October 4, 2013. A common compound called sodium benzoate, used as a preservative in many foods, can improve schizophrenia symptoms when added to a patient’s existing antipsychotic drug, according to a small study published online October 2, 2013, in JAMA Psychiatry. The promising results mark the first time this class of drugs has ever been tested in the illness.
Guochuan Tsai of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, and colleagues found that after six weeks of treatment, the patients who received the benzoate had 21 percent fewer symptoms, on average, than those who had received a sugar pill. Benzoate also improved the patients’ overall cognitive performance as well as their level of life satisfaction, and did not produce any major side effects. Although the initial results are encouraging, future studies that examine the effect of benzoate over a longer period of time and in more people are needed to validate the findings. (For more details, see the related news story.)—Allison A. Curley.