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Why fish oil could stave off schizophrenia

"In a fascinating study by researchers from the University of Vienna and University of Melbourne, the long-term benefits of omega 3 fatty acids (fish oils) have been demonstrated in a population with high risk features for developing psychosis", writes Dr Andrew Thompson, Associate Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at Warwick Medical School.

"This population has recently been identified and characterized and appears to have around 500 times the general population risk of developing a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia and therefore has attracted research into strategies to attempt to prevent psychosis onset. The researchers randomized a group of these at risk individuals to either 12 weeks of omega three fatty acid supplementation or placebo. They have previously reported the short-term benefits in terms of reduction of the numbers developing a psychotic disorder and other mental health outcomes in those that received omega three fatty acids. In this new report they managed to follow up 71 of the original 81 individuals at around 7 years after starting the study. Similar differences were found long-term in that the group treated with omega three fatty acids had much lower rates of psychosis and less mental health problems in general.

"The results are important as they suggest treatment with a dietary supplement, with no or minimal side-effects, may be a useful preventer of a serious mental disorder. The researchers propose that the effects may be due to the neuroprotective effects of omega three fatty acids, particularly at a critical time of brain maturation such as adolescence. They do highlight the relatively small sample in this study and based on these encouraging findings there are two independent large multi-site studies ongoing investigating the effects of omega three fatty acids as an agent to prevent psychosis in high risk groups."

Study was published in Nature Communications - Longer-term outcome in the prevention of psychotic disorders by the Vienna omega-3 study

Nicola Jones

Interim Communications Manager, University of Warwick

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email: N.Jones.1@warwick.ac.uk