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Can fish oil help guard against schizophrenia?


4 Star

Can fish oil help guard against schizophrenia?

Our Review Summary

This story does a good job of reporting on the research methods and findings.  However, the research itself has some methodological concerns that could have been addressed in the story.  For example, one might question the plausibility that the benefits of taking fish oil supplements for only 3 months could extend to one year.  These results may have been confounded by the fact that patients were allowed to take antidepressants and other medications.  One might also wonder about the psychiatric state of the study population because researchers note that the risk of becoming psychotic over the course of one year is approximately 40%.  This is considerably higher than that seen in the placebo group. Further, the results only apply to a small sample of children and young adults in a controlled clinical setting and are not generalizable.   The story also allows the researcher to make some pretty bold projections in the final paragraph about supplementation without challenging him.  This is where independent expert perspectives can help – something the story didn’t offer.


Why This Matters

This story should have challenged the author’s comments that fish oil "could also potentially be used to prevent or delay the onset of chronic depression, bipolar illness, and substance abuse disorder — all of which are far more common than psychotic illness." That goes beyond the evidence being reported.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs.  Fish oil supplements are relatively inexpensive and can cost as little as $0.25 per day for the amount given in the study.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story did a good job quantifying benefits. 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


While fish oil supplements are generally recognized as safe, the story could have told readers about potential side effects which can be gastrointestinal and include blood clotting problems, particularly for people taking blood thinners. 

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


This study does a very good job of providing the reader with providing the reader with detailed methods and results of the research study.  The study also does a good job at explaining a potential biologic mechanism by which fish oil/omega-3 PUFAs might protect the brain. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There is no disease-mongering on the condition of psychotic illness in at-risk adolescents and young adults.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The main limitation of this story is that it did not provide insights from any independent experts.  It only interviewed the principal investigator who conducted the research on which the story was based.   Independent experts could have highlighted the limitations of the research which would have been important to present. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This story does compare treatment with fish oil/omega-3 PUFA supplements to an alternative treatment with antipsychotic medications.   In addition, the story reports on potential harms of treatment with antipsychotic medication.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The story does not state that fish oil/omega-3 PUFA supplements are widely available. But we’re not sure that’s necessary, since most people are probably already aware of this.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

This story doesn’t indicate that prior research has examined the role of fish/oil/omega-3 PUFAs in patients with psychiatric disorders.  Previous studies have shown mixed results. The research discussed in this story adds to that body of knowledge.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


This story does not rely on a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 9 Satisfactory


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