Taking fish oil in teens can help prevent schizophrenia

fish oil can prevent schizophrenia copy

Forget low-fat diets, especially in teens at risk for mental illness — healthy fats are vital for good brain health. They’re so important that fish oil has been shown to prevent schizophrenia in young people who show early signs of the disease, such as minor delusions or paranoid thoughts.

Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in the late teens or early 20s when the brain is nearing the end of its development. However, a recent study showed that teens at risk for schizophrenia who took fish oil were less likely to develop the disease compared to those who didn’t.

Research has also shown that people with schizophrenia have lower blood levels of fatty acids the brain needs, suggesting their brains are deficient in these essential fats. Giving fish oils to adults diagnosed with schizophrenia has not produced good results — it appears the key is to give fish oil to youth before it’s too late, thus changing the trajectory of the disease.

Fish oils and other healthy fats, such as oils from olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados, have been shown to dampen inflammation in the brain, protect neurons, and enhance neuronal function and communication. Fish oils are high in the omega 3 fatty acids EPA, which dampen inflammation, and DHA, which supports brain health and function.

The brain is made up of primarily fat, especially the cell membranes, which are vital for communication within the brain, so the fats you eat determine how well your brain performs. It’s best to go for healthy fats and avoid trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, as they have been shown to sabotage brain health and function.

Fish oil group fares better than placebo group

The study followed 81 young people between the ages of 13 and 25 who showed early signs of schizophrenia. About half were given fish oil supplements to take daily while the other half were given a placebo.

A year later, the group given fish oil were less likely to develop psychosis.

A follow-up seven years later of 71 of the participants showed that only 10 percent of the group given fish oil went on to develop schizophrenia, compared to 40 percent of the group given the placebo.

Researchers say the results are striking but the trial needs to be done again with a larger group of people.

Gluten: Another factor in schizophrenia

Shoring up brain health with fish oils and other essential fatty acids isn’t the only tool in the prevention toolbox. A gluten- and dairy-free diet may also help.

Gluten, the protein found in wheat, has been found to play a role in many cases of schizophrenia.

Quite a bit of research has found a higher rate of a sensitivity to gluten among schizophrenics than in the general population. Casein, the protein in dairy, has also been linked with schizophrenia.

In fact, some research has shown symptoms in early-onset schizophrenia improved on a gluten- and dairy-free diet. Adding gluten back to the diets of patients who improved significantly worsened symptoms.

One interesting study from the 1960s even shows that hospital admissions for schizophrenia declined across Europe and the United States after the rationing of wheat during World War II.

Schizophrenia is a complicated disease with no easy answers. However, preventive measures before it’s too late may produce significant results in some people.

DHA versus EPA in fish oil

EPA and DHA in fish oil

When you buy fish oil you will notice different companies tout how much DHA or EPA their product has. While both are beneficial, you may want to consider the unique properties of each to address different aspects of health. EPA has anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known for boosting brain health.

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid and EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. Both are omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. A vegetarian source of omega 3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body may convert to EPA and DHA. Dietary sources include walnuts and flax seed. However, some people have trouble converting ALAs to beneficial forms of omega 3, particularly if insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) is an issue. Eating a diet high in omega-6 fats, those found in chips, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant foods, may also hinder this conversion.

DHA supports brain health

Most fish oil supplements have a one to one ratio of DHA to EPA. If your goal is to dampen or prevent inflammation—aches, pain, swelling—then standard fish oils or a fish oil with more EPA may be desirable. However, if you want to improve brain function, then consider a fish oil with a higher concentration of DHA. A higher DHA ratio can support issues such as depression, mood swings, bipolar symptoms, or poor memory. Although some fish oils offer a 4 to 1 ratio of EPA to DHA, some products go as high as 10 to 1 or even 24 to 1. Ask my office for a good source of DHA-rich oil.

How DHA helps the brain

DHA is an important building block in the brain. It improves how fluid and flexible neurons are and enhances communication between neurons. When neurons are healthier and communicate better with each other, overall brain function improves. DHA has been shown to reduce brain degeneration, improve short and long term memory, reduce brain inflammation (which can cause brain fog), and improve quality of life.

How much fish oil should you take

Dosage recommendations seem to increase with each new study, perhaps because Americans continue to eat so poorly and are becoming less healthy.

One study recommends 3,500 mg for a person eating 2,000 calories per day. So if you eat 3,000 calories then you should take at least 5,250 mg of omega-3 oils daily.

This is important to realize because the average EFA capsule is only 1,000 mg, meaning many people should take at least 5 to 6 capsules of fish oil a day, versus the standard two to three. If you are on a blood-thinning medication talk to your doctor first as fish oil helps thin the blood.

Reduce consumption of omega 6 fatty acids to boost effects of DHA and EPA

To maximize the effect of your fish oil supplement, limit your intake of omega 6 fatty acids. Although we need omega 6 fatty acids, the average American eats far too much in relation to omega 3 oils. Foods high in omega 6 include fried foods, partially hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils. Healthier fats can be found in cold water fish, olive oil, avocados, and raw nuts and seeds.