‘Fish oil protects against mental disorders’
Those at risk of the mental health illness were four times less likely to suffer psychotic episodes in the next seven years after taking the supplements for just three months.
The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that teenagers and those in their early 20s who take fish oils can dramatically reduce their risk of psychiatric disorders.
Scientists at the University of Melbourne said no other intervention, including psychiatric drugs, has achieved as much for so long after treatment stopped.
Moreover, they note antipsychotic drugs tend to have serious side effects, including weight gain and sexual dysfunction.
In contrast, omega-3 pills have no serious known side effects.
The fatty acid is abundant in salmon, mackerel, sardines and other oily fish.
And it has been linked to a host of health benefits including protecting against heart disease and cancer.
According to Wikipedia, Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and lack of motivation. Diagnosis is based on observed behavior and the person’s reported experiences.
To arrive at their findings researchers analysed the effects of omega-3 in young people at high risk of developing schizophrenia.
They recruited 41 participants to take the supplements for a 12-week period.
The majority of those taking the pills did not show any severe functional impairment, and no longer experienced warning signs for the development of psychosis at follow-up – almost seven years after the intervention.
Schizophrenia typically manifests in adolescence or early adulthood and the majority of those affected gradually develop a variety of clinically significant signs and symptoms.
Diagnostic criteria, termed ‘ultra-high risk’ criteria have been developed to identify young people more likely to develop psychosis.
Previous studies have implicated a lack of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the development of a number of mental health conditions and several trials have shown that supplementation with omega-3 PUFAs can reduce psychotic symptoms.
In 2010, Dr Paul Amminger and colleagues reported that dietary supplementation of omega-3 PUFAs, in participants aged 13 -25, prevented a first episode of a psychotic disorder for up to one year.
Now, in the journal Nature Communications, they report the longer term efficiency of this intervention after a period of 6.7 years with 71 of the original 81 participants.
They find that 9.8 per cent of the omega-3 group (4 out 41) developed psychosis compared to 40 per cent (16 out of 40) in the placebo group.
In addition, the placebo group showed more rapid onset of psychosis and a higher overall incidence of other psychiatric disorders.
Amminger, of the University of Melbourne, said: “Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential for neural development and function.
“As key components of brain tissue, omega-3 PUFAs play critical roles in brain development and function, and a lack of these fatty acids has been implicated in a number of mental health conditions over the lifespan, including schizophrenia.
“Here we show brief intervention with omega-3 PUFAs reduced both the risk of progression to psychotic disorder and psychiatric morbidity in general in this study.
“The majority of the individuals from the omega-3 group did not show severe functional impairment and no longer experienced attenuated psychotic symptoms at follow-up.”
He said schizophrenia is a devastating condition characterized by delusions, hallucinations and cognitive problems that typically manifests in adolescence or early adulthood.
The onset may be abrupt or insidious, but the majority of individuals experience the slow and gradual development of a variety of clinically significant signs and symptoms.
Schizophrenia does not just affect mental health. Patients die more than a decade earlier than the general population, with this excess mortality largely due to heart and metabolic conditions.