Fish Oil and the Prevention of Schizophrenia

September 07, 2015

Fish Oil and Preventing Schizophrenia 

 Reference: Nature Communications August 2015, Graph August 7th, 2015 

 Schizophrenia is a scary disease.   The loss of reality, delusions, paranoia are all disturbing for the individual and society around them.   So catching it early and preventing it is a pretty exciting thought. The authors in this study took 81 young individuals presenting with the prodrome of schizophrenia: attenuated positive psychotic symptoms; transient psychosis; and genetic risk plus a decrease in functioning who were/are at a very high risk of developing full-blown schizophrenia.   

They were split into two groups. One got fish oil and the other placebo.   Their average age was late teens, with most being around 16-20 years old.   Of the forty in the treatment group, only four progressed to full-blown psychosis whereas 16 of the non-treatment group progressed. The dose wasn’t all that big: just 1.2 grams of DHA and EPA. The risk of developing full-blown schizophrenia is in the range of 40-60% which is exactly what happened to the placebo group. They only took the fish oil for 3 months, but the effects appeared to last for up to seven years. 

This is an amazing study and needs to be replicated. Apparently, there has been a much bigger study of some 304 people by the same authors that didn’t show the same effect, until they looked at compliance with the taking the fish oil, at which point a positive effect was noted. 

And a second study in Canada and the USA will be done in 2016. How could this be such a huge benefit?   The author of the study attributes fish oil to being an anti-inflammatory medication that has its effect through reduction of inflammation. There is a lot of consideration of inflammation being the cause of schizophrenia right now in the psychiatric literature.   

Fish oil is made up of two kinds of Omega-3 fats which are just a few chemical steps away from being made into anti-inflammatory cytokines. And there might be more to it than that.   Omega 3 fats have 5 double bonds in them, making them very “bent” – as each double bond makes for a 30 degree angle change.   Saturated fat is straight and can pack tightly in a membrane. Olive oil has one double bond, and is much more liquid than bacon fat (saturated fat).   Fish oil is very liquid.

 There is clear evidence that extra fish oil in pregnancy and early childhood results in better brain health in children. Our brains are 75% water, but the remaining 25% is 60% fat – mostly omega fats and plasmalogens. Our brain cells depend on omega fats more than any other cells in our bodies.   And that’s how our nerve cells can process information much much faster.   Our American diet has had a massive change in omega fats in the last 100 years with a huge increase in omega-6 fats as we consume more vegetable oils, and a huge reduction in omega-3 fats as we have fewer grass raised meat products (the source of natural omega-3) 

Fish oil is all we have left. The old ratio of omega3:6 which was 1:1 or 1:2 just 100 years ago is now 1:20-50.   Omega 6s are the precursors to inflammatory eicosanoids. So, we have had an historical massive shift of precursor fatty acids that predispose our brains to have more inflammation.   There is other data that supports the same thread.  Taking more omega-6 has been connected to seizures.   Omega six fats are bountiful in vegetable oils and much of our diet is now based on fried food: having been fried in one sort of vegetable oil or another.   

 www What Will Work for Me.   We just don’t get omega-3s in our diet unless we eat salmon and other ocean fish, or grass-raised meat. I take krill oil and cod liver oil every day. I swear it helps my mood. We are going to see more of this. It is already well known that fish oil helps prisoners with aggression and ADHD with tantrums. It only makes sense that vulnerable kids, tipping on the edge of schizophrenia can be pulled back from catastrophe with the right brain building blocks.   I like this study.   

 Pop Quiz 

1.   Schizophrenia can present with an initial prodrome that represents a very high-risk state of proceeding on to the full-blown disease. T or F                        Answer:   True

  1. Administering a gram of fish oil a day to that person may make them less prone to the full-blown illness. T or F                      Answer:  Also True
  1. The protective effect seems to last up to 7 years. T or F                   Answer:  Amazing, isn’t it!
  1. This study was pretty small. We need replication with folks who are observed to actually take their medications. T or F                    Answer:   True. (But isn't that what they always say.)
  1. Prisoners who don’t get fish oil have more aggressive tendencies. T or F               Answer:   Five trues in a row.   Our brains need this stuff.   Makes sense.