Treating diabetes may help schizophrenia, researchers say

02 October, 2013

Researchers have found the prevention and treatment of diabetes might prove beneficial for people with schizophrenia and may yield better cognitive functioning, especially in immediate memory and attention.

The joint study between the University of Wollongong and China's Beijing HuiLongGuan Hospital, published in PLOS ONE, has the potential to improve daily life of the 1 in 100 Australians who develop schizophrenia during their lifetime, helping them to restore skills that could allow them to return to the workforce.

Professor Xu-Feng Huang, director of UOW's Centre for Translational Neuroscience and Deputy Executive Director of the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, said schizophrenia ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide, with the disease a major cause of suicide — up to 10 per cent of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide.

Professor Huang said previous studies had reported diabetes occurs about two to four times more frequently in patients with schizophrenia than in the general population. And as schizophrenia and diabetes are both associated with cognitive impairment, it was thought that patients with both diseases might suffer an increased rate and magnitude of cognitive deficits.

"A number of our previous studies have shown us that many atypical antipsychotics increase the likelihood of people with schizophrenia developing Type 2 diabetes," Professor Huang said.

The study found this to be accurate, with indications that people with both schizophrenia and diabetes were more cognitively impaired in the areas of immediate memory and attention than people with schizophrenia alone and people with diabetes alone. Furthermore, male patients perform worse than female patients.

These findings indicate that the memory deficits found in schizophrenia could, in part, reflect disturbed glucose regulation, and that improvement of glucose metabolism and energy utilisation could improve these deficits.

"What this study tells us is that treating diabetes in people with schizophrenia may improve their cognitive functioning, which could have a positive impact on everyday life," Professor Huang said.

Preclinical studies, led by Institute-supported Professor Huang, have also indicated that certain compounds extracted from tea, ginseng and fish oil could be useful as adjunct treatments in reducing chronic brain inflammation that is linked with the causes of obesity, type II diabetes and cognitive impairment.