Safely using eicosapentaenoic acid (fish oil) for schizophrenia
Fish oil, primarily eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is gaining popularity as a natural treatment for schizophrenia. (Before I continue, just want to say I have to be very careful with this post because I don't want to encourage anyone who needs to be on antipsychotics to read that I'm saying to discontinue them--I AM NOT!)
Because of this popularity, a prominent group of schizophrenia researchers in the UK decided to evaluate whether or not therapeutic doses of EPA produced any safety issues for its users. They divided 84 individuals with schizophrenia into two groups; one group received 2 grams EPA per day along with their antipsychotic, the other received a placebo along with their medication.
Those individuals receiving EPA experienced a trend toward decreased total cholesterol and HDL. Weight tended to increase. And their bleeding time increased, meaning it took longer for their blood to clot when they cut themselves.
Here are some thoughts to take away from this study.
1. 2 grams daily of EPA is a very high dose. Most over the counter capsules have about 10% of that amount. This was a very specific protocol unlikely to be randomly adopted by the average person.
2. If you have ever had any issues with blood clotting, or are on any type of medication that affects clotting time, such as Coumadin, it is very important to work with your prescribing physician in order to coordinate appropriate dosages of medications and supplements.
3. I'm not working with critically ill schizophrenics on an outpatient basis, so I have the liberty of starting low and upping doses to evaluate for tolerance. I tend to work with a mixture of dietary fats and fish oils and not use such a specific, directed protocol. I feel much safer with that. But I am always on the lookout for the kinds of reactions that this study produced.
4. What is not known is whether or not all the subjects were on the same antipsychotic, or for how long before starting this study. Each antipsychotic has a slightly different effect on lipids, weight, and hormones, and that information would likely affect the results that were reported.
Overall, I'd say the most important finding in this study was the effect of super-high doses of EPA on clotting time. Because EPA has been getting more attention for its potential in treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it is showing up more and more as a single supplement rather than as a component of fish oil. There is a tendency to use the "more is better" approach and to assume that if it's natural, and it's over the counter, it's safe. That may or may not be true with EPA, and it should be used judiciously.
Emsley R, Niehaus DJ, Oosthuizen PP, Koen L, Ascott-Evans B, Chiliza B, van Rensburg SJ, Smit RM. Safety of the omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in psychiatric patients: Results from a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Psychiatry Res. 2008 Dec 15;161(3):284-91. Epub 2008 Oct 29.
Founder of the inCYST Institute for Hormone Health, Director of Marketing for Chow Locally. I have a passion for sustainable living initiatives that involve good food, beautiful art, and warm, genuine people. I am blessed that this blog has connected me with people from all around the world and made it feel a whole lot smaller!