Research highlight

Neuroscience: Omega-3 may protect from psychosis for years

Nature Communications

August 12, 2015

A 12 week intervention with omega-3 supplements, for young people at high risk of developing schizophrenia, reduced both the long-term risk of progression to the psychotic disorder and the risk of developing other psychiatric disorders, reports a paper in Nature Communications. The majority of the 41 individuals who received the omega-3 supplements did not show severe functional impairment either and no longer experienced warning signs for the development of psychosis at follow-up, almost 7 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 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 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% of the omega-3 group (4 out 41) developed psychosis compared to 40% (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.

A possible limitation of this study is the sample size, which is not sufficiently large to allow further analysis of subgroups and further research is necessary to discover a mechanism by which PUFA supplementation may improve mental health.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms8934

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