It’s well known by now that fish oil, found in salmon, tuna, and halibut, as well as supplements, benefits many parts of the body, from the heart to the eyes. With loads of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it also helps the brain, preventing depression, psychosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Now, a new study finds that it may also help people with epilepsy reduce the frequency with which they have seizures, particularly those who aren’t able to treat their condition with drugs.

Roughly 20 to 40 percent of the 2.3 million adults and 467,000 kids with epilepsy aren’t able to treat their seizures with medications. This makes their condition especially difficult to treat, and oftentimes, they must resort to surgery, neuromodulation — usually through electric currents — or changes to their diets. Fish oil comes into the picture in these instances; in the same way that it provides brain benefits for the aforementioned diseases, it may confer benefits to epileptics.

This idea is based on the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to cross the secure blood brain barrier, where it then becomes incorporated in the cells’ layers of fat. Once inside, it’s believed that the fatty acids alter calcium and sodium channels, preventing neuronal excitability, and thus seizures. Whether or not this works has been inconsistent, according to past studies.

So, the researchers tested how well fish oil worked among 24 patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. Over the course of 42 weeks, the patients tried a high dose, low dose, and placebo of fish oil, albeit in different sequences, so that the researchers could see how they responded to each treatment. Between each treatment, they underwent a “washout” period in which they took nothing.

They found that the low doses of fish oil were most effective in reducing the frequency of seizures. Patients who took these doses (three capsules equal to 1,080 milligrams daily) experienced an average of 12 seizures per month, compared to those who took the higher dose (double the lower dose) and experienced about 18 seizures per month. Interestingly, those who took placebos experienced about the same amount of seizures as those who took higher doses; they had a little more than 18 seizures per month on average.

On top of lowering the rate of seizures, the fish oil also alleviated high blood pressure, which was considered “a finding of some importance, given the recent data that the risk of death due to myocardial infarction (heart attack) is significantly higher in people with epilepsy,” the researchers wrote. Although they said that a larger trial is “warranted” to confirm the findings, they noted that “low-dose fish oil is a safe and low-cost intervention that may reduce seizures and improve cardiovascular health in people with epilepsy.”

Source: DeGiorgio C, Miller P, Harper R, et al. Fish oil (n-3 fatty acids) in drug resistant epilepsy: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover study. BMJ. 2014.