Study of psychosis risk and brain to track effects of omega-3 pills

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | July 23, 2012

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The supplements used in the NIMH study will contain 1,100 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acid, about the same amount in four ounces of wild salmon.

The first major study on the biological effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the human brain is focusing on the role that this natural substance, primarily found in fish oil, may play in fighting psychosis.

Emory University recently launched the first phase of the double-blind, clinical trial of a specific combination of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which will ultimately involve about 160 participants, and researchers from eight universities.

"This will be the first study to conduct an extensive assessment of changes in the brain associated with omega-3 fatty acids," says lead investigator Elaine Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Emory. "We are most interested in the question of how to potentially prevent the onset of psychosis."

Non-invasive techniques will be used to record both the density of different regions of the brain, and the robustness of neural connectivity, to compare the effects of a placebo and omega-3 fatty acids on teens and young adults who may be at risk for psychosis.

Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be made by the human body, but are necessary for normal metabolism. Common sources include fish oils, algae and flaxseed oil.

The omega-3 study, expected to last at least a year, is part of a larger, comprehensive, project to investigate the origins and prevention of psychosis, headed by Walker at Emory and funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH).

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