Omega-3 Supplementation as a Dietary Intervention to Reduce Aggressive and Antisocial Behavior

Attention-Deficit Disorder (A Rostain, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Attention-Deficit Disorder

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Although there is an increasing body of literature on the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and aggressive/antisocial behavior, evidence to date suggests that there are mixed findings on the efficacy of omega-3 supplementation as a dietary intervention to reduce such behaviors. This article describes the current state of the research regarding omega-3 supplementation and aggressive/antisocial behavior from intervention studies, with an emphasis on randomized controlled trials.

Recent Findings

The current evidence base indicates a small effect size (approximately d = .20) for the efficacy of increased omega-3 intake in reducing aggressive and antisocial behavior in children and adults. How precisely omega-3 supplementation results in such behavioral improvement is an open question, although upregulation of dysfunctional prefrontal regions is one candidate mediator.

Summary

Directions for further research include understanding the more basic mechanisms that may underlie any intervention effects, delineating dose-response relationships, ascertaining optimal treatment duration and composition, conducting follow-ups post-treatment, and testing the provisional hypothesis that more impulsive, reactive forms of aggression may be particularly amenable to omega-3 supplementation.

Keywords

Dietary intervention Aggression Antisocial behavior Externalizing behavior Omega-3 

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

References

Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

  1. 1.
    Liu J. Childhood externalizing behavior: theory and implications. Journal of child and adolescent psychiatric nursing. 2004;17(3):93–103.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stemmler M, Lösel F. The stability of externalizing behavior in boys from preschool age to adolescence: a person-oriented analysis. Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling. 2012;54(2):195.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Slutske WS, Heath AC, Dinwiddie SH, Madden PA, Bucholz KK, Dunne MP, et al. Common genetic risk factors for conduct disorder and alcohol dependence. J Abnorm Psychol. 1998;107(3):363–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Liu J, Raine A, Venables PH, Mednick SA. Malnutrition at age 3 years and externalizing behavior problems at ages 8, 11, and 17 years. Am J Psychiat. 2004;161(11):2005–13.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Benton D. The impact of diet on anti-social, violent and criminal behaviour. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(5):752–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wallner B, Machatschke IH. Influence of nutrition on aggression. CAB Rev. 2009;4:1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    • Gajos JM, Beaver KM. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on aggression: a meta-analysis. Neurosci Biobehav R. 2016;69:147–58. This article assesses the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and aggression through a meta-analysis of intervention and observational studies. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    • Cooper RE, Tye C, Kuntsi J, Vassos E, Asherson P. The effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on emotional dysregulation, oppositional behaviour and conduct problems in ADHD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2016;190:474–82. This recent meta-analysis examines the efficacy of omega-3 supplementation on reducing aggressive and antisocial behavior in children with ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Raine A, Cheney RA, Ho R, Portnoy J, Liu J, Soyfer L, et al. Nutritional supplementation to reduce child aggression: a randomized, stratified, single-blind, factorial trial. J Child Psychol Psyc. 2016;57(9):1038–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Tammam JD, Steinsaltz D, Bester D, Semb-Andenaes T, Stein JF. A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the behavioural effects of vitamin, mineral and n-3 fatty acid supplementation in typically developing adolescent schoolchildren. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(2):361–73.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Young AS, Arnold LE, Wolfson HL, Fristad MA. Psychoeducational psychotherapy and omega-3 supplementation improve co-occurring behavioral problems in youth with depression: results from a pilot RCT. J Abnorm Child Psych. 2017;45(5):1025–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    • Raine A, Portnoy J, Liu JH, Mahoomed T, Hibbeln JR. Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8–16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial. J Child Psychol Psyc. 2015;56(5):509–20. In addition to investigating the efficacy of omega-3 supplementation on reducing child aggressive and antisocial behavior, this RCT provides evidence for a behavioral mechanism that may underlie the intervention effect. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Raine A, Ang RP, Choy O, Hibbeln JR, Ho RM-H, Lim CG et al. An omega-3 and social skills intervention for childhood externalizing behavior problems: a randomized, stratified, double-blind, placebo-controlled, factorial trial. 2017.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Anderson SW, Bechara A, Damasio H, Tranel D, Damasio AR. Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex. Nat Neurosci. 1999;2(11):1032–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Grafman J, Schwab K, Warden D, Pridgen A, Brown H, Salazar AM. Frontal lobe injuries, violence, and aggression a report of the Vietnam head injury study. Neurology. 1996;46(5):1231–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Brower MC, Price B. Neuropsychiatry of frontal lobe dysfunction in violent and criminal behaviour: a critical review. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2001;71(6):720–6.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Yang Y, Raine A. Prefrontal structural and functional brain imaging findings in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic individuals: a meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2009;174(2):81–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Glenn AL, Raine A. Neurocriminology: implications for the punishment, prediction and prevention of criminal behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014;15(1):54–63. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Fairchild G, Passamonti L, Hurford G, Hagan CC, von dem Hagen EA, van Goozen SH, et al. Brain structure abnormalities in early-onset and adolescent-onset conduct disorder. Am J Psychiat. 2011;168(6):624–33.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Yehuda S, Rabinovitz S, Mostofsky D. Essential fatty acids and the brain: from infancy to aging. Neurobiol Aging. 2005;26((1):98–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev. 2007;12(3):207–27.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hibbeln JR, Ferguson TA, Blasbalg TL. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: opportunities for intervention. International Review of Psychiatry. 2006;18(2):107–18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    McNamara RK, Able J, Jandacek R, Rider T, Tso P, Eliassen JC, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases prefrontal cortex activation during sustained attention in healthy boys: a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging, functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(4):1060–7.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Bauer I, Hughes M, Rowsell R, Cockerell R, Pipingas A, Crewther S, et al. Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults. Hum Psychopharmacol Clin Exp. 2014;29(2):133–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Jackson PA, Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil modulates the cerebral hemodynamic response to cognitive tasks in healthy young adults. Biol Psychol. 2012;89(1):183–90.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Bos DJ, Oranje B, Veerhoek ES, Van Diepen RM, Weusten JM, Demmelmair H, et al. Reduced symptoms of inattention after dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in boys with and without attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015;40(10):2298–306.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Bloch MH, Qawasmi A. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2011;50(10):991–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Departments of Criminology, Psychiatry, and PsychologyUniversity of Pennsylvania, Jerry Lee Center of CriminologyPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations