By Tim Locke
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
Aug. 11, 2015 -- Omega-3 supplements may help keep young people with a high risk of schizophrenia from getting the condition, according to a small study.
Back in 2010, Australian researchers reported that taking the supplements for 12 weeks prevented a first episode of a psychotic disorder for up to a year in high-risk study participants ages 13-25. Now, in a follow-up study, the team checked on how 71 of the 81 volunteers were doing.
They found that:
- 9.8% of the group given omega-3 supplements (4 of 41) developed psychosis, an episode where you lose touch with reality. It's a symptom of different illnesses, including schizophrenia.
- 40% of the group given a fake placebo supplement (16 out of 40) developed psychosis.
- The group not given omega-3s also developed psychosis more quickly and had a higher overall risk of getting other psychiatric disorders.
The study is published in Nature Communications.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are widely seen as "good fats." They can help improve cholesterol balance and lower the risks of heart and joint disease, among other health perks.
Previous research has pointed to a lack of omega-3s and omega-6s being linked with mental health conditions. Some trials have shown that fatty acid supplements can reduce psychotic symptoms.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in the U.K. says omega-3s have already been linked with improving learning, and may help with mental stability. Doctors sometimes try them as supplements for people with mood problems and schizophrenia, and they may help prevent relapses with bipolar disorder. Talk with your doctor before you start taking any supplement, though.
The college says there is not enough evidence to recommend omega-3s as an alternative to antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications.
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SOURCES: Amminger, G.P. Nature Communications, 2015. The Royal College of Psychiatrists: "Eating well and mental health." Amminger, G.P. Archives of General Psychiatry, February 2010.
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