fish oil, fish oil pills
Eric Risberg/AP
Echinacea, left, fish oil, center, and glucosamine pills are shown in San Francisco, Thursday,
July 30, 2009.

Study Suggests Fish Oil May Prevent Full-Blown Psychosis

February 04, 2010 03:11 PM
by Colleen Brondou
Fish oil was found to reduce progression to full-blown psychosis in young people with symptoms of mental illness, adding to evidence that intervention may decrease the severity of mental disorders.

Add Fish Oil to the Psychiatrist’s Arsenal

The Austrian study looked at 81 patients, ages 13 to 25, who showed early signs of schizophrenia. According to the Associated Press, 41 of the patients were instructed to take four fish oil pills every day for three months. The rest of the patients were given a placebo. After one year, two of the 41 patients taking fish oil—approximately 5 percent—had become psychotic. Of those taking the placebo, 11 of 40 became psychotic—about 28 percent.

Although the cause of schizophrenia is unknown, one hypothesis suggests that the answer may lie in how the body processes fatty acids. Researchers believe that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may help to repair brain cells. Dr. Paul Amminger, lead author of the study, told the AP that it’s been known that schizophrenics have decreased levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

“Schizophrenia is among the most mysterious and costliest diseases in terms of human suffering, so anything that gives some hope to avoid this is great,” Amminger said.

Background: Schizophrenia

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is “a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder” that affects approximately 1.1 percent of the American population. Symptoms usually surface in women in their 20s and 30s, and in men in their late teens or early 20s. They generally include sleep disorders, delusions, distrust and suspicion of others, social withdrawal and hearing voices inside the head. NIMH has comprehensive information on schizophrenia, as well as a directory of mental health services.

Analysis: Preventing mental illness

The notion that diseases like schizophrenia could be stopped or stalled in their early stages, before they take over a person’s life, is not a new one. As Time magazine reported in June 2009, “The most exciting research in mental health today involves not how to treat mental illness but how to prevent it in the first place.” In the past decade, the magazine points out, hundreds of studies have shown that the brain is like any other part of the body: “it doesn’t simply break on its own.”

A report released by the National Academies in 2009 recommended a two-pronged approach on how to prevent mental health disorders. First, ensure that close relatives (especially children) of those with mental disorders have access to screening, due to the important role that genetics play in mental illness. Second, offer treatment to those that have already exhibited signs of mental illness but that don’t show symptoms of full-blown mental illness (for example, depression).

Related Topic: One source of fish oil is depleting

Menhaden, a small fish commonly used as a source for fish oil pills, is rapidly depleting, prompting calls for protective legislation. The small fish, typically less than a foot long, are considered among the sea’s most crucial creatures because they act as water filters. But due to overfishing, menhaden may be wiped out completely. Estimates from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show that within 10 years, the “supplies of sources of fishmeal and fish oil” will not meet demand, Alice Friedemann wrote for The Ethicurean.

Reference: Omega-3 fatty acids

Mayo Clinic provides an introduction to dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids along with health benefits, dosing information and safety issues.

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