Omega-3 fatty acids are reported to help with several physical and mental health conditions.
They are termed essential because they cannot be produced by the body and must come from the diet.
In fact, I use 1000 mg of omega-3 fish oil daily as part of my own supplement routine.
How Do Omega-3s Work:
Omega-3’s coat neurons, increase cell membrane fluidity, have neuroprotective properties, and the most well-established mechanism is an anti-inflammatory action. They directly affect arachidonic acid metabolism because they displace arachidonic acid from membranes and compete with it for the enzyme that catalyzes the biosynthesis of thromboxanes, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes involved in the inflammatory process thus reducing the formation of these products.
Indications For Omega-3 Use In Psychiatry:
In mental health the most well-established use of Omega-3s is for the treatment of depression. It’s been looked at as a primary treatment as well as augmentation. The results aren’t that great when Omega-3s are used as stand-alone therapy. As augmentation they have an effect size of 0.5 to 0.6.
Given our previous talks about inflammation and depression, people with high inflammatory biomarkers may respond better to Omega-3 treatment.
Omega-3s And Schizophrenia:
Maybe the most interesting data comes from studies of Omega-3 use in schizophrenia. It seems to work best when started early in the illness when the first signs or symptoms appear. There also seems to be a reduction in white matter changes on imaging studies.
This raised the important question; can we prevent schizophrenia?
There was a study published in nature communications that looked at outcomes in the prevention of psychotic disorders in Vienna.
They started with 12-week trial with omega-3s which proved to reduce the risk of progression to a psychotic disorder in young people with subthreshold psychotic states for a 12-month period compared to placebo.
They then completed a long term follow up of the study to show that brief intervention with Omega-3s reduced the risk of progression to a psychotic disorder and psychiatric morbidity.
A year after the Omega-3 treatment only 5% converted to schizophrenia, compared to 28% in the control arm. Seven years later the rates of conversion to schizophrenia were 10% Vs 40% with most of the patients being retained in the study.
Side Effects of Using Omega-3:
There are very few risks to adding omega-3 fatty acids to existing psychiatric treatments. Fish burps are a common occurrence and can be mitigated with enteric coated capsules or refrigerating the capsules. Omega-3 can increase bleeding time and require careful monitoring if the person is scheduled for surgery or taking anticoagulants. Keeping doses at 1000 mg/day is advised for this population.
Sources of Omega-3:
You can use a supplement, or you can consume fish like salmon, herring, or anchovies two times per week to get an adequate dose.
Ensuring the EPA to DHA ratio is 2:1 (EPA: DHA) or pure EPA is essential when selecting a product. Consumerlabs.com to help ensure the purity and potency of the product is accurate.
The cost of adding an Omega-3 supplement to your treatment is $8 to $30 per month depending on the specific product.
There is very little downside to increasing your consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids either from whole food sources or as a high-quality supplement.