A new study published, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, by the University of Pennsylvania has studied the nature vs nurture impact, when it comes to to antisocial and criminal behavior and found that Omega-3 fatty acid are critical to brain development and brain function. The researchers attributed omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish oil to long term neuro-developmental effects, that associate antisocial and aggressive behavior problems in children.
The researchers conducted a study of children who were 3 at the initiation of the study and participated in an enrichment program. This enrichment program had additional cognitive stimulation, physical exercise and nutritional enrichment. Children who did not participate in the enrichment program were the control group for this study. Children were tracked throughout their development and revealed a marked brain brain function change as measured by imaging studies, compared to non participants. The study group and the control group consisted of 100 children, who consumed regular omega-3 supplements.
The study findings revealed a 34 % reduction in criminal behavior compared to the non participating group and the specific brain region implicated was the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region previously associated with high rates of damage or dysfunction in criminal offenders. The base line behavior was evaluated with research questionnaires at the start of the study. The level of omega 3 fatty acids was evaluated through blood tests, after 6 months, to see if children had higher omega 3 fatty acids than the control group. Parents rated their children on externalizing aggressive and anti-social behavior such as fights, lying as well as internalizing behavior such as depression, anxiety and withdrawal. After 12 months the self reporting behavior had improved in the experimental group.
“We saw children who had poor nutritional status at age 3 were more antisocial and aggressive at 8, 11 and 17,” Adrian 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.” “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. “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, nutrition is a promising option; it is relatively inexpensive and can be easy to manage, ” Jianghong Liu said.
Adrian Raine, Jill Portnoy, Jianghong Liu, Tashneem Mahoomed, Joseph R. Hibbeln. 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, 2015; 56 (5): 509 DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12314