Fish oil is great for general wellbeing and it can also really benefit your mental health.
A study published in Nature Communications has shown that fish oils can reduce the risk of developing psychotic disorders. There were 81 participants (aged 13 – 25 years old) in the study, which was a randomised, double blind trial. They were split into two groups: one group took the fish oil and the other a placebo.
The groups supplemented with fish oil or the placebo for 3 months. They were then followed for 12 months after the 3-month period had ended. The scientists found that only 2 people from the fish oil group of 41 went on to have a psychotic disorder compared to 11 of the placebo group.
Seven years on, the fish oil group only had 4 people go on to develop psychotic disorders compared to 16 of the placebo group showing that fish oil reduces schizophrenia symptoms in some cases.
Despite the fact that schizophrenia only affects about 1% of the US population — roughly three times the number of people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease — the economic burden of this disease is considerable: an estimated $60 billion a year. This is in large part because it is a condition that typically manifests in adolescence or early adulthood. More than 40% of all people diagnosed with schizophrenia end up in supervised group housing, nursing homes, or hospitals. Another 6% end up in jail, and an equal proportion end up living on the streets.
Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive problems. While the majority of affected individuals experience a slow or gradual onset of clinically significant symptoms, some experience abrupt onset. In addition to having their mental health affected, individuals with schizophrenia often die more than a decade earlier than the general population from complications due in large part to cardiometabolic conditions.
Because the use of antipsychotic medications for the prevention of psychotic disorders is controversial at best, clinicians continue to search for and explore novel therapeutics. Despite early treatment strategies being linked to better outcomes, current treatments focus on controlling symptoms with pharmaceuticals, rather than avoiding their development. A recent meta analysis of 2,502 individuals who were at risk found that the cumulative rate of transition to psychosis increased over time, with 18%, 22%, 29%, and 36% developing a psychotic disorder at six months, one, two, and three years, respectively, making early intervention critically important.
Because antipsychotic medication can be used to assess the severity of psychotic phenomena, this study investigated the proportion of individuals in the study who needed to be prescribed medication. The percentages of individuals who needed antipsychotics at follow-up were 29.4% (10/34) in the omega-3 group, and 54.3% (19/35) in the placebo group.
Only 2 individuals in the omega-3 group reported continuance of fish oil capsules for longer than 1 month during the follow-up period, suggesting that early nutritional intervention, rather than continuance of treatment, is key to success of treatment. The initial 12-week intervention played a significant role in the prevention of transition to full-threshold psychotic disorder and further led to a sustained symptomatic and functional improvement.
This study, as well as previous studies of omega 3s and psychosis, demonstrates the potential of long-chain PUFAs as a safe and efficacious strategy for the prevention of psychotic states in at-risk individuals. Considering omega-3 PUFAs have no clinically significant side effects and are considered generally beneficial to health, supplementation with omega 3s should be considered as an ideal early nutritional intervention.