Omega-3 and Psychosis Prevention

As of this moment, millions of people around the world are suffering from the effects of psychosis. Although psychosis consists of serious mental health problems and has no specific cure, it is still treatable. In the UK, 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems each year. According to records, acute and transient psychotic disorders in England may require hospital admission and occur mostly among women.

Psychosis in DSM


Psychosis is often mislabelled by many as schizophrenia. In truth, one may need to have experienced several psychotic episodes and other symptoms before one can be labelled as schizophrenic. A few years ago, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) received a backlash after putting forth a proposal of listing psychosis as a specific category in the DSM-5. This, according to critics, would have been too risky and very publicly harmful since not all psychotic episodes develop to full-blown psychosis. The inclusion of this proposal would have increased the number of people categorised as experiencing mental disorders.

DSM then proposed a change in the label from “Psychosis Risk Syndrome” to “Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome”, but still met the same backlash. In 2012, the proposal was excluded completely.

In 2013, psychosis was back in the DSM-5 manual, not as a general category but as Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome under the section on Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders. It was specified as one type of “Other Specified Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder”.

In this article we will provide some of the basic information on psychosis including symptoms, possible treatments and the rise of contemporary alternative fatty acids (omega-3) that can help to fight psychotic episodes.

What is Psychosis?


Psychosis is defined by medical sites as a mental health problem which may cause sufferers to perceive things differently from what is real or interpret them in a way that is different from the way “normal people” would. People with psychosis often experience hallucinations and delusions.

Psychosis isn’t a condition in and of itself but a condition that is triggered by other causes. It can stem from various sources; other mental health disorders are common root problems. Theorised causes include the following:

  1. Schizophrenia. A mental health condition characterised by hallucinations and delusions among other harmful symptoms.
  2. Bipolar disorder or manic-depressive disorder. It is a condition that induces severe mood swings wherein they may feel happy and elated at one point and utterly depressed at another.
  3. Depression. Severe depression may contribute to the onset of psychosis.
  4. Traumatic experiences and PTSD. Childhood and even adult experiences that are traumatic may also trigger psychotic episodes.
  5. Other conditions may also contribute to psychosis, including stress, brain tumours, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Drug and alcohol addiction may also trigger psychosis. Genes have not yet been taken out of the equation as well.

Australia’s Health statistics, as presented at RightDiagnosis, show that 25.1% of people with psychotic disorders have a history of cannabis abuse while 30% of those who have episodes have a history of alcohol dependency according to Australia’s Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Sufferers may recover from bouts of episodic psychosis with or without medication, however, others may lapse into long-term illness. Symptoms can be varied among different people as well. Symptoms of psychosis include the following:

  1. hallucinations
  2. delusions
  3. confusion
  4. paranoia
  5. manic depression
  6. behavior, emotional and personality changes

The combination of these symptoms may disrupt normal perceptions, coupled with unmapped disruption in behaviour, emotions and thinking. The diagnosis, however, may only be confirmed by most doctors after ruling out other possible factors like medication side effects.

Often, people who suffer from the condition may be unaware of what they are suffering from. This puts the responsibility on friends and families to detect any behavioural and emotional changes so the sufferer can seek help. It is advised that when a family member or friend exhibits any of the mentioned conditions, one should refer them to medical professionals right away for treatment. Early intervention may result in the possible alleviation of the condition. In some cases, a lack of intervention results in full-blown psychotic episodes which may become harder to treat.

Treating Psychosis


Various treatments are known to be of great help when treating psychosis. They may include medications and theraputic treatments. Once a sufferer religiously follows a treatment plan, psychosis may be managed, if not treated. These treatments may include the following:

  • Medication. Antipsychotic medications are usually given by doctors to restore the brain’s chemical balance. Once it is regularly taken, it may help reduce if not get rid of the symptoms of psychotic episodes.
  • Psychological Therapy. Psychological therapy is often given to certain individuals who qualify. CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy is one technique employed in the field that has been proven to successfully help patients. Often, family therapy is done in conjunction with all other therapies to offer support to the patient.
  • Social Support. Social support groups often can provide great help when it comes to providing for the social and educational needs of people suffering from psychosis. These programs also help patients look for suitable training, employment and rehabilitation programs while lobbying for community acceptance.

Omega-3 and Psychosis


Aside from the above mentioned treatments for psychosis, modern researchers have found omega-3, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, to be of great help in reducing the likelihood of psychosis from getting worse among those who are in high risk.

Omega-3 is often taken from various sources like calamari, krill and fish oil (plant sources like Chia and quinoa can also be great). Containing DHA and EPA – components that have positive effects against diseases like CVDs, diabetes and dementia – omega-3 is a great place to start for psychosis treatment.

Here’s a round up of several studies dedicated to omega-3’s effects on psychosis symptoms.

Australian-Austrian Study

In Vienna, Austria, 81 individuals diagnosed as having an ultra high risk of psychotic disorders were put under study by researchers. Headed by Dr. G. Paul Amminger from the Orygen Youth Health Research Centre and the University of Vienna, the study brought in patients from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a large public hospital in Vienna.

The study aimed to determine whether omega-3 could help reduce the progress of psychosis among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 13 and 25 with cases of sub threshold psychosis. The study used a randomised, double blind placebo-controlled trial over the course of a 12 week intervention followed by 40 weeks monitoring for possible progress.

After the period of 12 months, it was found that 2 of the 41 individuals under the omega-3 intervention (1.2 grams of omega-3 capsules daily) transitioned to psychotic disorder while 11 out of 40 among the placebo group went into full threshold psychosis.

These findings concluded that long-chained fatty acids can possibly reduce the progression risk of psychotic disorders among those in sub threshold psychotic states and may offer a safe and natural alternative intervention process. These findings were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in the JAMA journals.

Authors of the study cited omega-3 as a natural alternative which doesn’t produce the adverse side effects (metabolic changes, sexual dysfunction and weight gain) seen in most medications.

You can read about the study here: JAMA journal and here: US NIH.

Seven-year follow-up Study

In a follow-up study presented last year at the 2014 International Early Psychosis Conference in Tokyo, Dr. Amminger and Mcgorry from the University of Melbourne and Monika Schlögelhofer of the Medical University of Vienna further established credibility to the prior study from Vienna. It was titled “Longer-term follow-up in the Vienna omega-3 psychosis prevention trial”.

This presented study showed that only 10% of those who were given omega-3 for 12 weeks further developed full-blown psychosis – versus the 40% in the placebo group – and did so more quickly compared to the former.

Authors are conducting two more replica studies to further strengthen their claims.

Ongoing US and Canada Study

Multicenter team researchers from Canada and the US conducted a randomised and double blind study to help determine whether omega-3 can help prevent psychosis progression, published in Archives of General Psychiatry. Its participants were between 12 and 30 years old and diagnosed with psychosis disorders.

The omega-3 group was given 2 pills a day with 740 mg of EPA and 400 mg of DHA. To get updated, you may check out the US NIH clinical trial website for the progress of said study.

Possible reasons why omega-3 helps prevent psychosis


Based on the studies above, it can be said that omega-3 is a powerhouse of nutrients and is packing a lot of disease-fighting components which prove to be useful in a number of medical circumstances. Although most scientists and researchers cannot pinpoint the exact reason why omega-3 helps prevent psychosis, here are some of the most commonly proposed and plausible possibilities:

  1. It has “neuro-protective” effects in the brain.
  2. It has a good anti-inflammatory component which is important since psychosis episodes occur with brain inflammation.
  3. It raises antioxidant glutathione level which helps prevent damage in the brain and the body.
  4. It helps regulate key neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, known as mood regulators and related to mood health.

Although the abovementioned study from Australian and Austrian collaborators still aims to finish two more trials and the US-Canada study is still ongoing, the medical world is now inferring that omega-3 can “possibly” be the Holy Grail for progress prevention of psychotic episodes among young and adult patients.

Given that these fatty acids don’t give off side effects like anti-psychosis drugs, it could very well be the best alternative for those seeking treatment.


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