Orygen researchers have found that long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can reduce symptoms of early psychosis in young people.
The research, recently published in Biological Psychiatry, examined the blood-levels of omega-3s in young people at ultra-high risk for psychosis at baseline, six months and 12 months.
Orygen researchers Professor Paul Amminger and Dr Maximus Berger said the analysis showed that having higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids predicted better clinical outcomes across the study.
“People who had higher blood-levels of omega-3 fatty acids had fewer psychiatric symptoms and better functioning than those with lower levels,” Professor Amminger said.
The study involved a biomarker analysis of 218 participants of a randomised controlled trial in which participants were assigned to two different groups: one received 1.4g of omega-3 fatty acids per day plus psychosocial treatment (cognitive behavioural therapy and case management) for six months; the second group received placebo plus psychosocial treatment.
The analysis found that those participants whose omega-3 blood levels increased over the course of the study had better clinical outcomes. This was regardless of whether they were receiving omega-3 supplements or placebo.
“Since increase of omega-3 fatty acids was observed in both intervention and placebo conditions we cannot imply that only supplementation with fish oil capsules as administered in the study has caused these clinical effects,” Professor Amminger said.
“Our results confirm that omega-3 fatty acids can have beneficial clinical effects in individuals at ultra-high risk for psychosis, but this is irrespective from where they are sourced.”
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain foods (fish, seafood, nuts and seeds) and can also be used as a supplement. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have long been thought to be a modifiable risk factor for psychosis and other mental health conditions.
Dr Berger said the research also found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids prior to the intervention had a protective effect and influenced supplementation effects.
“These findings suggest that we could use biomarkers to identify young people with abnormally low omega-3 levels and recommend omega-3 supplementation as part of their treatment,” Dr Berger said.
This means that one day a simple finger prick test could be used to tell if a young person could benefit from omega-3 supplements or changing their diet.
Professor Amminger and Dr Berger hope their latest findings on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids will be replicated and further extended.
“Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are not only common in people with psychosis but also in people with other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety,” Professor Amminger said.
“Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can also be applied in a variety of settings, including primary health care and non-specialist settings, because they are very safe.”
This work was supported by grants from the Stanley Medical Research Institute, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and The Colonial Foundation.