Can Fish Oil Help Combat Schizophrenia?

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By Dr. Mercola

Omega-3 fats found in fish oil, krill oil, and oily fish like sardines and anchovies play an integral role in brain health. Sixty percent of your brain is made up of fat.

The omega-3 fat DHA alone makes up about 15 percent to 34 percent of your brain’s cerebral cortex, depending on your age (the older you are, the more DHA). It’s found in relatively high levels in your neurons – the cells of your central nervous system – where it provides structural support.

Because your brain is literally built from omega-3 fats, it makes sense that it would play an integral role in brain function. But in addition, omega-3s also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and these are thought to be responsible for some of their therapeutic effects on mental health.

In 1999, Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll published a study showing that omega-3 fats improved the course of illness in people with bipolar disorder.1

In 2001, he published the book The Omega-3 Connection, which was among the first works to bring attention to and support the use of omega-3 fats for depression.

Then, in 2010, researchers from the Orygen Youth Health Research Center in Australia found that supplementing with animal-based omega-3s for 12 weeks reduced the risk of psychosis development in those at high risk for over one year.

The beneficial effects remained even after the supplements were no longer being taken – a benefit that has not been seen with antipsychotic medications.2

Last month, a follow-up to the 2010 research was published, and it showed even more promising results for the role of these beneficial fats in mental health.

Omega-3s May Protect Against Psychosis

The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that omega-3s may delay progression to psychosis among patients at high risk for much longer – a period of at least seven years.3

Among the patients taking omega-3s for 12 weeks, only 10 percent transitioned to psychosis during the study period. The rate of transition among the non-omega-3 group was 40 percent.

Further, those in the placebo group had a more rapid progression time to psychosis compared to those in the omega-3 group. Those taking omega-3s also had significantly improved overall symptoms and psychosocial functioning. According to the study:4

“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.

We have previously shown that a 12-week intervention with omega-3 PUFAs reduced the risk of progression to psychotic disorder in young people with subthreshold psychotic states for a 12-month period compared with placebo.

We have now completed a longer-term follow-up of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, at a median of 6.7 years. Here we show that brief intervention with omega-3 PUFAs reduced both the risk of progression to psychotic…

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