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Fish oil and mental health: the role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in cognitive development and neurological disorders

Assisi, Alessandroa; Banzi, Ritaa; Buonocore, Carmelaa; Capasso, Filippoa; Muzio, Valeria Dia; Michelacci, Francescaa; Renzo, Danilaa; Tafuri, Giovannia; Trotta, Francescoa; Vitocolonna, Mariaa; Garattini, Silviob

International Clinical Psychopharmacology: November 2006 - Volume 21 - Issue 6 - p 319-336
doi: 10.1097/01.yic.0000224790.98534.11

Epidemiological and experimental studies have indicated that consumption of more n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk for a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular, neurological and immunological disorders, diabetes and cancer. This article focuses on the role of marine n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in brain functions, including the development of the central nervous system and neurological disorders. An overview of the major animal studies and clinical trials is provided here, focusing on fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy and infancy, and prevention and management of Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, depression and attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Although an optimal balance in n-3/n-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio is important for proper neurodevelopment and cognitive functions, results from randomized controlled trials are controversial and do not confirm any useful effect of supplementation on development of preterm and term infants. The relationship between fatty acid status and mental disorders is confirmed by reduced levels of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in erythrocyte membranes of patients with central nervous system disorders. Nevertheless, there are very little data supporting the use of fish oil in those patients. The only way to verify whether n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are a potential therapeutic option in the management and prevention of mental disorders is to conduct a large definitive randomized controlled trials similar to those required for the licensing of any new pharmacological treatment.

aDrug Evaluation School Fellow, Regulatory Policies Laboratory, ”Mario Negri” Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan, Italy

bDirector of ”Mario Negri” Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan, Italy

Correspondence and requests for reprints to Professor Silvio Garattini, ‘Mario Negri’ Institute for Pharmacological Research, Via Eritrea 62, 20157, Milan, Italy

Tel: +39 02 39014312; fax: +39 02 3546277; e-mail:

Authors are listed in alphabetical order and equally contributed to this work.

Conflict of interest statement: None of the authors have any financial or personal relationships with other people or organizations that could be considered conflicts of interest for the present work.

Received 28 March 2006 Accepted 14 August 2006

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.