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Minerva Psichiatrica 2009 September;50(3);183-95


language: English

Review of the role of w-3 fatty acids in substance abuse

Buydens-Branchey L.

Narrows Institute for Biomedical Research, Brooklyn, NY, USA


Mounting evidence indicates that low levels of w-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) play a role in the pathophysiology of a large number of psychiatric disorders. There appears to be two pivotal long-chain w-3 PUFAs, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They have different mechanisms of actions. DHA is concentrated in synaptic neuronal membranes, modulates their dynamic properties and affects the function of neurotransmitter systems. EPA is not concentrated in neuronal membranes but may affect neuronal function via immunological and vascular effects. Blood levels of these two PUFAs depend mostly on dietary sources, such as fish and seafood. There is a paucity of data about the role played by EPA and DHA in substance abuse. In light of the suboptimal w-3 PUFA intake due to poor dietary habits among substance abusers, the possibility that a deficient w-3 PUFA intake and subsequent low plasma levels would predict their relapse rates was explored. A significant association was found between low levels of DHA and relapse vulnerability. Preliminary evidence also indicates that the administration of EPA+DHA for 3 months decreased the number of days substances were used and significantly diminished scores on anger and anxiety scales in patients abusing alcohol and/or cocaine and/or heroin. These preliminary indications that w-3 PUFAs could be beneficial to abusers of substances hold promise but must be confirmed by further well designed, placebo controlled and sufficiently powered clinical investigations. If these findings are confirmed, w-3 PUFAs would offer many advantages in addition to their psychotropic effects. They are well tolerated, apparently safe, inexpensive and are believed to offer health benefits to many debilitating and common conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and asthma among others.

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