Could Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Depression be Related to the Immune System?

The New York Times published a very interesting article yesterday that is trending on their site. It describes a case of a young man who had schizophrenia recovering completely from his condition after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Changing your bone marrow completely resets the immune system. Complete remission or cures of schizophrenia are completely unheard of, making this a profound occurrence.

This anecdotal story lends evidence to a theory that many mental health disorders, such a schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (which are very related, both being associated with genetic and hereditary factors and potentially causing psychosis) may in fact be caused by autoimmune dysfunction. It’s possible that the immune system is interfering with the brains neurotransmitter levels, or creating excessive inflammation responses.

Even more stunning, another middle aged man with leukemia who received a bone marrow transplant from his brother with schizophrenia actually developed the disorder, once again contrary to the usual onset of schizophrenia during adolescence.

Another study suggesting the possible role of the immune system in these disorders found that rates of mania requiring hospitalization were reduced by about half by administering probiotics that bolster the immune system.

It is very important to note that these are single, anecdotal cases and a small research study, and not to be viewed as anything approaching evidence that should determine treatment. The clients in the study of mania had severe cases of bipolar disorder, which are relatively uncommon. Remember, the probiotics decreased the odds they needed to be hospitalized for mania. These cases do suggest further research should be done to explore the relationship between mental health and the immune system.

However, if you’re struggling with either of this disorders (or possibly other mood disorders), the study used some probiotics that are available over the counter. My own search found that the very popular brand Emergen-C has a new probiotic for sale that contains exactly the same probiotic used in the study. The cost for daily supplementation is about $20 a month, and there are other benefits from probiotics that might be advantageous. As with anything we ingest, there might be side effects, specifically in the GI system.

Would this be worth a trial for people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even depression and anxiety, even without further research? It’s something to think about.

My usual disclaimer applies here; while I sometimes recommend supplements to my clients, I’m not a doctor, and you should always discuss beginning any supplements with your medical providers. I’m not recommending them, but perhaps offering some hope that we may be moving closer to some understanding and treatment of these disorders from a new perspective.

Here’s the NY Times article:

He Got Schizophrenia. He Got Cancer. And Then He Got Cured. 

And the research on mania relapse in bipolar disorder and probiotics:


Here’s another scientific overview of the relationships between probiotics and anxiety/derpression/stress:

Probiotics fo Enhancing Mood