A diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help the treatment and prevention of alcoholism and psychiatric disorders.
In a multi-year study at the Indiana University School of Medicine, researchers revealed at a molecular level, there is a potential therapeutic benefit between them.
The study showed conclusive behavioural and molecular benefits for Omega 3 fatty acid given to mice models of bipolar disorder.
According to Alexander B. Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and the lead author of the study, the fatty acid DHA, which is one of the main active ingredients in fish oil, "normalized their behaviour".
Using a stress-sensitive mouse model of bipolar disorder developed in his lab, Niculescu and his colleagues studied the influence of dietary DHA.
"The mice that were given DHA normalized their behaviour, they are not depressed and when subjected to stress, they do not become manic," Niculescu said.
"When we looked into their brains, using comprehensive gene expression studies, we were surprised to see that genes that are known targets of psychiatric medications were modulated and normalized by DHA," he stated.
An unexpected finding of the research was the discovery that the mice given DHA also showed a reduced desire for alcohol.
"These bipolar mice, like some bipolar patients, love alcohol. The mice on DHA drank much less; it curtailed their alcohol abusive behaviour," he said, adding that this is a completely novel finding.
To verify this finding, the researchers studied another well-established animal model of alcoholism, the alcohol preferring P rats, and obtained similar results.
"We believe a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help the treatment and prevention of bipolar disorder, and may help with alcoholism as well," he said.
The researchers also found correlations between mouse brain molecular changes and molecular markers in their blood, so called "biomarkers".
"There is now substantial evidence at the molecular level that omega-3 fatty acids work on the brain in ways similar to psychiatric drugs," Niculescu said.
"With these biomarker findings, we can now move forward as a field and do more targeted clinical studies in humans," he added.
The study has been published online in the Nature Publishing Group journal Translational Psychiatry.