New study identifies link between low levels of omega-3s and symptoms of psychosis in early adulthood

A new study, the largest of its kind, published today in Biological Psychiatry [12 June]tracked the blood test results of more than 3,500 participants over a 17-year span to explore a possible link between diet and mental health.

Led by Queen’s University Belfast, the longitudinal study, which uses data from the University of Bristol Kids of the 90sexamined how blood levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a specific omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), changed over time.

Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cambridge and the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the aim was to identify whether and how these variations were related to the development of psychosis symptoms in young adults aged 24 years.

Researchers followed the participants, who are part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), also known as ’90s Children’, from childhood to adulthood.

Fatty acid levels were measured in blood tests collected from participants throughout their lives, at the specific ages of 7, 15, 17, and 24 years.

The findings reveal that those with persistently higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, as well as consistently low levels of DHA, had more psychotic experiences at age 24 compared to people whose levels remained average during this period of time. . Psychotic experiences include thoughts of paranoia or hearing sounds that others cannot.

Furthermore, these participants also showed greater negative symptoms of psychosis. Negative symptoms include loss of interest in activities, flattening of emotions, and social withdrawal.

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An adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended for general health, and the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 is believed to be important for various physical and mental health benefits.

Foods rich in omega-3s include certain fish and shellfish, some vegetable oils, nuts, and high-fat plant foods such as chia seeds, flax seeds, Brussels sprouts, and more. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in sunflower, safflower, soybean, sesame, and corn oils.

Commenting on the importance of the findings, Dr David Mongan, academic clinical professor at Queen’s University, said: “This inaugural study is important because the results suggest that optimizing fatty acid status during crucial stages of development, whether through diet or supplementation, warrants further investigation in relation to the reduction of psychotic symptoms in the early adulthood.”

Dr Ben Perry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, added: “We found an interesting link between higher ratios of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids during childhood and adolescence and an increase in experiences of psychosis in adulthood. We don’t yet know why this should be the case, but we also don’t think people should worry about these findings. Omega-6 fatty acids as part of a balanced diet are important nutrients and we would not recommend people eliminate them from their diets. “We hope that future research will explore this possible link between diet and mental health in more detail.”

Furthermore, Professor David Cotter, Professor of Molecular Psychiatry at RCSI, said: “Building on our previous research, these findings strengthen our understanding of the important relationship between fatty acids and subsequent mental health, particularly how an imbalance between omega -6 and omega -3 may increase the risk of subsequent psychotic experiences.”

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Commenting on the findings using ALSPAC data, the principal investigator, Professor Nic TimpsonHe added: “The health data collected in Children of the 90s enables life-changing research and here is an example of a fascinating study with the potential to impact future research that could help guide dietary advice.”


Longitudinal trajectories of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and associations. with psychosis spectrum outcomes in early adulthood‘ by David Mongan et al. in Biological psychiatry [open access]

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About 90’s Kids
Based at the University of Bristol, children of the 90ss, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of parents, their children and now their grandchildren in detail since then. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol.

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