02:53pm Monday 21 October 2019

Study shows new medication may be effective in reducing negative metabolic side effects of some schizophrenia treatments

The results of the study are published in this month’s issue of Clinical Schizophrenia and Related Psychosis.

The CAMH study monitored metabolic indicators including weight, waist circumference and blood lipid levels(LDL) in 33 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. The participants were already being treated with second-generation antipsychotic medications and had experienced negative metabolic effects. The patients had experienced weight gain and agreed to enter the study to see if switching to aripiprazole would help.

“While many antipsychotic medications can be successful in treating some of the symptoms related to schizophrenia, they also have side effects that can have life-long consequences,” said Dr. Rohan Ganguli, Executive Vice-President of Clinical Programs at CAMH and Principal Investigator. “In the past with older medication the major side effects were neurologic, but now, with the newer generation of antipsychotics, the most common medication side effects are metabolic changes. Many patients experience weight gain, insulin resistance, and increase in lipids, all of which increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.”

After being switched to Aripiprazole for eight weeks in the study, 61 per cent of participants lost weight, reduced their waist circumference and lowered their LDL levels. On average, participants reduced their weight by 4 pounds, lost 1.3 inches off their waist and decreased their LDL by 17 milligrams. Aripiprazole acts on the D2 dopamine receptors, but instead of blocking them, like most other antipsychotic medications, it is a mild agonist (i.e. stimulates) this receptor, as well a type of serotonin receptor known as the 5HT2c receptor.  These unusual pharmacologic properties of Aripiprazole, might account for its reduced propensity to cause weight gain and other metabolic problems.

“People with schizophrenia die an average of 20-25 years earlier than the rest of the population. Some of this premature mortality is believed to be related to the metabolic side effects of medication.  Choosing treatment least likely to cause harm seems would be in the person’s best interest,” said Dr. Ganguli. “Though this medication may not be right for all patients, it can be a viable option for those who have had negative metabolic side effects with other medications. If a change in medication can help improve a person’s overall health while still effectively treating mental illness, it can have a very positive effect on their lives.”

Dr. Ganguli also stressed the importance of healthy lifestyle choices for those who have schizophrenia, and noted that proper diet and physical activity is an important factor in mitigating the negative side effects of antipsychotic medications.

Media Contact: Michael Torres, Media Relations, CAMH; 416-595-6015


The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.

CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.

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