Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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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

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posted on 2022-01-28, 16:10 authored by David MonganDavid Mongan, Colm Healy, Hannah J Jones, Stan Zammit, Mary CannonMary Cannon, David CotterDavid Cotter
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.


Irish Clinical Academic Training Fellowship | Funder: Wellcome Trust, Health Research Board

Wellcome Trust and the Health Research Board (Grant Number 203930/B/16/Z)

European Research Council Consolidator Award (iHEAR 724809)

Health Research Board (HRB ILP-PHR-2019-009; HRB POR 2019-0005; HRB ILP-2017-039)

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under Grant Number 16/RC/3948

European Regional Development Fund

NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospitals Bristol

Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol

Wellcome Trust (Grant ref: 217065/Z/19/Z)

Medical Research Council (MR/M006727/1 and MR/L022206/1)

Wellcome Trust (08426812/Z/07/Z)

Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust (102215/Z/13/Z)

Health Service Executive National Doctors Training and Planning and the Health and Social Care, Research and Development Division, Northern Ireland

FutureNeuro industry partners



The original article is available at

Published Citation

Mongan D. et al. Plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and mental disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations in a general population cohort. Transl Psychiatry. 2021;11(1):321

Publication Date

31 May 2021

PubMed ID



  • Beaumont Hospital
  • Psychiatry

Research Area

  • Population Health and Health Services
  • Immunity, Infection and Inflammation
  • Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders


Nature Pub. Group


  • Published Version (Version of Record)