The use of atypical anti-psychotic medication to treat and prevent serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia is barbaric and causes severe adverse health effects including sexual dysfunction, obesity, and diabetes. A new randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted between 2004 and 2007 shows that fish oil may well be the answer.

The study involved 81 individuals, ages 13-25 years of age, considered at very high risk for developing extreme mental health problems such as psychosis or schizophrenia. They were given 1.2 grams of omega 3 oils for 12 weeks and then observed for 40 weeks, compared to the control group that did not get any fish oil. In the fish oil group only 2 of 41 participants (4.9%) developed a serious problem, compared to 11 of 40 (27.5%) in the control group. Mental health symptoms were significantly reduced in the fish oil group and brain function was significantly improved. This is a major finding.

The authors stated that “Early treatment in schizophrenia and other psychoses has been linked to better outcomes….The finding that treatment with a natural substance may prevent or at least delay the onset of psychotic disorder gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotics….Long-chain omega-3 fatty polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce the risk of progression to psychotic disorder and may offer a safe and efficacious strategy for indicated prevention in young people with subthreshold psychotic states.”

Another author working at the Center for Women’s Mental Health, Massachusetts General Hospital has recently reviewed the literature for using omega 3 oils to treat major depression. She concluded that “The preponderance of data from placebo-controlled treatment studies suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are a reasonable augmentation strategy for the treatment of major depressive disorder….For many individuals with major depressive disorder, augmentation with omega-3 fatty acids should be considered, as general health benefits are well established and adjunctive use is low risk.” Once again, this is a very positive recommendation for omega 3 fish oil in another type of difficult mental health problem.

Yet another author just reviewed the literature in terms of how omega 3 oils help brain structure and function. The evidence shows that omega 3 fatty acids actually regulate nerve transmission, including the release of the classical neurotransmitters such as serotonin. It is now clear that a lack of omega 3 oils leads to diminished synaptic plasticity and impaired learning, memory and emotional coping performance. The study makes the case for omega 3 oils as a “potential prophylactic nutraceutical for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.”

It is important to be consistent with your intake of omega 3 oils as they will incorporate themselves into your cell membranes over a period of time. This not only helps your brain but it helps the health of all cells in your body, especially cells of your cardiovascular system. It is also important to take enough omega 3 oil to get a result. In the study on preventing schizophrenia the dose was 1.2 grams of omega 3 (DHA and EPA). This amount is different than the total oil in a capsule. Because DHA is more biologically active in your brain I would try for 1000 mg of DHA which will typically provide 200 mg of EPA if it is high quality oil (giving you 1.2 grams total). Beware of products that offer hype but don’t have enough of the helpful oils in their capsules.

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