Fish oil contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help our physical wellbeing. But can they also assist our mental health?
The study was published in Nature Communications and details how a 12-week intervention with omega-3 supplements substantially reduced the long-term risk of developing psychotic disorders.
The use of fish oil has long been in the public eye and has been heralded by some as an essential component of our physical wellbeing, but can it also improve our mental health?
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which are essential components of the cell membranes in our body which provide a foundation for the production of hormones.
A health survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found fish oil was the most popular natural product used by both adults and children in 2012. Last month, a study found Americans spend roughly $1.2 billion each year on fish oil pills and supplements.
This study follows on from the research team's previous work in 2010, in which they first focused on how omega-3 affects the development of psychotic disorders.
Study author Prof. Paul Amminger, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and colleagues analyzed participants aged 13-25 years old who were deemed at risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia.
A total of 81 individuals took part in the randomized and double-blind trial; 41 were assigned to take a 3-month daily course of fish oil, with the remaining group taking a placebo.
After the 3-month intervention period, all participants were monitored for another 12 months. At this point, 76 of the 81 participants had successfully completed the study, and it was found only two of the 41 individuals in the group taking fish oil had transitioned to a psychotic disorder.
In contrast, the figure for the placebo group was much higher, with 11 of the 40 participants going on to develop a psychotic disorder.
Only 10% developed a psychotic disorder within 7 years
Now 7 years from the original study, results revealed the majority of the individuals who undertook the fish oil still did not show signs of a psychotic disorder.
Only four of the 41 from the group who had taken fish oil for 3 months had gone on to develop a psychotic disorder since. Again, the figure was much higher for the placebo group, where 16 of the 40 developed a psychotic disorder.
Speaking to the The Guardian, Prof. Amminger hopes the study may offer an alternative treatment for psychotic disorders. He says:
"Schizophrenia is a major cause of disability, but early treatment has been linked to better outcomes. Our study gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotic medication."
One possible limitation of the study is the relatively small sample group utilized by the researchers. Due to this, further analysis into subgroups was restricted.
Despite the substantial rise of fish oil in recent times, use of the supplement still attracts controversy with many health care professionals skeptical of its medical benefits. However, Medical News Today recently reported how fish oil may reduce seizure frequency for epilepsy patients.
The study concludes by saying fish oil "may offer a viable longer-term prevention strategy with minimal associated risk in young people at ultra-high risk of psychosis."