MELBOURNE, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Fish oil, either by eating fish or taking a supplement, may help to prevent the onset of psychosis and psychotic conditions in teenagers and young adults at high risk for them, based on a 7-year study in Australia.
The benefits of fish oil are not clear-cut because of conflicting studies about their effects in relation to a range of conditions from heart disease to arthritis.
Researchers reported in a study conducted from 2004 to 2007 that a 3-month treatment with fish oil had helped to prevent the development of psychotic conditions in a group of 81 teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24.
"Schizophrenia is a major cause of disability, but early treatment has been linked to better outcomes," Dr. Paul Amminger, a professor at the University of Melbourne, told The Guardian. "Our study gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotic medication."
In a new study published Nature: Communications, researchers followed up with 71 of the 81 participants of the original study. They found that 4 of the 41 participants who took fish oil developed psychosis in the following 7 years, while 16 of the 40 participants who received a placebo in the original study developed a psychotic condition.
Omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplements are used by 18.8 million Americans, making them the most commonly used supplement in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Their beneficial effects on health -- they are believed to be beneficial for preventing heart disease and macular degeneration, and may relieve the symptoms of several other conditions -- are controversial because of conflicting results from studies.
In a recent study of fish oil supplements, researchers could not detect omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood or urine of people who had taken synthetic fish oil supplements. The researchers in that study also found no evidence of their anti-inflammatory effects.
Amminger said that more studies need to be done to replicate the results of the UM study before treatment options for psychotic conditions can be changed. Clive Adams, a researcher at Nottingham University, said the results of the psychosis study would need to be considered along with other studies on fish oils, but nonetheless called the results promising.
"The road of treatment of people with schizophrenia is paved with many good intentions and false dawns," Adams said. "This study is important, undertaken by leaders in the field, but it does not provide strong enough proof to really change practice."