Antioxidants in the brain linked to improved treatment results in patients with psychosis


LONDON, ON – New research from Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute demonstrates that increased antioxidant levels in the brain may improve outcomes of early intervention in psychosis. In the paper published in Nature Molecular Psychiatry, the research team found that patients with higher levels of an antioxidant called glutathione responded more quickly to medication for psychosis and had improved outcomes. 

“Once patients with psychosis start treatment, some get better in weeks while it can take months for others. We wanted to see if we could understand and influence this disparity,” said Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, Associate Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. “We found that the amount of antioxidants that patients have in their brains predicts the time that it takes for them to respond to treatment.”

Previous research has shown that patients who respond early to antipsychotic medications have better overall outcomes in terms of symptoms and daily functioning. The research team has estimated that a 10 per cent increase in antioxidants could lead to a reduction in length of hospital stay by at least seven days.

“This study demonstrates that if we can find a way to boost the amount of antioxidants in the brain, we might be able to help patients transition out of hospital more quickly, reduce their suffering more quickly and help them return earlier to their work and studies,” said Dr. Palaniyappan who is also the Tanna Schulich Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and Mental Health at Western.

Antioxidant levels in the brain vary naturally from person to person and those variations can be attributed to lifestyle choices like exercise and diet. There are also ways to pharmaceutically boost these levels. A supplement called N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) as well as broccoli extracts can increase the brain’s antioxidants if given over a long period of time. 

Dr. Palaniyappan and his team used high-field MRI imaging to examine antioxidant levels in the brains of 37 new patients to the Prevention and Early Intervention for Psychoses Program (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre. Antioxidant levels were studied prior to beginning treatment for psychosis and followed up for six months post-treatment.

The MRI scans were acquired at Western’s Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping at the Robarts Research Institute with the support of Western's BrainsCAN and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.


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About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit

About Western

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

About The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery. 

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