Free Access
Reprod. Nutr. Dev.
Volume 45, Number 1, January-February 2005
Page(s) 1 - 28
Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 45 (2005) 1-28
DOI: 10.1051/rnd:2005001

Omega-3 fatty acids and neuropsychiatric disorders

Genevieve Younga and Julie Conquera, b

a  Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
b  RGB Consulting, London, Ontario, Canada

(Received 24 September 2004; accepted 24 November 2004)

Abstract - Epidemiological evidence suggests that dietary consumption of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), commonly found in fish or fish oil, may modify the risk for certain neuropsychiatric disorders. As evidence, decreased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with several neuropsychiatric conditions, including Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, Alzheimer's Disease, Schizophrenia and Depression. Supplementation studies, using individual or combination omega-3 fatty acids, suggest the possibility for decreased symptoms associated with some of these conditions. Thus far, however, the benefits of supplementation, in terms of decreasing disease risk and/or aiding in symptom management, are not clear and more research is needed. The reasons for blood fatty acid alterations in these disorders are not known, nor are the potential mechanisms by which omega-3 fatty acids may function in normal neuronal activity and neuropsychiatric disease prevention and/or treatment. It is clear, however, that DHA is the predominant n-3 fatty acid found in the brain and that EPA plays an important role as an anti-inflammatory precursor. Both DHA and EPA can be linked with many aspects of neural function, including neurotransmission, membrane fluidity, ion channel and enzyme regulation and gene expression. This review summarizes the knowledge in terms of dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake and metabolism, as well as evidence pointing to potential mechanisms of omega-3 fatty acids in normal brain functioning, development of neuropsychiatric disorders and efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in terms of symptom management.

Key words: Alzheimer's disease / attention deficit hyperactivity disorder / autism / depression / neuropsychiatric disorders / omega-3 fatty acids / post partum depression / schizophrenia

Corresponding author: Julie Conquer

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2005