Food and Behaviour Research

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Plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and mental disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations in a general population cohort

Mongan D, Healy C, Jones H, Zammit S, Cannon M, Cotter D (2021) Translational Psychiatry May 31;11(1):321 doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01425-4 

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Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may be pertinent to the development of mental disorders, for example via modulation of inflammation and synaptogenesis. We wished to examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between PUFAs and mental disorders in a large cohort of young people. Participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were interviewed and provided blood samples at two sampling periods when approximately 17 and 24 years old. Plasma PUFA measures (total omega-6 [n-6], total omega-3 [n-3], n-6:n-3 ratio and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] percentage of total fatty acids) were assessed using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between standardised PUFA measures and three mental disorders (psychotic disorder, moderate/severe depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder [GAD]) were measured by logistic regression, adjusting for age, sex, body mass index and cigarette smoking. There was little evidence of cross-sectional associations between PUFA measures and mental disorders at age 17. At age 24, the n-6:n-3 ratio was positively associated with psychotic disorder, depressive disorder and GAD, while DHA was inversely associated with psychotic disorder. In longitudinal analyses, there was evidence of an inverse association between DHA at age 17 and incident psychotic disorder at age 24 (adjusted odds ratio 0.44, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.87) with little such evidence for depressive disorder or GAD. There was little evidence for associations between change in PUFA measures from 17 to 24 years and incident mental disorders at 24 years. These findings provide support for associations between PUFAs and mental disorders in early adulthood, and in particular, for DHA in adolescence in relation to prevention of psychosis.