Tag: antipsychotics

Can a Ketogenic Diet Treat Serious Mental Illnesses?

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Antipsychotic medications for serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder often causes metabolic side effects such as insulin resistance and obesity, leading some patients to discontinue the treatment.

Now, a pilot study led by Stanford Medicine researchers has found that a ketogenic diet not only restores metabolic health in these patients as they continue their medications, but it further improves their psychiatric conditions. The results, published in Psychiatry Research, suggest that a dietary intervention can be a powerful aid in treating mental illness.

“It’s very promising and very encouraging that you can take back control of your illness in some way, aside from the usual standard of care,” said Shebani Sethi, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the first author of the new paper.

The senior author of the paper is Laura Saslow, PhD, associate professor of health behavior and biological sciences at the University of Michigan.

Making the connection

Sethi, who is board certified in obesity and psychiatry, remembers when she first noticed the connection. As a medical student working in an obesity clinic, she saw a patient with treatment-resistant schizophrenia whose auditory hallucinations quieted on a ketogenic diet.

That prompted her to dig into the medical literature. There were only a few, decades-old case reports on using the ketogenic diet to treat schizophrenia, but there was a long track record of success in using ketogenic diets to treat epileptic seizures.

“The ketogenic diet has been proven to be effective for treatment-resistant epileptic seizures by reducing the excitability of neurons in the brain,” Sethi said. “We thought it would be worth exploring this treatment in psychiatric conditions.”

A few years later, Sethi coined the term metabolic psychiatry, a new field that approaches mental health from an energy conversion perspective.

Meat and vegetables

In the four-month pilot trial, Sethi’s team followed 21 adult participants who were diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, taking antipsychotic medications, and had a metabolic abnormality – such as weight gain, insulin resistance, hypertriglyceridaemia, dyslipidaemia or impaired glucose tolerance. The participants were instructed to follow a ketogenic diet, with approximately 10% of the calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein and 60% from fat. They were not told to count calories.

“The focus of eating is on whole non-processed foods including protein and non-starchy vegetables, and not restricting fats,” said Sethi, who shared keto-friendly meal ideas with the participants. They were also given keto cookbooks and access to a health coach.

The research team tracked how well the participants followed the diet through weekly measures of blood ketone levels, which are produced when the body breaks down fat instead of glucose for energy. By the end of the trial, 14 patients had been fully adherent, six were semi-adherent and only one was non-adherent.

Physical and mental improvement

The participants underwent a variety of psychiatric and metabolic assessments throughout the trial.

Before the trial, 29% of the participants met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, defined as having at least three of five conditions: abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and elevated fasting glucose levels. After four months on a ketogenic diet, none of the participants had metabolic syndrome.

On average, the participants lost 10% of their body weight; reduced their waist circumference by 11% percent; and had lower blood pressure, body mass index, triglycerides, blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

“We’re seeing huge changes,” Sethi said. “Even if you’re on antipsychotic drugs, we can still reverse the obesity, the metabolic syndrome, the insulin resistance. I think that’s very encouraging for patients.”

The psychiatric benefits were also striking. On average, the participants improved 31% on a psychiatrist rating of mental illness known as the clinical global impressions scale, with three-quarters of the group showing clinically meaningful improvement. Overall, the participants also reported better sleep and greater life satisfaction.

“The participants reported improvements in their energy, sleep, mood and quality of life,” Sethi said. “They feel healthier and more hopeful.”

The researchers were impressed that most of the participants stuck with the diet. “We saw more benefit with the adherent group compared with the semi-adherent group, indicating a potential dose-response relationship,” Sethi said.

Alternative fuel for the brain

There is increasing evidence that psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder stem from metabolic deficits in the brain, which affect the excitability of neurons, Sethi said. The researchers hypothesise that just as a ketogenic diet improves the rest of the body’s metabolism, it also improves the brain’s metabolism.

“Anything that improves metabolic health in general is probably going to improve brain health anyway,” Sethi said. “But the ketogenic diet can provide ketones as an alternative fuel to glucose for a brain with energy dysfunction.”

Likely there are multiple mechanisms at work, she added, and the main purpose of the small pilot trial is to help researchers detect signals that will guide the design of larger, more robust studies.

As a physician, Sethi cares for many patients with both serious mental illness and obesity or metabolic syndrome, but few studies have focused on this undertreated population. She is founder and director of the metabolic psychiatry clinic at Stanford Medicine.

“Many of my patients suffer from both illnesses, so my desire was to see if metabolic interventions could help them,” she said. “They are seeking more help. They are looking to just feel better.”

Source: Stanford Medicine

Aripiprazole Improves Sleep in Psychiatric Disorders by Entrainment to Light/Dark Cycles

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Researchers in Japan have shown that the commonly prescribed antipsychotic drug aripiprazole helps reduce sleep disruptions in patients with certain psychiatric disorders by improving their natural entrainment to light and dark cycles. Their findings are published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Many patients with psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, frequently experience disruptions in their sleep–wake cycles. Research has shown that the administration of aripiprazole, a commonly prescribed antipsychotic drug, alleviates the symptoms of circadian sleep disorders in these patients. This improvement may be attributed to the effects of aripiprazole on the circadian central clock, specifically the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which regulates various circadian physiological rhythms, including the sleep–wake cycle, in mammals. However, the precise mechanism through which aripiprazole addresses these sleep disorder symptoms remains elusive.

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba have discovered that aripiprazole can directly affect the mammalian central circadian clock; specifically, it can modulate the photic entrainment in mice. Located in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the central circadian clock comprises clock neurons that synchronize with each other, maintaining a roughly 24-hour rhythm. Simultaneously, SCN is receptive to external inputs like light, aligning itself with the environmental light-dark cycle. The researchers have found that aripiprazole disrupts the synchronization among the clock neurons in the SCN, heightening the responsiveness of these neurons to light stimuli in mice. Additionally, aripiprazole influences intracellular signalling within the SCN by targeting the serotonin 1A receptor, a prominent receptor in the SCN.

These findings suggest that the efficacy of aripiprazole in alleviating circadian rhythm sleep disorder symptoms in psychiatric patients might be attributed to the modulation of the circadian clock by the drug. This study expands the potential clinical usage of aripiprazole as a treatment for circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

Source: University of Tsukuba

UK Study Reveals Doubling in Antipsychotics Prescriptions for Under-18s

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A cohort study on the prescription of antipsychotics to children and adolescents in the UK has found that they have doubled over the past two decades. The findings, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, depict a concerning tendency for more, longer prescriptions of antipsychotics for a wider array of indications, many of them off-label, and which may be influenced by US and European approvals.

Studies around the world have reported an increase in the prescription of antipsychotics for children and adolescents. While this may reflect actual changing clinical needs, most antipsychotics are not approved for use in under-18s due to lacking safety data, especially in the long term. There is also little evidence on indications for, and doses of, antipsychotic prescribing in children and adolescents.

The study used a cohort of over 7 million children and adolescents (age 3–18 years) assembled from a large English primary care database, and found a doubling in the proportion of prescribed antipsychotics between 2000 and 2019.

This increase resulted from the accumulation of repeated prescriptions to the same individuals combined with an increase in new prescriptions. The researchers found that antipsychotic prescribing was more frequent for children in more deprived areas, which reflected a previous UK study on adults.

The study also revealed multiple clinical indications for antipsychotics beyond their initial approvals, most commonly for anxiety and depression. Risperidone was the most prescribed antipsychotic for all indications apart from depression, for which the most prescribed antipsychotic was quetiapine, and eating disorders, for which it was olanzapine.

Prescribing trends for certain disorders could be though to reflect prevalence. The authors noted however that “the most common indications for antipsychotics were ASD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression. It could be the increasing prevalence of these disorders that causes higher prescribing rates. However, increasing ASD prevalence results primarily from patients with less severe ASD, who are unlikely to receive antipsychotics.”

They also observed that increases in prescribing appeared to be linked to new US and European approvals.

Limitations included the database not identifying whether a prescription was for a first time, and not tying indications directly to prescriptions. Dosage regimen information was also only available for a third of prescriptions. The database was also not necessarily nationally representative, and only reflected prescriptions issued in secondary care – referral to primary care means that the rate of prescribing may be underestimated.

Great SCOT! Repurposing Old Antipsychotics as Diabetes Treatments

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Researchers have found that a class of older antipsychotic drugs could be a promising new therapeutic option for people with type 2 diabetes, helping fill a need among patients who aren’t able to take other currently available treatments. The drugs interact with the metabolic enzyme succinyl CoA:3-ketoacid CoA transferase (SCOT), preventing the muscles from using ketones for fuel.

“There is a growing need to find new therapies for type 2 diabetes,” says John Ussher, professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences and lead author of the recent study published in the journal Diabetes.

Metformin is one of the most common therapeutics for type 2 diabetes, but about 15% of patients aren’t able to take it. Iinsulin secretagogues, another commonly used drug class, isn’t as effective for later-stage patients.

“For the patients who can’t take metformin, patients with late-stage diabetes where their beta cells aren’t working as well, when you’re trying to find new therapies or new combination therapies as the disease progresses, it becomes more important to find new drug classes that target new mechanisms so then you have more options to try and lower blood sugar in those individuals,” Ussher explains.

The mechanism Ussher and his team turned their attention to is SCOT, which is an enzyme involved in the body’s process of making energy from ketones. Using computer modelling to find drugs that could potentially interact with SCOT, they landed on an older generation of antipsychotic drugs, a drug class called diphenylbutylpiperidines, or DPBP for short.

Ussher and his team had previously found that a specific drug within this class called pimozide could be repurposed to help treat diabetes, but they’ve since expanded their focus to see whether more of the DPBP class could also be useful for treating the disease.

“We’ve tested three drugs now, and they all interact with this enzyme,” says Ussher. “They all improve blood sugar control by preventing the muscle from burning ketones as a fuel source.”

“We believe this SCOT inhibition is the reason these antipsychotics might actually have a second life for repurposing as an anti-diabetic agent,” he adds.

Developing a drug is a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process. It involves clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of the drug, and can easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention, it can take years to go from development in the laboratory to use in the clinic or hospital. Repurposing an existing drug may help fast-track the process, Ussher notes.

“With something that’s an older drug which we used historically in humans that we no longer use, we know what the adverse effects are, we know in general that it’s safe,” he says.

Though clinical trials are still needed, repurposing a drug allows researchers to focus specifically on the efficacy and safety of the new intended use, offering a quicker and cheaper path to a new therapy.

“As you already have safety data, it somewhat accelerates the process,” says Ussher. “And from an economic standpoint, often because a lot of these drugs being pursued for repurposing are older, they’re off patent and cheaper.”

Repurposing is effective because it capitalises on a main characteristic of most drugs, ie not being restricted to just one target in the body. As Ussher explains, most drugs actually have numerous targets they can influence.

“That’s where repurposing comes in,” he says. “Can we identify the other targets that a drug may interact with, and by identifying those other targets, can this drug serve a purpose for a different disease?”

This is what Ussher’s lab did in recognising the DPBP drug class could target SCOT activity as well as the dopamine receptors it targets in its original intended use to treat psychosis.

Knowledge of these original targets can also provide valuable context when refining and improving the repurposed drug. Since DPBP drugs were originally antipsychotics, many of their potential side-effects such as drowsiness, dizziness or fatigue arise from their effects on their original target: the dopamine receptors in the brain. Ussher’s lab is planning to try creating a modified version of the drug class that doesn’t reach the brain and has fewer potential adverse effects.

“For us, the excitement is that it looks like the entire family of these compounds interacts with this protein [SCOT] and can improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes.”

Source: University of Alberta

A Case of Three Teens with COVID and Psychiatric Symptoms

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A case study details three teenagers with mild or asymptomatic COVID presented with suicidal thoughts, “paranoia-like fears,” delusions and “foggy brain”, which could be explained by anti-neural antibodies – ‘turncoat’ antibodies that may attack brain tissue.

Mounting evidence points to neurological and psychiatric effects of COVID, with a UK study finding a 13% risk of a first-time diagnosis after COVID. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, is the first to look at anti-neural antibodies in paediatric patients previously infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Over five months in 2020, 18 children and teens were hospitalised with confirmed COVID at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, three of whom were the patients in the study who underwent neurological evaluations.

The researchers examined the patients’ cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and found that two of the patients, both of whom had histories of unspecified depression and/or anxiety, had antibodies indicating that SARS-CoV-2 may have invaded the central nervous system. They also had anti-neural antibodies in their CSF, suggesting a rampant immune system accidentally targeting the brain.

The research follows a previous UCSF study that also found a high level of autoantibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid of adult patients with acute COVID, who experienced neurological symptoms, including intractable headaches, seizures and loss of smell.

“It is way too soon to know whether COVID is a common trigger for neuropsychiatric illnesses, but it does seem to be a potent trigger for the development of autoantibodies,” said co-corresponding author Samuel Pleasure, MD, PhD. “It is currently totally unknown whether patients predisposed to neuropsychiatric illnesses are more likely to develop worsened symptoms after COVID, or whether COVID infection can act as an independent trigger.”

Unlike most psychiatric presentations, the three patients in the UCSF study had symptoms with sudden onset and rapid progression, representing a marked change from their baselines, said co-first author Claire Johns, MD. “The patients had significant neuropsychiatric manifestations despite mild respiratory symptoms, suggesting potential short and long-term effects of COVID.”

After hospitalisations lasting weeks and ongoing psychiatric medications, the two UCSF patients, whose cerebrospinal fluid tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and anti-neural antibodies, were treated with intravenous immunoglobulin, an immunomodulatory therapy that curbs inflammation in autoimmune disorders. After five days, the first patient had “more organised thoughts, decreased paranoia and improved insight.”

Autoantibodies targeting the protein TCF4 were also found, which has genetic links in some schizophrenia cases. However, “we don’t know that the antibodies are actually interfering with the protein’s function,” said co-corresponding author, Michael R. Wilson, MD, noting that the diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on a constellation of symptoms, not a biomarker.
The second patient partially responded to immunotherapy with improved cognition and working memory, but continued to have “impaired mood and cognitive symptoms” six months later. The third patient, with no psychiatric history and without SARS-CoV-2 antibodies or anti-neural antibodies in their cerebrospinal fluid, recovered with psychiatric medications. Their symptoms were attributed to recreational drug use.

In another case study, a 30-year-old patient with mildly symptomatic COVID who presented at a hospital emergency department with delusions, violent outbursts, hyper-anxiety and paranoia was unresponsive to antipsychotic medication but after being diagnosed with possible “autoimmune-mediated psychosis”, responded to intravenous immunoglobulin.

Nonetheless, the researchers agree it’s unlikely that there were pre-existing autoantibodies, and they point to other disorders with psychiatric symptoms, like anti-NMDAR encephalitis syndrome, that are caused by anti-neural antibodies and respond to treatment directed at these rogue antibodies.

The researchers agree that more study is warranted, although Dr Pleasure noted that the rarity of cerebrospinal fluid samples from paediatric patients is a challenge, as they rarely have severe enough COVID to warrant a lumbar puncture.

Source: University of California San Francisco