Brain & Behavior Research Foundation-Funded Study Links Schizophrenia, Inflammation & Bacteria

Emily G. Severance, Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins University, expert on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
Emily G. Severance, Ph.D.

People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have heightened sensitivities to certain foods, such as wheat glutens, that may leak from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract during digestion, enter the bloodstream circulation and potentially invade the central nervous system. Additionally, a leaky GI tract may also allow gut-dwelling bacteria to cross into the bloodstream and generate an immune reaction leading to inflammation. Heightened levels of inflammation in blood circulation and the nervous system have been linked to psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

With her Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, Emily G. Severance, Ph.D. and team at Johns Hopkins University set out to test if a breached gastrointestinal barrier contributes to symptoms of psychiatric disorders. In a study published June 6, 2013 in Schizophrenia Research, the researchers measured blood markers of an endotoxin associated with bacteria found in the GI tract in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and correlated these to the levels of inflammation and immune system activation. The results can help elucidate mechanisms by which immune activation can contribute to the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

At this point you might wonder what causes our GI tract to become leaky in the first place. A parasitic organism called Toxoplasma gondii can infect people when they consume raw meat or water, fruits and vegetables contaminated by feces of infected animals. Dr. Severance and her colleagues have a theory that once inside the host’s GI tract, this parasite may result in elevated antibodies against a protein called gluten, commonly found in foods containing wheat, barley and rye, which in turn can make our GI track permeable to bacteria, thus allowing them to leak into circulation. Whereas the origin of inflammation in psychiatric disorders is not well understood, a compromised GI barrier in schizophrenia could be that source of inflammation.

In this study, researchers observed that markers associated with gut-dwelling bacteria were elevated in the blood of patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder compared to healthy individuals. What’s more, the complex patterns of the markers surveyed suggest an activated and imbalanced immune state in these patients. The study also uncovered an interesting association of gluten antibodies in individuals who had not received any antipsychotic treatment, thus supporting the view that inflammation linked to schizophrenia is not necessarily a side-effect of the pharmacological treatment. This new study has important implications for the treatment of psychiatric disorders and supports a more focused examination of strategies that target inflammation and/or the microbiome in the gut.  

Read the study abstract

Article comments

This is a very confusing article for a lay person. What, in simple terms, are you concluding?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

I have two boys one with Schizophrenia and one that has had two seizures. When I was trying to get pregnant (3 miscarriages) one of the tests I was given back in the 80's was Cytomegalovirus (CMV). That I test positive for. Is there a connection.

I think it's interesting that 80 years ago, famous "sleeping psychic" Edgar Cayce often mentioned illnesses that were connected to "leaky gut syndrome" and it's fascinating that 90 years later, the scientific community is starting to research this issue. Would love to see if other suggestions from ancient world spiritual practices and religions -- such as a "faulty" pineal gland as being somehow involved in hallucinations of mental illness -- would be researched as well.

Thank you I have a friend that has toxoplasmosis and has constantly complained of stomach pain howbeit the Drs. are uneducated about Toxoplasmosis and her treatment has been sporadic as such she is near death.

In 1967, after a year of horrible untreatable skin erruptions covering specific regions of my baby son's body, and five doctors later, a stumped dermatologist sent a specimen from my then two year old son to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo results: Dermatitis Herpitiformis and allergy to gluten. He was placed on a strict wheat free diet for two years and gamaglobulin shots. About two years later it magically disappeared all at once. I will never forget what the dermatologist said to me - a young 21 year old mother. Dr. Ragsdale said that this disease can be turn into diabetes, heart disease and "insanity." His term, not mine. I dismissed this forboding statement. Not only is my 47 year old son suffering from severe schizophrenia, his body is shaped oddly, a shape that according to some research indicates severe gluten allergic reaction. For 20 years I have tried to find anyone who could/would discuss this with me. I have been dismissed by the best professionals, yet in my heart of hearts I feel so strongly that there is a correlation, yet no one would ever listen.

My dear,

Only Homeopathy and Hering's Law of Cure will cure your son.

Conventional medical doctors are not taught Hering's Law of cure. They only know how to suppress syptoms of the skin diseases which turns the disease into the body to attact the vital organs like the brain.

If he was much younger it may have been quite possible but at this advanced age of 47 years, I'm not sure if Homeopathy can help.

Getting him to take a probiotic supplement will help.

Immediately email Dr. Rajesh Shah's Life Force Center to ask them if they can help with Homeopathy treatment.

Hello there ! as a child I suffered from the symptoms of ADD and had severe asthma. I was intermittently unable to concentrate and focus. this carried on into my working career and got worse and worse. At the age of 47 I was diagnosed as Bipolar 2 after binge eating on copious amounts of white bread, I had psychosis. I was put on Olanzapine 5mg and have been moderately depressed for 11 years. Out of desperation I tried the supplement SAM-e which is not recommended for those with Bipolar because of the risk of mania. I went hypomanic for ten days and then I stopped taking it. My depression had miraculously disappeared. Then I changed my diet and cut out wheat and grains
My life has completely changed. I am having tests to find out what exactly my problem is.
Wheat,Gluten,Yeast ??????
Food intolerance masquerading as Mental health disorders and allergies.

I can see why schitzoprenia and bacterial inflamation is not well understood due to a lack of volunteers.

I'm quite interested in relation between schizophrenia and bacteria, I made a hypothesis made by gathering lot of medical publication.

if your are instered, it tells that there is lot of elements supporting the idea of a bacteria involved in schizophrenia, and that this bacteria send toxins which disturb the cells of human body including neurons.

I have a leaky gut an within half an hour of ingesting certain foods I become somewhat schizophrenic. By avoiding these foods especially gluten, sugar, caffeine, sulphites, I am fine.

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