Schizophrenia is characterized by delusions and hallucinations, including hearing voices and seeing things that do not exist for real. It typically emerges during adolescence or early adulthood, either abruptly or gradually and has no cure. Current treatment strategy focuses on managing the symptoms. Researchers have long known that patients with schizophrenia exhibit reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acid, specifically, omega-3 and omega 6, in cell membranes. A new study has revealed that omega-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish, may prevent the onset of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders long after being consumed.
The study findings suggest that young people at 'ultra-high' risk were less likely to have suffered the debilitating condition, up to seven years after taking omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks, than a control group given a placebo. Nearly a decade ago, researchers led by Paul Amminger at the University of Melbourne showed in clinical trials that ingesting the fatty acid delayed the first episode of psychotic disorder in high-risk subjects by up to year. In a follow up study, Amminger and colleagues report that, nearly seven years later, only 10% of the omega-3 group developed psychosis compared to 40% in the placebo group.
The study concluded, "We show that omega-3 significantly reduced the risk of progression to psychotic disorder during the entire follow-up period." But the scientists stopped short of recommending that all at-risk individuals start taking the fatty acid, available as a non-prescription supplement and in many foods, including salmon, sardines and walnuts.
Amminger said, "Replication of the findings is needed due to the relatively small, 81 patient size of the trial. Several replication trials are underway. Fish oil rich in omega-3 has no clinically relevant side effects, and thus is certainly a benign treatment option. But patients need to be told that evidence (of its benefits) is limited." The underlying mechanism by which omega-3 might prevent the onset of schizophrenia, which has both genetic and environmental origins, still remains unclear.
The study is published in Nature Communication.