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Omega-3 may help prevent psychosis

  • Research

A new study led by the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has indicated that higher blood levels of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) in adolescence could be associated with lower risk of psychosis in early adulthood.

Published in Translational Psychiatry, the study was conducted under the University of Bristol's 'Children of the 90s' health study, a multi-generational research project of health and social issues.

Over 3,800 individuals in the study were assessed for psychotic disorder, depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder at age 17 and again at age 24. Blood samples were collected from participants and levels of omega-3 fatty acids were measured.

In the analysis, it was found that 24-year-olds with psychotic disorder had lower levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA than those without psychotic disorder.

Additionally, it was found that adolescents with higher levels of this omega-3 fatty acid at age 17 were 56% less likely to develop psychotic disorder by age 24.

These findings indicate that the level of DHA in the body in adolescence may have a potential preventative effect of reducing the risk of psychosis in early adulthood.

It was also found that 24-year-olds with psychotic disorder, depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder had higher levels of omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids compared to those without these disorders. Omega-6 fatty acids generally increase inflammation in the body while omega-3 fatty acids generally reduce inflammation.

The results remained consistent when accounting for other factors such as sex, body mass index, tobacco smoking and socio-economic status.

Further research is required to determine if enhanced dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids among adolescents is recommended to prevent the development of psychosis in later years. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as oily fish (mackerel and salmon for example), certain nuts and plant oils.

David Mongan, RCSI PhD graduate, Lecturer Queens University Belfast and Irish Clinical Academic Training (ICAT) Fellow, analysed the data with the supervision of Professor David Cotter and Professor Mary Cannon from the RCSI Department of Psychiatry.

The research was supported by a HRB project grant and co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund. The UK Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol provided core support for 'Children of the 90s', also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The data collection used in this research was joint-funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust.

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