Fish Oil May Help Treat Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism

A new study has found that omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) may provide therapeutic benefits for those suffering from alcohol abuse and other psychiatric disorders.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a multi-year study that showed conclusive behavioral and molecular benefits of omega 3 fatty acids given to mice that exhibit symptoms similar to bipolar disorder. The fatty acid DHA, one of the main active ingredients in fish oil, normalized the mice’s behavior, according to Alexander B. Niculescu, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and the lead author of the study.

Dr. Niculescu and colleagues used a stress-sensitive mouse model of bipolar disorder to study the effects of DHA. The mice displayed symptoms similar to bipolar disorder in humans, including being depressed and becoming manic when stressed.

Dr. Niculescu said that the mice that were given DHA normalized their behavior and no longer seemed depressed or manic when stressed. When the researchers examined the mice’s brains using gene expression studies, they found that genes that are known targets of psychiatric medications were normalized by the DHA.

The mice given DHA also showed a reduced desire for alcohol. Dr. Niculescu said that like some bipolar humans, the bipolar mice craved alcohol. The mice given DHA, however, drank much less alcohol than the other mice. To verify these findings, the researchers used another well-established model of alcoholism and saw similar results.

Dr. Niulescu said that he believes a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help in the treatment of bipolar disorder and alcoholism. He added that there is now substantial evidence that omega 3 fatty acids produce similar effects on the brain as psychiatric drugs.

Omega 3 fatty acids are known to be good for general health and the brain, and also lack major side-effects, unlike some other psychiatric medications. Dr. Niculescu said that although a great deal of research still needs to be done, hopefully omega 3 fatty acids can be used in the future as an alternative treatment for bipolar disorder and alcoholism, especially for pregnant women or women who intend to become pregnant.

Dr. Niculescu’s work was supported by a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award grant.

Source: Science Daily, Fish Oil May Have Positive Effects on Mood, Alcohol Craving, New Study Shows, May 26, 2011

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