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Fish oil may stave off schizophrenia -

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Fish oil may stave off schizophrenia

Lexi Metherell reported this story on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 12:31:00

ELEANOR HALL: Doctors now know how to tell whether a young person is at risk of developing
schizophrenia but what they're not so sure about is the best form of treatment.

The use of antipsychotic drugs is controversial because of the risks of side-effects.

But now a study suggests that fish oil could be the key to a safe and effective form of treatment,
as Lexi Metherell reports.

LEXI METHERELL: For young people at risk of developing schizophrenia early treatment is generally
seen as the best way to avoid full blown psychosis down the track.

But the scientific community's not exactly sure what the best form of early treatment is.

Adolescent psychiatrist Paul Amminger says low doses of anti-psychotic drugs are sometimes
prescribed but it's controversial.

PAUL AMMINGER: Because of the side-effects and because only part of those people progress to a full
threshold disorder it was also questioned if such an early stage an intervention should be provided
and in particular intervention with anti-psychotic medication.

LEXI METHERELL: Professor Amminger of the University of Melbourne's Orygen Youth Health Centre led
a study which has been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, based in Vienna, looked at whether regular doses of fish oil could stave off
schizophrenia in people with a high risk of developing the disorder.

He says it's well established that people with schizophrenia have lower levels of omega three or
polyunsaturated fatty acids.

PAUL AMMINGER: We also know from epidemiological evidence that in countries like Norway or Iceland
or Japan, the prevalence for instance for bipolar disorder is significantly lower.

LEXI METHERELL: Seventy-six people completed the study. Of the group 41 were given fish oil tablets
four times a day for 3 months. The rest were given a placebo.

Of the group that took the fish oil capsules only two had developed a psychotic disorder after a
year while of the placebo group 11 went on to develop some kind of psychosis.

Professor Amminger says while there have been previous studies examining the links between fatty
acids and mental health, this study showed the most conclusive results.

PAUL AMMINGER: There is generally a lot of evidence that omega three fatty acids are health
beneficial and I think I would like to emphasis here that the dose which we are providing through
fish oil capsules, it is not a huge dose.

LEXI METHERELL: Dr Phil Brock is the director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Women and
Children's Hospital in Adelaide.

He says it's becoming increasingly clear how important fish oil is to the development of brain
cells, shown by a recent South Australian study in which omega three substances were given to
breastfeeding women with premature babies.

PHIL BROCK: Those prem babies that received the omega three in the breast milk did show advanced
improvement in neurological development compared to the prem infants that didn't receive the omega

LEXI METHERELL: In the future it might very well be very routine for fish oil to be prescribed for
a range of concerns about mental illness?

PHIL BROCK: Ooh, I think it is too early to say that it could become routine but certainly they are
being looked at in a lot of conditions and at the other end of the spectrum we are getting some
evidence, some early evidence that people that take omega three fish oil substances might be at a
lesser risk of developing dementia in the later years.

So they are obviously useful in many, many areas of disease and hopefully that can help us with
problems in psychiatric disorders.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Dr Phil Brock, the director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Women
and Children's Hospital in Adelaide. He was speaking to Lexi Metherell.