Omega-3 Supplements May Curb Disruptive And Abusive Behavior in Kids

New research by a criminology department is reviewing the long-held theory that the fish oil compounds may reduce behavioral problems in children.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Supplements of Omega-3 fatty acids have long been touted for their many physical and mental health benefits. The compounds have been said to improve everything from joint health, to heart conditions, to sleep problems and psychological disorders.

What is less known about the fatty acid commonly found in fish oil is that studies have shown they may also be able to reduce behavior problems in children. Some of the early research on the subject dates as far as 1996.

A reemergence of an old theory

Now the theory is making yet another reemergence with the introduction of new work by a professor of criminology. Jill Portnoy, an assistant professor in UMass Lowell’s School of Criminology and Justice Studies, led a team of researchers that found that introducing Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in children's diets may reduce disruptive and even abusive behavior.

“This is a promising line of research because omega-3 fatty acids are thought to improve brain health in children and adults. There is more to be learned about the benefits, but if we can improve people’s brain health and behavior in the process, that’s a really big plus,” said Portnoy in a statement.

Although dietary research may seem odd for a criminology department, the work is part of a bigger subject that Portnoy is investigating. What her team is really analyzing lies in the heart of the age-old “nature versus nurture” debate.

Are crimes and other antisocial behaviors a result of physiological makeup or that of environmental circumstances? Figuring out this long-standing dilemma could give scientists the tools to intervene before antisocial behaviors ever escalate into crimes.

On her end, Portney believes the answer lies in both but the question of how is what still needs to be determined. “Before we can design effective interventions, we need to do research to understand what’s happening," she explained.

And her work is not reserved simply to supplements. Portnoy is also exploring if low resting heart rate may equally lead to antisocial behavior.


The latter may prove a better determinant of aggressive behavior as new research released by the UK's National Institute for Health Research just debunked many of Omega-3s' supposed benefits. “The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce our risk of stroke or death from any cause," said lead author of the paper, Dr. Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia, UK.

This is not the first study debunking the supplement's benefits making it hard to know what the compound's true capabilities are. Portney's new paper was published in the scholarly journal Aggressive Behavior.

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