The so-called ‘omega-3’ fats found in oily fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardine and herring) have been extensively studied with regard to their apparent ability to ward against ‘cardiovascular’ conditions such as heart attacks and stroke. They also seem to offer considerable promise for the brain too, and have been linked with a reduced risk of a range of psychiatric ills including depression and dementia. Now, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that omega-3 fats may have a role to play in the management of individuals exhibiting self-harm.
In this study, 49 patients with recurrent self-harm were treated with either omega-3 fats or placebo (inactive medication) for a period of 12 weeks. 22 patients received the active treatment (1.2 g of EPA and 0.9 g of DHA), while the remaining 27 received placebo. This study was ‘double-blind’, meaning that neither the study subjects not the researchers knew what treatments were being taken.
At the conclusion of the study, it was revealed that compared to those given the placebo, individuals taking the omega-3 fats showed significantly greater improvements in scores for depression, suicidal tendencies and feelings of daily stress. The authors of this study went on to conclude that supplementation with omega-3 fats achieved substantial reductions in markers of suicidal behaviour and improvements in well-being.
This study seems to add to an ever-growing body of evidence for the role of fish-derived omega-3 fats in the maintenance of healthy psychological functioning. Fish fats certainly seem to be one dietary constituent that are worth letting go to our heads.
1. Hallahan B, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in patients with recurrent self-harm. Br J Psychiatry.2007;190:118-122