Omega-3s may reduce childhood behavioral problems

Omega-3s may reduce childhood behavioral problems

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for our health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Our body cannot make omega-3 fats, we must either supplement or get them through food.

Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, nuts, and chia seeds to name a few.

Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their potent anti-inflammatory effects and heart health benefits.

New research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that omega-3s may reduce childhood behavioral problems.

Adrian Raine from the University of Pennsylvania, along with his advisors and colleagues, conducted a study with the children of the small island of Mauritius. The research team tracked the development of children who were part of an enrichment program at 3 years old, and compared their development to those who did not participate.

The enrichment program included exercise, cognitive stimulation, and nutritional enrichment. After 11 years, the children who participated in the program showed improved brain function compared to the children who didn’t participate. At the age of 23, there was a 34 percent reduction in criminal behavior.

We saw children who had poor nutritional status at age 3 were more antisocial and aggressive at 8, 11 and 17,” Raine said. “That made us look back at the intervention and see what stood out about the nutritional component. Part of the enrichment was that the children receiving an extra two and a half portions of fish a week.”

Other research at the time showed that omega-3 fatty acids help with brain function and may boost memory.

Omega-3 regulates neurotransmitters, enhances the life of a neuron and increases dendritic branching, but our bodies do not produce it. We can only get it from the environment,” Raine said.

Raine’s new study featured 100 children who received omega-3’s in a juice drink, and 100 who received the same drink without omega-3’s.

After six months, the research team conducted a blood test to see if the children in the experimental group had higher omega-3 fatty acid levels than the control group.

They also had the parents complete assessments rating their children on aggressive and antisocial behavior, such as lying, getting into fights, and internalizing behavior such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. Children also rated themselves on these traits.

The antisocial and aggressive rates reported by the parents dropped in both groups after 6 months. However, after 12 months, the control group returned to baseline while the experimental group remained lower.

Compared to the baseline at zero months,” Raine said, “both groups show improvement in both the externalizing and internalizing behavior problems after six months. That’s the placebo effect.”

But what was particularly interesting was what was happening at 12 months. The control group returned to the baseline while the omega-3 group continued to go down. In the end, we saw a 42 percent reduction in scores on externalizing behavior and 62 percent reduction in internalizing behavior.”

As a protective factor for reducing behavior problems in children,” Liu said, “nutrition is a promising option; it is relatively inexpensive and can be easy to manage.”

The researchers do caution that these studies are preliminarily, and more research needs to be conducted before omega-3s can be recommended for behavioral problems.

The study showing that omega-3s may reduce childhood behavioral problems was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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1. “Penn Research Points to Omega-3 as a Nutritional Intervention for Childhood Behavioral Problems.” Penn News. University of Pennsylvania, 7 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.
2. “Reduction in Behavior Problems with Omega-3 Supplementation in Children Aged 8–16 years: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Stratified, Parallel-group Trial.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 22 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

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