Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to brain development and function, and nutrition experts believe that today's typical diet is deficient in these nutrients (see related article, Crime Times, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 1, Pages 1, 2, & 6). Two new studies add to growing evidence that supplementing the diets of children or adults with omega-3 fatty acids can markedly improve their behavior.
In one recent investigation, conducted as part of a study on cardiac health, Carlos Iribarren et al. examined the relationship between omega-3 intake and hostility. (Chronic hostility is a powerful risk factor for coronary disease.) The study involved nearly 3,600 urban young adults, all participants in a long-term research project. Iribarren and colleagues controlled for a wide range of factors that could affect their data, including participants' age, sex, race, location, education, marital status, body mass, tobacco and alcohol use, and physical activity.
The researchers report that higher consumption of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or of omega-3-rich fish in general, was related to significantly lower levels of hostility. "These results," they say, "suggest that high dietary intake of DHA and consumption of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be related to lower likelihood of high hostility in young adulthood."
In related research, Laura Stevens and colleagues recently reported positive findings in a study of 50 children with ADHD. The researchers gave half of their subjects a combination of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) including omega-3 fatty acids, and the other half a placebo (olive oil). The researchers detected no significant improvement in overall ADHD behaviors in the group receiving the PUFAs (a finding that contrasts with other studies showing beneficial effects), but they report that "PUFA supplementation led to a greater number of participants showing improvement in oppositional defiant behavior from a clinical to a nonclinical range compared with olive oil supplementation." Increased concentrations of the fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in red blood cells were associated with a decrease in disruptive behavior as rated by parents, and higher levels of EPA and DHA were associated with a reduction in disruptive behavior as rated by teachers.
The researchers also found that higher levels of vitamin E correlated with a decrease in hyperactivity, attention problems, conduct problems, and oppositional/defiant disorder. "The results of this pilot study," they say, "suggest the need for further research with both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E in children with behavioral disorders."
"Dietary intake of omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids and fish: relationship with hostility in young adults—the CARDIA study," C. Iribarren, J. H. Markovitz, D. R. Jacobs, Jr., P. J. Schreiner, M. Daviglus, and J. R. Hibbeln, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 58, No. 1, January 2004, 24-31. Address: Carlos Iribarren, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, CA 94611, firstname.lastname@example.org.
"EFA supplementation in children with inattention, hyperactivity, and other disruptive behaviors," L. Stevens, W. Zhang, L. Peck, T. Kuczek, N. Grevstad, A. Mahon, S. S. Zentall, L. E. Arnold, and J. R. Burgess, Lipids, Vol. 38, No. 10, October 2003, 1007-21. Address: Laura Stevens, Dept. of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana 47907.