Omega-3 fats found to protect against psychotic illness

Omega-3 fats generally get good press, on the basis of research linking them with benefits for the body and brain. As far as the brain is concerned, much has been made of the apparent ability omega-3 fats have to exert a natural anti-depressant action. Omega-3 fats are a key component in brain cells. They also play a part in the signalling of key brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. You can read relatively recent posts about the role omega-3 fats have in mental health here, here, here and here.

The fact that omega-3 fats have what appears to be an integral part to play brain function, there is always the possibility that they may help protect against or even treat other disease entities that emanate from the brain. In a recent study, researchers based in Australia, Austria and Switzerland sought to assess the impact of omega-3 fats in individuals deemed to be at very high risk of ‘psychotic disorder’ aged 13-25 (psychotic disorders are generally severe mental illnesses that include schizophrenia) [1]. Features considered to put people of risk of psychosis included having schizophrenia-like personality disorder or low-level psychotic symptoms.

These individuals were treated with either omega-3 fats (1.2 grams per day) or placebo for 12 weeks. The study participants were assessed for a further 40 weeks.

The omega-3 fats led to a statistically significant reduction in risk of individuals progressing to a full psychotic disorder over the course of the study: 4.9 per cent of those taking omega-3 became frankly psychotic compared to 27.5 per cent of those taking placebo. Symptoms associated with psychosis were also reduced and functioning was improved by the taking of omega-3 fats. Adverse events were similar in both groups.

The authors of this study concluded that omega-3 fats “reduce the risk of progression to psychotic disorder and may offer a safe and efficacious strategy for indicated prevention in young people with subthreshold psychotic states”.


1. Amminger GP, et al. Long-Chain -3 Fatty Acids for Indicated Prevention of Psychotic Disorders: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(2):146-154.

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7 Responses to Omega-3 fats found to protect against psychotic illness

  1. Chris 4 February 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Aside from being type 2 diabetic and my sister having survived treatment for breast cancer twice, a strong motivating influence upon my interest in chronic illness and the important role of fats in the diet is the heart rending story of one of my friends.
    I had lost touch for several years and re-established contact only in the last twelve months. He explained he and his two daughters were now living apart from his wife and a divorce was proceeding.
    His wife suffered post-natal depression after the birth of their second child almost eleven years ago and the depression persisted. Sadly, the compulsive, obsessive, and neurotic tendencies of his wife (if these be the right terms) really placed constraints upon a happy family life. My friend tried to keep the family as functional and as happy as he could but tensions grew. He told me how one evening last year the family retreated to the home of the paternal grandmother to try to resolve matters in discussion. I was moved by the account. The strain of the mothers depression had really told on the two daughters and upon the eldest now 14. It was the daughters, the eldest in particular, who had asked to live apart from their mother. I was choked.
    My friends’ wife has ‘issues’ from her own family home, I know, but I remain curious upon whether diet may also be crucially factorial.
    Purely for personal satisfaction I wrote about members of my close circle of friends and family whose lives have been blighted by chronic illness of the sort that the inflammation hypothesis (IH) is given to account for; diabetes, arthritis, auto-immune disorders, and perhaps promotional in the advancement of cancers. Included in the piece is an account of my friends’ situation, his daughters and his wife. I couldn’t recall if I had seen reference to fats and post-natal depression so I felt self conscious about making the implied association to the IH.
    Thank you so much for this blog, John, that reminds us just how powerful components of our diet can be, and specifically for linking to the earlier blogs on fats and pregnancy.

  2. Hilda Glickman 6 February 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    People whose forebears lived near the sea and ate lots of fish need more omga 3 than others according to Prof Saldeen Swedish biochemist.

  3. Jill H 7 February 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    This is a really interesting thought that Hilda has brought in here with regard to the thinking of Prof Tom Saldeen. I mean – it could be construed that Britain, having been a sea faring nation, has a rich history of fish eating (higher Omega 3 consumption) historically. Our forebears, especially those of a working class background, ate a great deal more fish than we do today. Sir Walter Raleigh persuaded Queen Elizabeth 1 to fight for Newfoundland for no other reason that the rich cod fisheries. One half of England’s income at the time was dependent on fish. Mrs Beeton’s cookery book has more recipes for fish than meat. The traditional ‘cockney’ food of Londoners was cockles, mussels, whelks, oysters, scallops, crabs and a variety of fish from the Thames estuary. Hmm, probably not a good idea to eat fish from the Thames estuary today. Actually my grandmother used to say fish was ‘brain food’ and as you have probably guessed by now, one of my heroes is professor Michael Crawford who has done a huge amount of research on Omega 3 Essential Fatty acids. As a paediatrician he has worked in Hackney, London and looked into the problem of low birth weight babies and monitored the pregnant mums’ diets, which seemed to consist of cups of tea, white sliced bread and marge, chocolate biscuits, other confectionary, bought cornish pasty, chips, coca-cola, coffee and a Pregaday supplement and he noted especially in that kind of diet the lack of essential fats crucial to the development of the nervous system, including the brain in an unborn child. The diet of some of these Hackney mums was a far cry from their great grandmothers’ day when the cry on the London streets was ‘cockles and mussels, alive alive Oh’ to prove their freshness. This kind of ‘undernutrition’ surely must have an affect on mental as well as physical wellbeing.

  4. Gary 8 February 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Its not surprising oily fish is so beneficial. For many people its their best source of vitamin D, especially in the winter. Many studies are now linking vit D deficincy to mental health problems.
    With oily fish you get a double action. The omega 3 fats improve vitamin d’s action at the receptors sites.
    Remember fish oils are different from cod liver oil which has too much vit A and competes with vit D. Not good.


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