New research from the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Science found that adolescents with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood are less likely to develop psychotic disorders in early adulthood.

According to the researchers, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may be linked to developing mental disorders. Against this background, they investigated the cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships between PUFAs and mental disorders in a large cohort of young people.

The study

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, examined over 3,800 people in Bristol’s Children of the 90s health study and assessed them for psychotic disorders, depressive disorders, and generalized anxiety disorders at age 17 and then again at age 24.

The researchers collected blood samples and measured the omega-6 fatty acids, which typically increase inflammation in the body, and omega-3 fatty acids, which typically reduce inflammation.

“Humans may have evolved on a diet with a relatively balanced ratio of n-6: n-3 PUFAs, but in the average modern Western diet, that ratio can be 10: 1 or higher. Given the largely opposing pro- and anti-inflammatory effects of their lipid mediators, it is believed that the balance of n-6 and n-3 fatty acids is relevant for inflammatory conditions such as cardiovascular disease. In at least a subgroup of affected patients, there is ample evidence that low-grade inflammation is related to the presence or risk of mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. The exact biological mechanisms by which inflammation can contribute to the development of mental disorders are complex, but can include modulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, neurotransmission, neurodegeneration, and microglial activation. A lower ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids can be associated with a reduction in inflammation and thus represents a possible mechanism by which nutritional factors can modulate inflammatory processes, ”explained the authors.


While there was little evidence that fatty acids were associated with mental disorders by the age of 17, researchers found that 24-year-olds with psychotic disorders, depressive disorders, and generalized anxiety disorders had higher levels of omega-6s than omega-3s. Fatty acids compared to those without these mental disorders.

In addition, 24-year-olds with psychotic disorders had lower DHA levels than 24-year-olds without psychotic disorders. In a group of over 2,700 people tracked over time, teenagers with higher DHA levels by age 17 were 56% less likely to develop psychotic disorder seven years later in early adulthood.

“We need to do more research to understand more about the mechanisms behind this effect, but it could possibly be related to reducing inflammation or reducing inappropriate clipping of brain connections during adolescence,” said David Mongan, lead author of the study.


“While I should resist the urge to speculate as EPA data were not available for the present analysis, I suspect that the mental health benefits, particularly with depression, are not adequately reported,” said Harry B. Rice, PhD, Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED): “Of course you can only work with the data you have and the results are reason enough for young adults to 3 increase feed. “

In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that mental illness is more common than many believe. “Psychosis is a symptom, not a disease, and it’s more common than you might think. In the United States, around 100,000 young people develop psychosis each year. Up to 3 in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their life, ”noted NAMI.

“The study needs to be repeated, but if the results are consistent, these results would suggest that increased dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids in adolescents, for example from oily fish like mackerel, might discourage some people from their early age develop psychosis. “Twenties,” said Professor David Cotter, lead author on the study and professor of molecular psychiatry at RCSI. “The results may also raise questions about the relationship between developing mental disorders and omega-6 fatty acids, which are typically occur in vegetable oils. “

Source: Translational Psychiatry

11, 321 (2021)

“Polyunsaturated Plasma Fatty Acids and Mental Disorders in Adolescence and Early Adulthood: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Associations in an Overall Population Cohort”
Authors: D. Mongan et al.


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