Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are devastating forms of mental problems in which people lose contact with reality and can end up, in worst case scenarios, hurting themselves and others. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a psychosis is usually characterized by delusions and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations). The treatment is primarily heavy duty, side effect riddled psychiatric drugs and/or institutionalization.
But what if people a high risk for this mental illness could be prevented from having a psychotic disorder in the first place? That may be possible, thanks to omega-3 fatty acids.
"Early treatment in schizophrenia and other psychoses has been linked to better outcomes...intervention in at-risk individuals holds the promise of even better outcomes, with the potential to prevent full-blown psychotic disorders," the authors wrote in their article.
G. Paul Amminger, M.D., of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, and Orygen Youth Health Research Center in Melbourne, Australia, headed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to test whether omega-3s could influence the risk of progression to psychosis in 81 individuals considered to be at extremely high risk for the disorder. The research subjects had displayed a decrease in their ability to function and they also had already developed mild psychotic symptoms, transient psychotic episodes and/or they had a family history of psychotic disorders. Those criteria, the researchers stated in their study, are used to identify individuals whose risk of becoming psychotic may be as high as 40 percent over the course of a year.
For about three months, 41 of the research subjects were given daily fish oil capsules containing 1.2 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The other 40 participants were given a placebo. When the study ended, about 94 percent of the subjects were still in the study and two taking the omega-3s, or only 4.9 percent, had developed a psychotic disorder. On the other hand, 11 in the placebo group (27.5 percent) had become psychotic. The difference between the two groups was extraordinary -- 22.6 percent.
What's more, supplementation with the fatty acids significantly reduced mental illness symptoms and improved overall functioning, too. Not surprisingly, there were virtually no side effects associated with the fish oil pills.
"The finding that treatment with a natural substance may prevent or at least delay the onset of psychotic disorder gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotics for the prodromal (early symptomatic) phase. Stigmatization and adverse effects -- which include metabolic changes, sexual dysfunction and weight gain -- associated with the use of antipsychotics are often not acceptable for young people," the scientists wrote in their study. "Long-chain omega-3 fatty polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce the risk of progression to psychotic disorder and may offer a safe and efficacious strategy for indicated prevention in young people with subthreshold psychotic states."
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