For patients at very high risk for developing a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, taking fish oil supplements may be a way to prevent the onset of psychosis, according to a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Due to the controversial nature of using anti-psychotic drugs as a preventive treatment for at-risk psychiatric patients, a team of Austrian, Swiss and Australian researchers set out to see if fish oil, or more specifically Omega-3 fatty acids, might could help deter the progression of mental illness in “ultra high-risk” patients.
Drawing on previous research that suggested the potentially protective qualities of Omega-3 fatty acids and evidence for reducing symptoms in schizophrenic patients, the researchers set out to determine whether fish oil could also prevent the onset of psychosis. The study included 81 at-risk patients between the ages of 13 to 25, who were divided into two groups—the trial group, which took the Omega-3 supplements during the course of a year, and the control group, which took a placebo for the same duration. The researchers found that, after one year taking fish oil, just two out of 41 patients in the trial group had progressed to mental illness, compared wtih 11 out of 40 patients in the placebo group.
These preliminary findings suggest that, as the authors conclude, the use of Omega-3 fatty acids “may offer a viable prevention and treatment strategy with minimal associated risk in young people at ultra-high risk of psychosis.”
Fish oil, which is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, has been recommended by everyone from the American Heart Association as part of a heart-healthy diet, to your local veterinarian, to help make your dog’s coat shiny. Though, as a recent study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiologists highlights, it’s important to double check just how your supplements can interact with any other medications. (According to the Mayo Clinic, while fish oil has been shown to increase heart health by reducing the risk for atherosclerosis and lowering blood pressure, for example, in too large of doses it can also increase the risk of bleeding.)