CHICAGO - Fish oil pills may be able to save some young people with signs of mental illness from descending into schizophrenia, according to a preliminary but first-of-its-kind study.
The Austrian study of 81 patients comes from leaders in the field of youth mental health and adds to evidence suggesting the right intervention might prevent severe mental illness.
Though it sounds incredibly simple, fish oil fits one hypothesis for what causes schizophrenia, a possible difference in how the body handles fatty acids.
"If it works, it will be an absolutely tremendous development," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, who wasn't involved in the new study.
The researchers are beginning a larger international study in eight cities with the hope of replicating their findings, which appear in February's Archives of General Psychiatry, released yesterday.
About 2.4 million Americans have schizophrenia, a disorder treated with antipsychotic medication. Studies have tried antipsychotics in selected young people, but with troubling side effects. Results have been mixed.
For the new study, researchers identified 81 people, ages 13 to 25, with warning signs of psychosis. The people in the study had sought professional help and most were referred by psychiatrists at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.
Researchers randomly assigned 41 of the patients to take four fish oil pills a day for three months. The daily dose of 1,200 milligrams was about what many people take to get the protective benefits of fish oil for the heart and costs less than 40 cents a day. The rest of the patients received dummy pills.
After one year of monitoring, 2 of 41 patients in the fish oil group, about 5 percent, had become psychotic, completely out of touch with reality. In the placebo group, 11 of 40, about 28 percent, became psychotic. - AP