In the past, I've talked about how important dopamine is to our physical and mental health. In fact, last year I outlined my theory that Robin Williams may have actually been suffering from a dopamine deficiency — one that contributed to the depression, substance addiction, and Parkinson's disease he battled.
Dopamine imbalances can have huge effects on your health. While a deficiency can cause some of the challenges Robin Williams was having, elevated levels can be just as dangerous. In fact, research has found that people who are at high risk of developing schizophrenia tend to have increased levels of dopamine. The good news is a new study may have found a way to keep these dopamine levels where they should be to avoid or delay the development of schizophrenia. This method is safe and natural — it may even be something you're already doing.
For this study, published in Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Medical University of Vienna conducted a follow-up of an earlier study. In the earlier study, researchers gave people who had a very high risk of developing schizophrenia either an omega-3 supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks. This study found that although some people in each group did in fact develop schizophrenia, those who received the omega-3 supplements did so a year later on average than those who received the placebo.
That study was conducted seven years ago. For the present study, these researchers checked back in with the participants. They found that almost 40% of the participants in the placebo group had developed schizophrenia. Keep in mind that the subjects were all high-risk, so this high percentage isn't surprising.
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What is surprising is what happened to the omega-3 group. They took the supplement for only 12 weeks. And now, over seven years later, only 10% of the group has developed schizophrenia. That's incredible!
The researchers can't say for sure why such a short trial of omega-3 supplementation made such a big difference, but they do have some ideas. The participants took part in this study during adolescence, a critical time for brain development. The omega-3 supplementation may have helped the neural circuitry in the participants' brains develop properly.
A study in rats provides insight into how this may have happened. In that study, when omega-3s were taken out of the rats' diets, it affected the rats' dopamine levels. In adolescent rats, their levels went down. In adult rats, their levels went up. This suggests that the omega-3s the human adolescents took may have kept their dopamine levels from getting too high, thereby reducing their risk of developing schizophrenia as adults.
The researchers don't know enough about the entire process yet to definitively recommend omega-3 supplements as a preventative measure for preventing schizophrenia. But since they pointed out that these supplements have "no clinically relevant side effects," they basically said "it can't hurt!"
I recommend omega-3 supplementation for a number of reasons. It reduces inflammation, enhances circulation, and can help offset the effects of a number of bad habits. I'd be thrilled — but not surprised — to hear it has additional benefits to our mental health. And I'm especially glad that researchers are investigating its connection to dopamine, which is another essential component of our well-being.
Whether or not you're at risk of schizophrenia (and few of us are), I still think an omega-3 supplement, such as Complete Daily Oils, is a good idea for overall brain health. But if you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, make sure you see a professional for help.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD