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The new study included 81 high-risk patients with either mild psychotic symptoms, transient psychosis or a family history of psychotic disorders, plus a decrease in daily functioning. These criteria identify people whose risk of becoming psychotic may be as high as 40% in a one-year period.
For 12 weeks, 41 participants were assigned to take daily fish oil capsules containing 1.2 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and 40 were given a placebo. Of the 76 patients who completed the study, two (4.9%) in the fish oil group and 11 (27.5%) in the placebo group progressed to psychosis, a difference of 22.6%, the researchers found.
Based on these results, Dr. G. Paul Amminger of Medical University of Vienna in Austria and the Orygen Youth Health Research Center in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues estimated that four adults would have to take fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids to prevent one of them from developing psychosis over a one-year period.
In their report, published in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, the study authors also noted that patients who took the fish oil capsules had fewer symptoms of psychosis and better functioning than those who took the placebo.
The beneficial effects of fish oil capsules with omega-3 fatty acids may result from changes in cell membranes and interactions with neurotransmitter systems in the brain, the researchers explained in a news release from the journal's publisher.
Amminger and colleagues noted that many young adults are reluctant to take antipsychotic drugs due to perceived stigma and side effects such as sexual dysfunction, metabolic changes and weight gain. Omega-3 fatty acids may offer an natural alternative.
"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," the authors concluded.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Feb. 1, 2010