There may be a link between levels of omega-3 fatty acids and bipolar disorder, according to a new study. Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health discovered that people with bipolar disorder have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids compared to people who do not have the condition.

The team compared 27 bipolar patients with 31 people without mental illness. Patients with bipolar disorder have the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 plays a major role for cell-to-cell communication in the brain.

"Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can shift the balance of inflammation, which we think is important in bipolar disorder," lead researcher, Erika Saunders, stated in a press release. The team did not find any difference of eating foods with fatty acids between the participants. Saunders thinks that this is perhaps due to the limited variety of foods included in the survey or the participants simply cannot recall the foods consumed.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, flaxseed oil and leafy vegetables. Still, Saunders claim that this is too early to advise for prescribing omega-3 supplements. Hence, the team is currently investigating whether increasing omega-3 can help treat bipolar disorder.

"We are actively pursuing the next step in this line of inquiry,” Saunders noted. “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.”

Previous studies showed that bipolar disorder does not benefit from omega-3 supplementation. However, Erika’s team looked at circulating fatty acids in the blood, a better indication of dietary intake than measuring these levels in cell membranes like what other researchers did.

National Youth Mental Health Foundation claims that more than three percent of Australian males and females between the age of 16 and 24 years have had bipolar disorder in their lifetime. The disorder is the ninth leading cause of injuries in Australian females between the age of 15 and 24 years and 10th for males in the same age range. Fifty percent of people with bipolar get diagnosed in their early to mid 20s. Sometimes, it may even be misdiagnosed as depression.

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