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Diabetes and Schizophrenia: Causes and Research for Cures

Updated on September 21, 2017
Diabetes kit for testing blood sugar.
Diabetes kit for testing blood sugar. | Source

Does diabetes cause schizophrenia?

My interest in the link between diabetes and schizophrenia comes from having had a friend who has both. He was seventeen when diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. The schizophrenia came along five to ten years later.

These dual health developments condemned him to a life of daily blood sugar testing, insulin injections, and food monitoring. He also takes Risperdal for the schizophrenia.

We wondered if there was a connection between schizophrenia and diabetes. His intuition told him there was, and a research article published in PLoS Biology in June 2010 confirms this link.

Diabetics have increased mental disorders

In a June 9, 2010 article in Science Daily, Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D, an endocrinologist who worked on the PLoS Biology research article, was quoted as saying, "We know that people with diabetes have an increased incidence of mood and other psychiatric disorders."

[Reference links to the Science Daily article and PLoS Biology's research article are included near the bottom of this page.]

A diabetes researcher. Image from NASA.
A diabetes researcher. Image from NASA. | Source

Insulin (diabetes) regulates dopamine (schizophrenia)

The body's glucose metabolism is regulated by the hormone, insulin, which is normally secreted by a healthy pancreas whenever glucose or protein are detected in the blood, after a meal.

A person with type 1 diabetes mellitus (Juvenile Diabetes) develops insulin deficiency (autoimmine-mediated destruction of insulin).

Type 2 diabetics develop insulin resistance associated with genetics, obesity, lack of exercise, and age.

Insulin also regulate more than just glucose - it regulates dopamine as well. Lack of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is associated with schizophrenia and other maladies such as Parkinson's disease, ADHD, social withdrawal, and depression.

The PLoS Biology article's research team's discovery is that insulin deficiency or resistance change neurotransmitter levels in the brain. They found reduced dopamine and increased norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex. A transporter protein called NET is responsible for altered neurotransmitter levels.

Neurotransmitter imbalance caused by diabetes, leading to schizophrenia

In the June 9, 2010 article in Science Daily, Aurelio Galli, Ph.D, a neurobiologist who participated in the research project, is quoted as saying: "We believe the excess NET is sucking away all of the dopamine and converting it to norepinephrine, creating this situation of hypodopaminergia (low levels of dopamine) in the cortex."

Question: "I'm diabetic. Will I get schizophrenia?"

Not all people with diabetes develop schizophrenia. This study simply confirms that many schizophrenics had diabetes and insulin deficiency as a contributing factor to their mental illness.

The study also suggests a new treatment for schizophrenia that is now in the testing phase.

The PLoS Biology research article's author summary states, "...dysfunction of dopamine signaling in the brain is one of the final common pathways involved." This refers to the final stages leading to schizophrenia.

This suggests that well-controlled diabetes is less likely to cause schizophrenia than diabetes that is not controlled with medical intervention.

About my friend

My friend with the diabetes and schizophrenia was only seventeen when his diabetes was diagnosed. Prior to that he'd spent five years in foster homes or as a teenage street person. When he didn't like a foster home, he'd run away. He was on the streets for years . . . until he collapsed and was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

After his diagnosis he continued a life that was irresponsible at best. He had no contact with his parents - his mother was in a mental hospital with bipolar disorder - something he has never developed. His father had offered him a home but that didn't last for more than a year before a severe rift developed.

My friend continued to drift until he became a cult member and decided that God would save him from diabetes. He decided to discontinue his insulin and trust in the Lord. This nearly killed him and he ended up back in a hospital being treated for diabetes.

Perhaps his lifestyle contributed to the development of schizophrenia after his diabetes diagnosis. Of course, I can't say for sure - and probably nobody can - but I believe his family situation and choices contributed to his development of schizophrenia.

I didn't meet him until he was 37 and by then he'd settled into a responsible pattern of caring for his diabetes correctly most of the time, despite his schizophrenia. Also while I was living with him, he started taking Risperdal and was able to control some schizophrenia symptoms that had caused a variety of problems for him over the years.


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    • profile image

      Craig 20 months ago from Dushore, pa

      Thank you for writing this.

      Does your friend hear voices? Has he suffered with depression?

      I have worked with individuals suffering with this particular mental illness, prolly the most poorly understood MI out there.

      It's interesting that you should draw the correlation between diabetes affecting dopamine, contributing no doubt to the rather "flat" emotional state that is so often associated with Schizophrenia.

      Please check out some of my articles as well - thank you.

    • profile image

      Anomaly2424 4 years ago

      I am a 24 year old juvenile diabetic. I have been a diabetic for 23 of my 24 years. I am also a schizophrenic. I googled schizophrenia and diabetic and fell on this. not sure what i was looking for. I have recently started having serious, life threatening complications from this diabetes. having to come to terms with my mortality and to come to terms with myself that i am not able to go into public unnoticed due to schizophrenic manifestations and odd uncontrollable actions. i seem as if im drunk or on drugs when im trying my best to be unnoticed. the story about your friend sounds scary similar to mine. My mother also with bi-polar and disabled due to (ta-dah) juvenile diabetes, the cult situation.... omg the stories i could tell. trying to will the diabetes away with pure delusion. well what im trying to say, is its nice to hear that he got control of himself. i hope i can catch grasp of myself one day.

    • charmaine101 profile image

      charmaine101 7 years ago from CA

      wow, I've never heard of schizophrenia and diabeties, that is very intense. Also, interesting, but hopefully medications nowadays can help people like this live normal lives. Check out my hub -

    • LindaJM profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 7 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      @shazwellyn - I have a child who was diagnosed with Aspergers too. No diabetes, thank goodness! When she got her diagnosis I'd never heard of it before. That was almost 15 years ago. She's an adult now - doing well. She rejects her diagnosis, and believes she's just like everyone else. Well, that is true... but... I remember raising her and it was quite a wild ride! LOL

      @Kim... I'd never heard about it before either - and had no idea what schizophrenia was like until that friend moved in with us in 2000... and he was not medicated. Such a great learning experience -- but the lessons didn't come easily.

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      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      I had not heard of this link between diabetes and schizophrenia. Very interesting.

    • shazwellyn profile image

      shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain

      I don't know about schizophrenia, but Aspergers is often misdiagnosed as neurosis and schizophrenia. Recently, I have discovered an interesting trend in my son's specialist further education college (he is Aspergers) - many of the students (including my son) has siblings with type 1 diabetes.

      It is just a thought... make what you will.