Columbia University Medical Center
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell
February 1, 2010

Fish oil pills may be able to save some young people with signs of mental illness from descending into schizophrenia, according to a preliminary but first-of-its-kind study.

The Austrian study of just 81 patients comes from leaders in the field of youth mental health and adds to evidence suggesting severe mental illness might be prevented with the right intervention.

Though it sounds incredibly simple, fish oil fits one hypothesis for what causes schizophrenia, a possible difference in how the body handles fatty acids.

'If it works, it will be an absolutely tremendous development,' said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who wasn't involved in the new study.

More research is needed to see if the results are accurate, he said.

The researchers are beginning a larger international study in eight cities with hopes of replicating their findings, which appear in February's Archives of General Psychiatry, released Monday.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that strikes adolescents and young adults. About 2.4 million Americans have the disorder, which is treated with antipsychotic medication.

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