Food and Behaviour Research

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Suicide attempt and n-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cells: a case control study in China.

Huan M, Hamazaki K, Sun Y, Itomura M, Liu H, Kang W, Watanabe S, Terasawa K, Hamazaki T. (2004) Biol Psychiatry 56(7) 490-6 

Web URL: View this abstract via PubMed here



Epidemiologic studies show that low fish intake is a risk factor of suicidality; however, there are no case-control studies investigating suicide attempt risk and tissue n-3 fatty acid levels.


We recruited 100 suicide-attempt cases and another 100 control patients injured by accidents who were admitted to three hospitals affiliated with Dalian Medical University in Dalian, China. Case and control subjects were matched for age, gender, and smoking status. Those who were inebriated at the time of hospitalization were excluded. Blood was sampled immediately after admission to a hospital. Washed red blood cells (RBCs) were obtained, and the fatty acid composition of the total RBC phospholipid fraction was analyzed by gas chromatography.


Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) levels in RBC in the case subjects were significantly lower than those of the control subjects (.74 +/-.52% vs. 1.06 +/-.62%, p <.0001). When the highest and lowest quartiles of EPA in RBC were compared, the odds ratios of suicide attempt was.12 in the highest quartile (95% confidence interval:.04-.36, p for trend =.0001) after adjustment for possible confounding factors


Our findings suggest that low n-3 fatty acid levels in tissues were a risk factor of suicide attempt. Further studies including intervention with fish oil are warranted.


This case-control study found significantly lower blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA in 100 hospital patients who had attempted suicide, compared with 100 patients admitted following accidental injury who were matched for age, gender and smoking status.

Low blood levels of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) have repeatedly been reported in patients with depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia - all of which are linked with increased suicide risks.

Clinical trials have also shown that dietary supplementation with omega-3 LC-PUFA (in addition to standard treatment) can reduce depressive symptoms in patients with both depression and bipolar disorder, and may also have benefits for the management of schizophrenia.

These findings provide a good rationale for treatment trials to assess whether omega-3 LC-PUFA may be effective in the prevention of suicide.