization and the direct attention of psychiatrists. Thus further time passed. Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.”

    Although he credits his hospital stays with “enforced rationality”, he later avoids repeat experiences and turns his intellectual prowess to dealing with his problems. I think that teaching people how to do this has to take priority over drugging them.

    I am not sure about the ACLU’s general motivations, frankly. This is not its first failure to act I have come across. Regardless, I think one of the chief problems encountered by people faced with mental health issues – real or induced – is the lack of strong and united representation.

    • We spoke about Robert Whitaker’s books Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic before. These books are great resources because Robert Whitaker looks at the research that has been done on the subject. The researchers’ own records show that what seems to work over the short term doesn’t always work over the long term. They also indicate that the problem is not with any brain disease, but with the chemicals being used to treat very human problems. The research itself, for instance, shows recovery rates for people experiencing first episode psychotic breaks to be a lot higher for those who had never been introduced to neuroleptic drugs. Full recovery, I would imagine, would rule out significant cognitive decline, too. Due to mainstream psychiatry’s close connection to the pharmaceutical industry much of this research has been suppressed. The data doesn’t lie but, of course, people do lie. It’s not really a matter of twisting statistics, at least, not until those statistics come to light.

  3. […] Quelle Share this:FacebookTwitterDruckenGefällt mir:LikeSei der Erste, dem dieser post gefällt. Veröffentlicht: Januar 11, 2012 Filed Under: Forschung, Psychopharmaka Tags: Forschung : Psychopharmaka […]

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