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) . 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.