Omega-3 fatty acids may plan a role in bipolar disorder, according to new research. Previous science has suggested that fatty acid supplementation may be helpful for unipolar depression, but the data has been mixed for bipolar disorder. The illness affects between one and 4.4 percent of the population.
Penn State researchers found that people with bipolar disorder had lower levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids compared to people without the disorder. They analyzed different types of fatty acids in 27 people with bipolar disorder and 31 healthy people measuring the levels in their bodies and collecting self-reported information on fatty acid consumption and bipolar medication.
They found that a particular type of fatty acid that circulates freely across the blood-brain barrier to be low in the subjects with bipolar disorder and correlated strongly with clinical bipolar symptoms, specifically mania and tendency toward suicide.
"This means that the availability of omega-3 in the body is lower in bipolar subjects," Dr. Erika Saunders, lead researcher and associate professor and chair of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine said in a university release. She said the fatty acids shift the balance of inflammation, a factor critical to bipolar disorder.
The study was published in the journal Bipolar Disorders. Saunders and her team are continuing their investigation. "We are actively pursuing the next step in this line of inquiry to get to the point where we know what changes in diets are going to help people with bipolar disorder so they can have another option beyond the medications that are currently available," she said.