What Really Causes Schizophrenia

Harold D. Foster

reviewed by Mira de Vries

A complimentary copy of the Dutch translation of this book was sent to MeTZelf by the Dutch publisher, Ortho Communications & Science, for our library. The original English edition is available in PDF format on the author’s web site.

Foster, who advocates orthomolecular medicine, admits that schizophrenia is an “imprecise diagnosis.” Yet he claims that researcher David Horrobin developed a diagnostic patch (skin) test that would allow family physicians, if they used it, to diagnose acute schizophrenia as accurately as a team of highly trained psychiatrists. How can something imprecise be accurately diagnosed? Highly trained psychiatrists can't even agree on what schizophrenia is, let alone diagnose it "accurately." Horrobin's test could only make sense if it were agreed that when the test is negative, the person isn't schizophrenic. Schizophrenia would then become defined as whatever it is the test detects. This redefinition of schizophrenia will of course never catch on, as it would undermine the role of the schizophrenia concept in justifying involuntary commitment and embarrass the psychiatric establishment. 

Foster mentions the DSM nowhere in the book. He does list what he considers to be signs that a child will develop schizophrenia in later life, which sound like they were taken straight from Karl Brandt’s desk: abnormal head size, asymmetrical or malformed ears, high steeped mouth, furrowed feet, webbed fingers, long third toe, a gap between the big toe and the next one -- in short, anything that might mar a person's beauty. To complete the horror, later in the book he discusses genetic screening. Perhaps Foster does not harbor eugenicist sympathies, and is unaware of the eugenicist origin of his views, although he mentions eugenics several times without denouncing it as the gravely immoral and despicable doctrine that it is.

Obviously Foster is not going to convince me that he knows the cause of something which I don’t believe exists as a delineable condition. Yet there are a few things worth looking at in his book. So rather than reject the whole book off the bat, let’s pretend that we all know and agree what schizophrenia is, and can readily identify it.

Dr. Foster is not an MD but a geographer, which by no means discredits him. That’s why I’m mentioning it. It seems nowadays most physicians are too brainwashed to do much independent thinking. I’m quite willing to take a look at a geographer’s opinion. It is all the more disappointing that he parrots the medical establishment a great deal: Schizophrenia is a hereditary condition; that’s proved by studies such as on twins and the Genain quadruplets; insulin coma and electroshock are spectacularly effective, though unfortunately only for a short time; the brains of schizophrenics atrophy (not mentioning the drugs involved), etc. And like physicians, he explains away the presumed heredity not conforming to a Mendelian pattern by bringing “triggers” on stage. His disagreement with mainstream medicine seems to be only about those triggers.

Unsurprisingly for a geographer, many of Foster's triggers are geographic: soil deficient in selenium and calcium, chilly climate, industrialization and urbanization. The soil theory seems to me defective, because nowadays our diets are unlikely to be based on locally grown produce. Furthermore, in vast areas of inland Africa where we could expect this same deficiency, the incidence of schizophrenia is said to be lower, and recovery higher, as Foster himself states elsewhere in the book. Sunshine probably does protect against schizophrenia, not the way Foster means, but because homelessness is less of a problem in warm weather, and therefore less likely to be attributed to a mysterious disease.

Some of the other triggers Foster lists are copper, toxic waste, road salt, allergies to wheat and milk, the consumption of too much sugar, exposure to viruses during early gestation, a tick-borne spirochete, low oxygen levels in the air, the high level of hormonal activity in youth, histamine, insufficient exercise, traffic noise, and stress. These factors cause increased levels of adrenochrome, a metabolite of adrenalin, which in turn affects thyroid function, he asserts. I’m not competent to pass judgment on the biochemistry involved, and I’m sure I'm not doing justice to it here. I do believe that some of these "triggers" may be real conditions, and that physicians fail to recognize them. The people they affect are conveniently swept into the schizophrenia model, providing employment for psychiatrists and relieving somatic physicians of the duty to investigate further. Sidney Walker III has written in a similar vein.

Among the cures Foster suggests are the elimination of certain products from the diet and treatment with thyroid gland hormone. He also advocates reducing stress by providing those who need it with food, shelter, and employment, not to mention respect. I quite agree with him on the latter, provided people don't have to take psychiatric drugs to be eligible. There's nothing orthomolecular about food, shelter, employment, and respect.

Foster is right, of course, when he says that the dopamine theory which dominates today's psychiatry is wrong. He points out that the parkinsonism afflicting people on neuroleptics proves that they had no excess of dopamine to begin with. Further proof is in psychiatry's obvious inefficacy. He cites an ordinance legislated in King County, Washington, requiring the mental health system to submit annual reports demonstrating efficacy. In the year 2001 the system treated 7,831 patients with a budget of $90,000,000. That year, by its own admission, four (4!) people recovered, thus $22,500,000 per recovery.

Yet Foster cannot resist blowing the “mental health is underfunded” trumpet. If his recommendations really cure what we're pretending is schizophrenia, why do we need a mental health system at all, let alone more funding for it?

I am certain that many people who are in contact with the mental health system would be quite interested in giving Foster's methods a try. It will harm them a great deal less than psychiatry.

We wish to thank Ortho Communications & Science for the complimentary copy.

Copyright © MeTZelf