Food and Behaviour Research

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Ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid in first-episode psychosis. A 1H-MRS study

Berger GE, Wood SJ, Wellard RM, Proffitt TM, McConchie M, Amminger GP, Jackson GD, Velakoulis D, Pantelis C, McGorry PD (2008) Neuropsychopharmacology.  33(10): 2467-73. Epub 2008 Jan 16. 

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Ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid (E-EPA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been used in a range of neuropsychiatric conditions with some benefits. However, its mechanism of action is unknown.

Here, we investigate its effects on in vivo brain metabolism in first-episode psychosis (FEP). Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3 T was performed in the temporal lobes of 24 FEP patients before and after 12 weeks of treatment in the context of a larger double-blind, placebo-controlled E-EPA augmentation study.

Treatment group effects for glutathione (F1,12=6.1, p=0.03), and a hemisphere-by-group interaction for glutamine/glutamate (F1,20=4.4, p=0.049) were found. Glutathione increased bilaterally and glutamate/glutamine increased in the left hemisphere following E-EPA administration. Improvement in negative symptoms correlated with metabolic brain changes, particularly glutathione (r=-0.57).

These results suggest that E-EPA augmentation alters glutathione availability and modulates the glutamine/glutamate cycle in early psychosis, with some of the metabolic brain changes being correlated with negative symptom improvement. Larger confirmatory studies of these postulated metabolic brain effects of E-EPA are warranted.


This brain imaging study involved patients with first-episode psychosis (schizophrenia) who were tkaing part in a larger study of dietary supplementation with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA (one of the key omega-3 found in fish and seafood).

Supplementation with EPA led to a significant increase in glutathione on both sides of the brain, and increased glutamine/glutamate in the left hemisphere only, suggesting that EPA may help to reduce oxidative stress and neural damage. 

Importantly, changes in these brain biochemical markers were also associated with fewer 'negative' symptoms  of psychosis such as social withdrawal and blunted emotional expression.

These findings add to the existing evidence that an increased dietary intake of EPA may be of benefit in the management of schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

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