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The medical treatment of mental health has often been considered less glamorous than the treatment of physical conditions. In fact, it has been said that psychiatrists aren't 'real doctors'#157; like cardiologists and neurosurgeons.

The medical treatment of mental health has often been considered less glamorous than the treatment of physical conditions. In fact, it has been said that psychiatrists aren't "real doctors" like cardiologists and neurosurgeons.

Yet antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, and antipsychotic drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications in the developed world. Psychotherapy and electro-convulsive treatment are two other pillars of conventional psychiatric care.

These modalities have changed the lives of many from hopelessness and despair to hope and balance. Others have not been as fortunate and seek a different solution. One alternative is orthomolecular medicine.

The late Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Linus Pauling originated the term "orthomolecular" in 1968 to describe an approach to medicine that cures disease, especially mental disorders, using substances normally present in the body. "Ortho" means correct or normal and this method addresses illness by normalizing the balance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, hormones, and essential fatty acids within the body.

Orthomolecular pioneers such as Drs. Abram Hoffer, Humphry Osmond, and Carl Pfeiffer found that improper nutrition could place a person at risk, directly causing or contributing to the development of disease and psychiatric disorders. Diets high in refined, empty-calorie foods such as sugar and white flour, which are devoid of dietary fibre and essential oils, were commonly found in psychiatric patients.

In preparation for orthomolecular therapy, physicians examine patients using psychological and biochemical tests, along with standard history taking and physical exams to evaluate hormone, nutrient, toxin, metabolic, and overall health status. Biochemical individuality is stressed and universal recommended daily allowances are considered unreliable.

Other tenets of orthomolecular medicine are that blood tests are suspect because they do not necessarily reflect tissue levels of nutrients. Allergies, environmental pollution, and food adulteration are considered inescapable facts of modern life. Drugs may be used, but only for specific indications and always with respect to the potential dangers and adverse effects they may have.

Some examples of conditions that may be treated with orthomolecular psychiatry include schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, addictions, and learning and behavioural problems.

Although no single recipe suits every patient, most will be prescribed a whole food, fresh, variable, non-toxic, and indigenous diet. Foods that elicit negative reactions will be eliminated. High doses of vitamins and minerals will often be used. Amino acids play important roles as some are precursors to the brain neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Essential fatty acids are used to support brain development and to balance inflammatory reactions. Toxic metal contamination may require chelation therapies.

Orthomolecular medicine has been embraced and used by most modern holistic disciplines in some shape or form. When applied correctly, this method of therapy has much to offer patients who have not responded to straight pharmaceutical programs.

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