Background: Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) metabolism abnormalities have been long implicated in the etiology of schizophrenia. Although several randomized clinical trials have been carried out to assess the efficacy of omega-3 PUFA as add-on therapy in reducing psychopathology in populations of chronic patients with schizophrenia, only a few concern first-episode schizophrenia. The majority of these studies used a 12-week intervention based on ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid (ethyl-EPA), however, with conflicting results. An intervention based on docosahexaenoic acid plus EPA has not been used in first-episode schizophrenia studies so far. No add-on supplementation studies have been carried out in medicated first-episode schizophrenia patients to assess the efficacy of omega-3 PUFA in preventing relapses.
Methods: A randomized placebo-controlled one-center trial will be used to compare the efficacy of 26-week intervention, composed of either 1320 mg/day of EPA and 880 mg/day of DHA, or olive oil placebo with regard to symptom severity and relapse rate in first-episode schizophrenia patients. Eighty-two patients (aged 16-35) will be recruited for the study. Eligible patients will be randomly allocated to one of two intervention arms: an active arm or a placebo arm (olive oil). The primary outcome measure of the clinical evaluation is schizophrenia symptom severity measured by the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). Other outcomes include depressive symptoms, patient functioning and the level of insight. Correlates of change measured during the study will include structural brain changes, oxidative stress and defense, as well as neuroplasticity indicators. Metabolic syndrome components will also be assessed throughout the study.
Discussion: By comparing 26-week administration of EPA + DHA or (placebo) olive oil as add-on therapy in reducing symptom severity and one-year relapse rate in patients with first episode schizophrenia, it is intended to provide new insights into the efficacy of omega-3 PUFA and correlates of change, and contribute to the improvement of mental health care for individuals suffering from schizophrenia.
Trial registration: This study has been registered at Clinical Trials.gov with the following number: NCT02210962 .