Fish-oil may even help with behaviour problems

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Could biological interventions play a part in preventing antisocial or criminal behaviour problems? A new study in an area called “neurocriminology” implies that certain foods could be the answer to curbing negative behavioral traits.

Adrian Raine, of the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying the relationship between biology and environment with regards to antisocial and criminal behavior.

According to his research, there has been physiological evidence that disturbance to the parts of the brain that regulate emotion can result in violent outbursts, impulsive decision-making and other negative behaviors.

His new study implies that that omega-3, a fatty acid commonly found in fish oil, could have long-lasting neurodevelopmental effects which help reduce antisocial and aggressive behavior problems in children.

The research involved a randomized controlled trial in which children (aged 8 to 16) were given regular omega-3 supplements in the form of a drink. While a hundred children were asked to drink a juice containing a gram of omega-3 daily for six months, another hundred different children drank the same drink without the omega-3 supplement. All the children and their parents had to undergo personality assessments and fill out questionnaires at the beginning of the experiment.

After the six-month period was over, researchers did a blood test to see if the children in the experimental group had higher levels of omega-3 than those in the control group. All children and parents had to take personality assessments. These assessments were taken again in six months to gauge whether the supplement had lasting effects.

Parents were asked to rate their kids on “externalizing” aggressive and antisocial behavior. These included getting into fights or lying. They also had to rate their children on “internalizing” behavior, including depression, anxiety and withdrawal. Children had to also rate themselves on these behaviors.

Research found that the self-reports of the children remained flat for both groups. However, reports from parents implied that, on average, the rate of antisocial and aggressive behavior in both groups decreased by the six-month point. Most importantly though, those rates returned to the baseline for the control group but remained lowered in the experimental group, at the 12-month point.

“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% reduction in scores on externalizing behavior and 62% reduction in internalizing behavior.”

Parents also answered questionnaires about their own behavior at the six- and 12-month check-ins. They also showed improvements in their antisocial and aggressive behavior. This may have been because the parents took some of their child’s supplement, or a response to their child’s behavioral improvements.

Though this research is preliminary, there is significant reason to further examine omega-3’s role as an intervention for antisocial behavior.

“As a protective factor for reducing behavior problems in children,” Jianghong Liu, an associate professor in the Penn School of Nursing, said, “nutrition is a promising option; it is relatively inexpensive and can be easy to manage.”

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