In the field of psychiatry, Yuri Nikoliav of the Moscow Psychiatric Institute, fasted ten thousand patients diagnosed with chronic refractory schizophrenia, a recurring condition characterized by gross distortions of reality, which is resistant to treatment. The patients, who had been treated with more conventional types of psychiatry and had not responded, were placed on water fasts lasting from twenty-five to thirty days. Nikoliav’s fasting regimen was successful in more than 70% of all cases. The results were so impressive that the large majority of the schizophrenic patients at the 3,000-bed research center requested admission to the unit.
New York Psychiatrist Alan Cott spent two weeks observing Nikoliav’s fasting treatments. Cott then undertook an experimental controlled fasting program as part of a research project at the Gracie Square Hospital in New York. The patients in Cott’s study had been previously diagnosed as schizophrenic for at least five years and had failed to improve under previous forms of treatment. After treating 28 schizophrenics, Cott reported that over 60% of those who completed the fast remained well, providing they stayed on a special low-fat diet.
In his book What Really Causes Schizophrenia?, Harold Foster calls the therapeutic fasting of schizophrenics as one of the “five most effective unconventional approaches to the treatment of schizophrenia.” Foster subscribes to a branch of medicine called “orthomolecular medicine.” Orthomolecular psychiatry is a type of orthomolecular medicine whose proponents argue that dietary supplements and other treatments can be effective in treating mental illness. Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel prizes, coined the term “orthomolecular psychiatry” in 1968 to refer to the treatment of psychiatric illnesses with substances (such as vitamins, minerals, enzymes, trace elements, co-enzymes) that are normally present in the body. In orthomolecular psychiatry, high amounts of vitamins are sometimes used, not to correct a deficiency per se, but to create a more optimal biochemical environment. Fasting is another method used in orthomolecular psychiatry.
Juli Shapiro, a doctor at the hematology unit at Moscow Psychiatric Institute who was present during Nikoliav’s therapeutic fasting of schizophrenic patients, discovered the biological mechanism at work in fasting schizophrenics. Shapiro determined that fasting had a major impact on histamine levels. This was due to the fact that, during a fast, a large amount of heparin formed in the tissue surrounding blood vessels, lowering histamine levels. Shapiro also revealed that catecholamines, a water soluble chemical compound that circulates in the bloodstream and is depressed in schizophrenics, normalize during the fast.
In 1970, Abram Hoffer, using an orthomolecular dietary approach, fasted his schizophrenic patients for 4 days and began reintroducing foods he suspected they were allergic to. According to Hoffer, 60% of the 200 schizophrenic patients he fasted, were allergic to specific foods. When the foods were eliminated, they improved or became normal. Hoffer said he believed, “Cerebral allergy plays a major role in the etiology of the schizophrenic syndrome.”