Taking omega-3 may curb schizophrenia, says study
OMEGA-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish, may prevent the onset of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders long after being consumed, according to a study released on Tuesday.
Up to seven years after taking omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks, young people at "ultra-high" risk were less likely to have suffered the debilitating condition than a control group given a placebo, the study reported.
Schizophrenia is characterised by delusions and hallucinations, including hearing voices and seeing things that do not really exist. It typically emerges during adolescence or early adulthood, either abruptly or gradually. There is no cure.
Scientists have long known that patients with schizophrenia exhibit reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acid - specifically, omega-3 and omega-6 - in cell membranes.
Nearly a decade ago, researchers, led by Paul Amminger at the University of Melbourne, showed in clinical trials that ingesting the fatty acid delayed a first episode of psychotic disorder in high-risk subjects by up to a year.
In a follow-up study, published in Nature Communication, Professor Amminger and his colleagues reported that, nearly seven years later, only 10 per cent of the omega-3 group developed psychosis compared to 40 per cent in the placebo group.
But the researchers stopped short of recommending that all at-risk individuals start taking the fatty acid. "Replication of the findings is needed," Prof Amminger said by e-mail, noting the relatively small, 81-patient size of the trial.
Fish oil rich in omega-3 "has no clinically relevant side effects, and thus is certainly a benign treatment option", he said. "But patients need to be told that evidence (of its benefits) is limited."