November 28, 2007

Omega-3 Fish Oils Tested as Preventative Approach to Schizophrenia, with Positive Results

While there has been research on the benefits of fish oil, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, on both preventing schizophrenia and minimizing some of the symptoms of the illness, most of the research has been inconclusive (sometimes it seems to help, other times it doesn't show any effect). However, a new study conducted by Dr. Patrick McGorry in Australia, examined the effects of fish oil in protecting against schizophrenia and it had a significantly positive impact in this study.

The study examined 81 at-risk youths (youths who have a family history of schizophrenia) between the ages of 13 and 24. All of the participants had previously shown early signs of schizophrenia such as short hallucinations and delusions. According to the story, past research has shown that if left untreated, about one-third of the participants would go on to develop schizophrenia.

The researchers treated half of the participants with fish oil for three months, while the other half took a placebo that appeared to be fish oil. A year after prescribing fish oil or placebo, the researchers found that "...three percent of those (participants) who had taken fish oil supplements had developed schizophrenia. This compared with 28 percent of those who had swallowed the placebo."

Previous studies have suggested that anti-psychotic drugs when used early in illness reduce the rate to about 12 percent. However, their use is controversial as they have severe side-effects like heavy weight gain and increased risk of heart disease.

As one researcher stated in the story, these findings provide us with non-medication based treatment option, which seems beneficial to people at risk of developing schizophrenia. They further support the idea of the benefits of diagnosing and treating the illness sooner than later.

Interestingly we've talked in the past with a researcher at Yale University (Dr. Scott Woods) who did a preliminary study on possible benefits of Omega 3 fish oils in the prevention of schizophrenia. Our understanding is that they had to cancel this study after a few months because they saw absolutely no response at all in the people they had in their preliminary study who were on Omega 3 fish oils. Obviously the issue is still undecided. The new study done by Dr. McGorry and his team needs to be replicated by another research team with larger numbers of study participants. We look forward to reporting on the results.

Here is an interview with the people who did the study, (the interview is transcribed from the Australian Broadcasting Corp radio program):

Researchers say a daily dose of fish oil may stop young people at risk developing schizophrenia. Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: It's possible to identify young people who are at risk of developing schizophrenia, because they experience brief hallucinations or delusions.

If they're left untreated, typically around one-third go on to develop a psychotic disorder. But if they are treated using antipsychotic drugs they often suffer severe side effects. New research carried out in Austria has highlighted a potentially safer way of treating those vulnerable to developing schizophrenia.

The findings are being presented today at a conference of the World Psychiatry Association in Melbourne.

Dr Paul Amminger, who's working now with the Orygen Research Centre in Melbourne, is the lead researcher.

PAUL AMMINGER: We looked at a group of 81 people, all between 15 and 25 years, and we treated them with omega-3 fatty acids in the randomised control trial (RCT).

BARBARA MILLER: How much fish oil were they given?

PAUL AMMINGER: About 1.5 gram (or 1,500 milligram, mg) a day.

BARBARA MILLER: So not very much?

PAUL AMMINGER: No. But it's actually in the range, which you can also reach with a very fishy diet. So it's not a huge amount of fish oil.

BARBARA MILLER: And you found quite a marked difference in the group, which was taking fish oil, compared to the group who wasn't taking oil in terms of developing the signs of schizophrenia?

PAUL AMMINGER: Yeah, that's right. What we saw is that at the 12 months follow up meeting, even the intervention (how long the people took the fish oils) was only for three months, when we followed the people up a year later we saw that about 5 per cent in the omega-3 group developed psychosis, and there were 28 per cent in the placebo group.

BARBARA MILLER: That seems like a huge difference.

PAUL AMMINGER: Yeah. The risk in the placebo group was seven times as high to develop psychosis. And I think probably reason why we saw this quite large effect is that if you have a treatment early, even a benign treatment, early in the disorder, your effects are probably much better than later in this stage.

BARBARA MILLER: The director of the Orygen Research Centre is Professor Patrick McGorry.

PATRICK MCGORRY: This research is part of a worldwide focus now, a cutting edge focus on very early treatment of schizophrenia, just like we do in breast cancer, where we're looking for the smallest breast lump and trying to prevent a potentially dangerous disease from getting entrenched. Similarly now, we're looking at that in schizophrenia. And the fish oil, surprisingly, has proved very positive at this stage of illness.

We're looking for more benign and safer treatments, more acceptable treatments in psychiatry, and I think this would be one if it stands up [that is, research results continue to be positive in terms of its effectiveness]. Even if it doesn't, I think it'll be part of the treatment package that we can offer to patients, and there'll be a lot more choice for them as well.

BARBARA MILLER: There have been studies before suggesting that fish oil could be used to treat schizophrenia, but the treatment has often been started in later stages of the disorder, and the studies have been small-scale.

In a study coordinated from Australia, the researchers will now try and replicate their findings in nine centers around the world.

Read the Full Story: Fish oil could keep schizophrenia at bay (Herald Sun--Australia)

Additional Reading:
Essential Fats Deficient in Brains of Men With Schizophrenia
Fatty Acids Can Help With Schizophrenia

Sources of Omega 3 Fish Oils:

Following are some sources of Omega 3 fish oils that we've heard of and that seem to be reputable from the research we've done. We have no affiliation with any of the these providers and we encourage you to do your own analysis in terms of what is best. The research we've seen suggests that you need to take at least 3 grams per day for people who already have schizophrenia (1.5 grams, or 1500 mg, if the person is only at high risk of developing schizophrenia due to a family history.

One Researcher we've talked to a number of years ago suggested that the products that are higher in EPA omega 3 fatty acids (and lower in DHA - as a ratio) may be more likely to be effective - but this has not been proven in research, to our knowledge. Search around on the Internet for the best price. Google's product search engine can be helpful.

The most cost effective source of Omega 3 fish oils we've found in the US is Costco's brand - check their stores for purchase, or buy online at: (search for "Omega 3").

Another source that some of us here have used and like is the web site - and the NOW Foods products. Here is a link to their Fish Oils - Omega 3 fish oil, Double Strength EPA

Here are some other sources that we've heard are reputable companies:

NutraSea HP (this is good because its flavored, for people who don't like the taste of fish oils and for whom enteric (hard covering) coated capsules of fish oil still don't prevent the taste from getting into their mouth.

Nordic Naturals




My child had that same biology. She'd had the brief hallucinations/delusions while still in preschool. It may not be enough symptoms to be called "schizophrenia", but kids are already quite impaired and stressed from their symptoms. Something is already quite "wrong"!

So, I read about the omega-3 fatty acids, but back then there was very little research on it. I got her started on them, but it was not as much as the amount that was later found to be needed.

In retrospect, IF her illness had simply not progressed further (and let's not kid ourselves - it is still a severe biological illness in these kids even before the symptoms are severe enough to be called "schizophrenia") I would have been delighted.

Anyway, later, the studies about the OmegaBrite and bipolar came out (3 GRAMS of it!!) and that's when her psychiatrist recommended it, but by then, of course I already had her on it.

I WISH medical insurance would pay for the supplements with a prescription from the doctor the same as it pays for the medications from the pharmacy with a prescription.

They will pay for the little children to take Zyprexa but not the omega-3 fatty acids. Pharmaceutical grade omega-3 fatty acids in the proper amount is NOT cheap!

Posted by: Naomi at November 29, 2007 07:46 AM

Fish oils are high in vitamins A and D. High vitamin D is actually good for you but high vitamin A is toxic.

Posted by: Josh at November 30, 2007 05:25 AM

That is a VERY decent price, and a well-known company.

60 capsules. If a person with bipolar takes 3 Grams per day ... that's 1 bottle every 10 days--3 bottles per month. Even at 2 grams per day, that's two bottles each month. That adds up. Sad if a person on disability has to pay, or even for families with multiple kids needing the supplement.... and some people require multiple supplements.

But that is a great price you posted from TwinLab. THANKS for that TIP!!

Posted by: Naomi at November 30, 2007 05:40 AM

I use this type of fish oil:

It is $16.50 with shipping, which is actually a really good price. If you scroll down you'll notice it gives you 550 mg of EPA per pill. I take two pills in the morning and two in the evening for a total daily total of 2200 mg of EPA and 860 mg of DHA. They are pharmaceutical grade, and free of any heavy metals.

I have found these fish oils to be significantly helpful in managing my schizophrenia. They help me focus and reduce anxiety and help my memory and sleep patterns. I personally, feel they are just as effective as the antipsychotics I take, and they don't have any major side effects, except that all of the extra oil can sometimes cause acne to break out on my face a little.

I highly recommend trying this type of fish oil if you haven't done so before.

Posted by: Cory at November 30, 2007 01:15 PM

In the study discussed above they administered 1.5 g a day and found it to be effective. 3g a day is a lot of fish oil. I don't know if that much is really necessary.

Posted by: Cory at November 30, 2007 01:21 PM

I would be interested to know whether the study by McGorry included more people with an affective component to their illness than the 'Woods' study.

Have any studies been done yet comparing efficacy of omega 3's in schizoaffective disorder in comparison to schizophrenia or indeed in comparing effectiveness with regards to non paranoid sz v paranoid etc?

Posted by: Tim at December 2, 2007 07:00 PM

Josh - regarding Vitamin A and D content in fish oils. The fish oils that are high in Vitamin A and D are the Cod Liver fish oils - which is not what we are talking about here. Of course - you have to check with the fish oil producer - but in one enquiry we made with Ascenta (see link in story) - they said:

"NutraSea fish oil comes from the body of the fish (Herring) and not the
liver; therefore, there is no vitamin A or D in our fish oil. NutraSea
Original formula is completely safe to consume, however, you should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, or supplementation program. "

Tim - To my knowledge these studies by McGorry and Woods were both focused on prodromal schizophrenia (i.e. very early stage, or people just at high risk) - and wasn't specifically looking at affective components. The Woods pilot study was not, I don't believe, ever published because of what they saw as negative results.

Other independent studies have shown Omega 3 fish oils to be helpful in depression - so I recommend you do a search on for "Omega 3 and depression" and I think you'll find many studies.

I hope this helps,

Posted by: SzAdministrator at December 3, 2007 09:17 AM

They say that a person who is stabilized on meds can stop taking the antipsychotics and will not relapse right away. They say it could take months or years until a person develops schizophrenia again. Or maybe until the next stressful event that triggers it. I wonder if they gave these people high doses of fish oils, as done in this study, and then slowly lowered their antipsychotic dosage, and waited to see if the fish oil prevented relapse.

So stabilize a person on meds, give them fish oil for a while, slowly take away the antipsychotics, keep the fish oil going, and see if they remain stabilized. Maybe even try an antidepressant like Tianeptine to see if it helps prevent relapse, as it has been shown that antidepressants can prevent schizophrenia 100% if caught early enough.

Just an idea....

Posted by: Cory at December 3, 2007 05:38 PM

Hi Cory,

There were not antipsychotic medications in these studies - the people did not have schizophrenia. They were people who were at high risk for schizophrenia - based on their family history and current thinking proceses. They were not diagnosed with any mental illness yet.

There have been quite a few studies done on using Fish Oils for helping in treatment of schizophrenia - but none of them have proven very successful - I believe the most successful was about a 25% reduction in symptoms - but to my knowledge nobody has been able to duplicate this success, and other studies showed no effect. See the first link in the story for access to the reviews of the research in this area.

Posted by: SzAdministrator at December 3, 2007 06:12 PM

what about taking natural food, rich in omega3,
like oily fish on a regular basis instead of capsule? would that not work?

Posted by: jena at December 8, 2007 02:23 AM

My 11 yr old has childhood onset schizophrenia and has been on fish oil supplements since age 4. He had evidence of psychoses from 2 1/2 yrs on. While he is on antipsychotics and lithium, he is refractory and still hallucinates. However he is stable enough to live at home and the fish oil definitely is a stabilizing factor. My 4 yr old has prodromal symptoms and is also on fish oil. They take Omegabrite brand and Coromega packets(also fish oil).

Posted by: Sarah at January 28, 2008 10:11 AM

Hello, my son first told me of auditory hallucinations when he was 8, and had imaginary friends up until then. He's now ten. He has been on fish oil since they thought he was adhd at around 7-8 years. He hasn't had a formal diagnosis as episodes are vary sporadic 6-12mths between and short lived. I hope everyday that the fish oil is keeping whatever it is under control. Like most in this situation, you'd rather try it than risk not.

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