Omega-3 prevents first episode psychosis – Will Representative Murphy, Drs. Torrey & Embry accept the challenge?

September 24, 2015

Sharing with CMHNetwork readers my Call to Action letter to Drs.Torrey, Embry and Representative Murphy on a very doable strategy for preventing first episode psychosis. We can make significant change – today. But we can only do this if these three individuals – two esteemed scientists, one from the treatment end of the continuum, one from the prevention end of the continuum and a member of Congress who has made mental health reform his mission – take the lead. This is what it will take to begin preventing first episode psychosis – today.

Dear Dr. Torrey, Dr. Embry, and Representative Murphy:

I was most excited to read in the Treatment Advocacy Newsletter about the positive results from the study recently published in Nature Communications (Amminger, et al.) that showed impressive benefits for the use of Omega-3 fish oil for the prevention of psychotic disorders. More impressive was learning that Dr. Torrey’s organization, the Stanley Medical Research Institute, not only funded this study, but is also actively involved in funding additional studies of Omega-3 in Australia and Europe and a trial of the use of omega-3 for individuals with bipolar disorder.

Over the past month, the Children’s Mental Health Network has been focusing on the important benefits of Omega-3 fish oil and have called publicly for the three of you to come together to help promote the promising research supported by Dr. Torrey’s organization on the use of Omega-3 fish oil to prevent psychotic disorders.

There has been much turmoil over the past few years in the mental health community about the best approaches to meeting the needs of individuals with serious mental illness. The debates will continue, but the three of you have the opportunity to do something very unique – bring together scientists from prevention and treatment backgrounds together with a Congressman who brings with him the advantage of a national speaking platform to do something that could absolutely make a difference in the lives of individuals with mental illness today. Not sometime in the future, but today. Better yet, the cost of this prevention effort would be exceedingly low, something politicians and advocates on all sides of the mental health debate could get behind.

I know you are aware of the scientific data regarding the positive effects of Omega-3 fish oil as a preventive treatment strategy for first episode psychosis, but both the looming challenge of the incidence of first episode psychosis and the scientific data regarding Omega-3 (in addition to the study funded by Dr. Torrey’s organization) is worth repeating:

The problem
According to Dr. Thomas Insel, each year, about 500,000 young people in this country seek help for symptoms that resemble the prodrome of a psychotic illness. Approximately 100,000 adolescents and young adults in the United States will experience first episode psychosis each year (calculated from McGrath, Saha, Chant, et al., 2008). The time for action is now. We cannot wait for further replication studies of the use of Omega-3 fish oil before taking action – the potential damage to human lives would be staggering. For example, a follow-up study requiring a seven-year tracking period would mean 700,000 young adults would have had a first episode psychosis in the time it took to complete the study. Theoretically, the results of the Amminger study might avert 30% or a 210,000 cases of first episode psychosis for about $15 to $20 each if we implemented a national effort to use Omega-3 fish oil as a preventive strategy with individuals who have a mental illness. Even if first episode psychosis was reduced by 10%, that would be a tremendous gift to the nation. Congressman Murphy is right to remind us all that we must do something. The three of you rallying together is the “something” I think people would be hard-pressed to disagree with.

The scientific evidence is in, and it points to a low-cost, effective solution
There are many published examples of the positive impact of Omega-3 on mental illness, including:

  • In 2006, a consensus paper by a committee of the  American Psychiatric Association published a recommendation that all individuals with a DSM diagnosis should be taking at least 1 gram per day of Omega-3. Freeman, M. P., Hibbeln, J. R., Wisner, K. L., Davis, J. M., Mischoulon, D., Peet, M., . . . Stoll, A. L. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67(12), 1954-1967.
  • Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: a comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLoS One, 9(5), e96905. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096905

Most exciting is the consensus that now exists between the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health about using omega-3 to protect military service members. Examples of published studies include:

  • Coulter, I. D. (2014). The response of an expert panel to Nutritional armor for the warfighter: can omega-3 fatty acids enhance stress resilience, wellness, and military performance? Mil Med, 179(11 Suppl), 192-198. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-14-00189, Lewis, M. D., & Bailes, J. (2011).
  • Neuroprotection for the warrior: dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids. Mil Med, 176(10), 1120-1127. Lewis, M. D., Hibbeln, J. R., Johnson, J. E., Lin, Y. H., Hyun, D. Y., & Loewke, J. D. (2011).
  • Suicide deaths of active-duty US military and omega-3 fatty-acid status: a case-control comparison. J Clin Psychiatry, 72(12), 1585-1590. doi:10.4088/JCP.11m06879 

The time for action is now
Drs. Torrey, Embry and Representative Murphy – we can make significant change – today. But we can only do this if the three of you take the lead. Two esteemed scientists, one from the treatment end of the continuum, one from the prevention end of the continuum and a member of Congress who has made mental health reform his mission. This is what it will take to begin preventing first episode psychosis – today.

Will you take this challenge? I look forward to hearing from you and sharing your thoughts with our readers. As always, please let me know how we can be helpful. We can do this, but it begins with the three of you joining hands and leading the way.


Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children’s Mental Health Network

Download the letter here.

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Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children’s Mental Health Network

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