WRITER: MEGHAN NEARY
CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax(319) 335-8034
Release: Sept. 26, 2000
Chewing betel nuts decreases severity of schizophrenia symptoms
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- People with schizophrenia who regularly chew betel nuts
show less severe symptoms, according to a recent University of Iowa study
published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Betel nut, an acorn-shaped
seed found on betel palms, contains arecoline which is the fourth most widely
used drug, after nicotine, ethanol and caffeine. Betel chew, also called betel
quid, is a combination of betel nuts, creeping vine leaves and the chemical
lime. It is chewed primarily by people living in countries from the east coast
of Africa to the western Pacific.
John S. Allen, Ph.D., a UI visiting associate professor of anthropology,
and research fellow in the UI department of neurology, is one of the study's
five authors. The study examined two groups of patients with schizophrenia
living in Palau, Micronesia, those who chewed betel quid and those who did
not. The severity of schizophrenic symptoms were measured using the Positive
and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS), a psychiatric assessment tool. The chewing
group's PANSS scores were significantly lower than those of the non-chewing
group, indicating less severe symptoms of schizophrenia.
Allen believes these findings are relevant to the issue of self-medication
of patients with schizophrenia.
"Cigarette smoking may be so popular for schizophrenia patients due
to specific neurochemical effects of nicotine," Allen said. "In
the same way, people with schizophrenia may derive a direct benefit from betel
Allen says an unfortunate aspect of these findings is the association of
betel nut chewing and an increased risk of mouth cancers. For that and other
reasons, he does not believe betel nut chewing will be a viable treatment
option for people with schizophrenia in the United States.
"What with all the spitting and staining the teeth red, I can't see
it becoming too popular here," Allen said. He added that two of the three
elements of betel quid come from tropical plants that are not readily available
in the United States.
However, Allen thinks this study may lead to an increased interest in drugs
that work like arecoline, the active ingredient in betel nuts.
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between
the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient
care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.