Fatty Acids Help Schizophrenic Patients
Supplementation with a type of fatty acid called ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid (E-EPA) can improve symptoms in people with schizophrenia, according to a clinical trial published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2002;159:1596–8). Schizophrenia is a common and serious mental disorder characterized by an altered sense of reality. Schizophrenics commonly display bizarre or violent behavior. Approximately 1% of the world’s population is affected by this condition.
E-EPA is a derivative of the dietary fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid, commonly abbreviated as EPA. EPA is found in high concentrations in fish, and is thought to be a major contributor to many of the health benefits associated with diets high in fish. EPA is believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also appears to enhance brain function. The authors do not discuss why they chose E-EPA over EPA for this clinical trial.
For their study, the authors recruited forty people with schizophrenia who were being treated with antipsychotic medications. Half of this group took 3 grams of E-EPA per day for 12 weeks, while the other half took a placebo. At the beginning and end of the treatment period, participants underwent an assessment to measure the severity of their disease.
The people taking E-EPA experienced greater improvement in a cluster of symptoms called “positive symptoms” (delusions, hallucinations, violent behavior) than did those taking the placebo. In addition, so-called “negative symptoms” (social withdrawal, apathy) improved more in the E-EPA group than in the placebo group. People taking E-EPA also experienced fewer side effects from their antipsychotic medication than did those taking the placebo.
Antipsychotic medications, such as Thorazine® and Clozaril®, are the most common treatments for schizophrenia. While this class of medications is often effective for reducing the most dangerous behaviors in schizophrenics, most of these drugs can cause severe side effects that impede their usefulness. The most dramatic side effect is tardive dyskinesia, a condition marked by involuntary facial and body movements.
In the new study, E-EPA was particularly effective at reducing the severity of tardive dyskinesia. The authors concluded that most or all of the therapeutic benefit of E-EPA was due to reduction of this drug side effect. Prior studies of E-EPA or EPA in conjunction with antipsychotic medication have yielded mixed results, with the best-designed studies showing no reduction in tardive dyskinesia symptoms.
Many studies in relation to schizophrenia have focused on finding a nutritional agent to reduce the side effects from antipsychotic medications. In some, but not all, studies, vitamin E, manganese, branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), and evening primrose oil have each reduced symptoms of tardive dyskinesia.
Because of the conflicting nature of prior studies, it is perhaps too early to declare E-EPA an effective agent for the prevention of tardive dyskinesia. However, as it is not associated with significant risk of adverse effects, it still may be a worthwhile to consider, in combination with a conventional antipsychotic program for people suffering from schizophrenia.
Matt Brignall, ND is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Bastyr University. He works at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, where he specializes in complementary medicine approaches to cancer. He has been published in several journals, including Alternative Medicine Review, Coping With Cancer, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Brignall also teaches clinical nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. He is a regular contributor to Healthnotes, Healthnotes Newswire, and the Healthnotes Quick!Reference series.
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