Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain development and function, and a lack of them in diet has been linked to various mental illnesses. Photo: Graham TurnerThe results of a small study seem to show that taking fish oil capsules daily for three months can reduce the rate of psychotic disorders in young people. Eating more fish or taking regular fish oil supplements can help prevent psychosis among the most vulnerable researchers claim.

Taking fish oil capsules daily for three months appeared to significantly lower the rate of psychotic disorders in young people, an improvement that seemed to continue when doctors assessed their mental health seven years later.

While the results are fascinating, they come from a very small study of teenagers and young adults. The benefits now need to be demonstrated in a much larger group before doctors can make recommendations on the use of fish oils to prevent mental health problems.

Paul Amminger of the University of Melbourne reported in 2010 that taking fish oil capsules daily for three months appeared to ward off psychotic illness in teenagers and young adults ages 13 to 24 who are at high risk of developing the disorders. Seven years later, his group has now revisited 71 of the original 81 participants and shown that the protective effect appears to be lasting.

In the journal Nature Communications, the scientists report that 4 out of 41 people who took fish oil for three months had developed psychosis in the past seven years, compared with 16 out of 40 people who received a placebo capsule during the experiment.

Those in the placebo wing of the study appeared to develop psychosis faster than those who took fish oils and were overall more likely to have other psychiatric disorders, according to the study.

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental illnesses. One in 100 people in the UK will have symptoms such as delusions, visual or auditory hallucinations in their lifetime and many continue to lead normal lives. It is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 years. It is known as a psychotic illness, and sufferers sometimes cannot distinguish between their thoughts and their reality.

“Schizophrenia is a leading cause of disability, but early treatment has been linked to better outcomes. Our study gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotics,” Amminger told the Guardian.

He believes omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) could be a stigmam-free, long-term way to prevent psychosis in the most vulnerable young people with minimal side effects.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain development and function, and a lack of them in diet has been linked to various mental illnesses. “Eating more fish is likely not only good for your physical health, but also for your mental health,” said Amminger.

In 2006, scientists working for the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed published research on the potential of fish oils in preventing schizophrenia and declared the results inconclusive. They called for larger studies with more patients. Amminger agreed that his latest findings must be repeated in larger groups of people before any firm guidance can be given.

Clive Adams, coordinating editor for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group at Nottingham University, said the study should be considered alongside other published studies on the effects of omega-3 oils, but added that it would be a stepping stone for new studies on that Treatments. “The road to treating people with schizophrenia is paved with lots of good intentions and false dawns. This study is important and conducted by leaders in the field. However, it does not provide enough evidence to really change the practice,” he said.

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