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Omega-3 supplements continue to prevent psychological disorders up to 7 years after patients stop taking them

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(NaturalNews) The psychiatric benefits of short-term omega-3 supplementation could last for years afterward. This is the suggestion made by a study conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Medical University of Vienna and published in the journal Nature Communications on August 11.

The researchers followed up on a study in which young people at ultra-high risk of schizophrenia were given omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks. The original study found that people in the omega-3 group who developed schizophrenia did so an average of a year later than people who had been given a placebo.

In the new study, researchers found that even seven years later, the people in the omega-3 group were significantly less likely to have developed schizophrenia than those in the placebo group.

Cuts schizophrenia rate 75 percent

Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids that are known to play an important role in the development and function of the nervous system, including the brain. Prior studies have linked omega-3 deficiencies to a variety of mental health problems. Omega-3s have also showed promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression, and low levels have been linked with an increased risk of schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia have been shown to have low levels of both omega-3s and omega-6s in their cell membranes.

In the new study, the researchers found that only 10 percent of the people who had participated in the 12-week omega-3 trial developed schizophrenia over the following seven years. In contrast, nearly 40 percent of those in the placebo group developed schizophrenia in that time.

"We show that omega-3 significantly reduced the risk of progression to psychotic disorder during the entire follow-up period," the researchers wrote.

Omega-3s help the brain develop

The researchers could not explain exactly how omega-3 supplementation might prevent schizophrenia seven years later, but they did discuss several possibilities. They noted that the brain's neural circuitry has "several critical periods of development" during which interventions such as omega-3 supplementation might influence the way in which the brain's connections are formed. Adolescence might be such a "critical period" for the development of schizophrenia, and providing a boost of omega-3s at this time might stop the processes that lead to the development of psychosis, instead shunting the brain onto a healthier developmental path.

Two recent studies in animals provide some support for this hypothesis. One study found that when rats with brain lesions were treated with an antioxidant during adolescence, they did not develop the structural brain defects seen in untreated adult rats. In addition to the brain defects, the untreated adult rats developed behavioral and electrophysiological changes comparable to those seen in schizophrenia.

"Adolescence may therefore be a critical developmental stage in which pathophysiological conditions (for example, oxidative stress) can affect the developing brain, but at the same time it may also provide a window of opportunity for preventive intervention," the Melbourne and Vienna researchers wrote.

The second study found that when rats were deprived of dietary omega-3s, levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine changed in their brains. Among adolescent rats, dopamine levels dropped. Among adult rats, however, the levels actually increased.

Humans at ultra-high risk of schizophrenia have elevated dopamine levels in the brain. The findings suggest that omega-3 supplementation during adolescence might prevent dopamine levels from becoming elevated, thereby halting one of the processes that leads to the development of schizophrenia in adulthood.

Although the study was too small to recommend omega-3 supplementation for schizophrenia prevention, the researchers noted that omega-3-rich fish oil "has no clinically relevant side effects" and that greater intake is therefore unlikely to cause any harm.

Approximately one percent of the population suffers from schizophrenia, which is characterized by hallucinations and delusions. The disease has a very strong genetic component, but it is also known to be influenced by environmental factors. It currently has no cure.

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