Information for the public

About omega-3 fatty acids

About omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat necessary for human health. They are known as essential fatty acids because the body can't make them on its own, so it must get them from food and drink. People can get them through a variety of different foods such as oily fish (like salmon, sardines or fresh tuna), certain vegetables and cereals. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be purified into a liquid or capsule.

Omega-3 fatty acid capsules and liquids are available as either approved medicines or as food supplements. The omega-3 fatty acid capsules and liquids that have been approved as medicines have had to meet certain requirements to help make sure that they are of a certain level of quality and that they are safe. However, those that are food supplements have not, which means there are fewer quality checks carried out on the product.

Some omega-3 fatty acid medicines are licensed, in combination with other medicines, for people who have had a heart attack to help to prevent them from having another one. Others are used to help lower higher-than-normal levels of fats and cholesterol in the blood, after changes to the diet have not worked. However, whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has a beneficial effect on the prevention of cardiovascular disease is debated.

Omega-3 fatty acid medicines are not licensed in the UK to treat schizophrenia, so their use in this way is described as off-label.

Purified omega-3 fatty acids have been tested in a research setting to see if they improve symptoms of schizophrenia. They have been given to people with schizophrenia in addition to using antipsychotic medications and psychological therapies (see What is schizophrenia? for more information). They are not intended to replace these existing treatments.