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Br J Psychiatry. 2007 Feb;190:112-7.

Lipids and essential fatty acids in patients presenting with self-harm.

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Department of Adult Psychiatry, Galway University Hospital and the Clinical Sciences Institute, National University of Ireland, Ireland.



Low cholesterol has been reliably demonstrated in people who self-harm.


To determine whether people who self-harm also have low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and to examine associations between the EFAs and serotonergic function.


Depression, impulsivity and suicidal intent were measured in patients with self-harm (n=40) and matched controls, together with plasma lipids and EFAs. Platelet serotonergic studies were carried out in a subgroup (n=27).


Patients with self-harm had significantly more pathology on all psychometric measures, lower mean total cholesterol levels (4.18 (s.d.=0.93) v. 4.87 (s.d.=0.83) mmol/l, P=0.003) and lower mean total EFA levels (89. 5 (15.6) v.103.7 (17.1) microg/ml, P=0.0001) than controls after adjustment for confounding variables. Total n-3 and n-6 EFA levels were also significantly lower. Impulsivity and depression scores were significantly inversely correlated with both n-6 EFAs and n-3 EFAs, but were not associated with total or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Platelet serotonergic measures did not differ between groups, and were not related to psychobiological measures.


Lower plasma EFA levels combined with low cholesterol concentrations were associated with self-harm as well as impulsivity and affect. This was not related to platelet serotonergic measures.

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