SHEFFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterized by such symptoms as delusions, hallucinations, emotional blunting, and social withdrawal. There is growing evidence that abnormalities in cell membrane fatty acid composition is involved in the disease. Researchers at the Northern General Hospital have just completed a study of the composition of red blood cell membranes in 23 drug-treated schizophrenic patients. They found that the patients had low levels of arachidonic acid (AA), linoleic acid (LA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) when compared to healthy controls. They also noted that the schizophrenics had higher levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) in their blood plasma indicating that the depletion of the fatty acids in the red blood cells might be due to an increase in oxidative breakdown reactions rather than to impaired incorporation of the fatty acids into the membranes.
A more recent study by the same researchers evaluated the effect of fish oil supplementation on the severity of schizophrenic symptoms in a group of 24 patients. They were given 10 grams/day of concentrated fish oil for a six-week period. The supplementation resulted in a marked increase in EPA and other omega-3 fatty acids in the red blood cell membranes and a concomitant decrease in omega-6 fatty acid levels. The researchers also noted a significant decrease in the severity of symptoms during the supplementation period. Interestingly enough, none of the patients were clinically deficient in fatty acid intake prior to supplementation, but a correlation between higher EPA intake and less severe symptoms was clearly evident. The researchers conclude that schizophrenia is somehow related to an abnormal fatty acid metabolism and urge larger clinical trials to evaluate the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in the treatment of this disorder.
Laugharne, J.D.E., et al. Fatty acids and schizophrenia. Lipids, Vol. 31 (suppl), 1996, pp. S163-S65