October 8, 2014
It has been suggested in previous research that omega-3 supplementation can reduce antisocial behavior in children, but short treatment duration and a lack of post-treatment follow-up have been significant study limitations. Published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, a new double-blind, placebo-controlled study randomly assigned 200 children ages 8–16 to a daily 200mL beverage containing 1000mg of omega-3 or the beverage sans omega-3 supplementation for six months.
Children taking the omega-3-supplemented beverage had a reported 41.6% reduction in parent-rated child externalizing behavior and 68.4% reduction in internalizing behavior after six months. The parents of children in the omega-3 group also had significant observed reductions in parental psychopathy and reactive aggression, which accounted for 60.9% of the improvement in child antisocial behavior.
No previous omega-3 studies have tested this reciprocal effect, whereby improving child behavior, improved parent behavior, which further improved child behavior. The exact mechanism by which omega-3 improves behavior in children is unknown however the long-chain fatty acid does play a critical role in brain structure and function.
These findings support longer-term post-treatment efficacy of omega-3 in reducing child and adolescent externalizing and internalizing behavior, as well as reducing antisocial behavior in caregivers.
While limited evidence suggests that omega-3 supplementation may reduce antisocial behavior in children, studies have not reported on posttreatment follow-up and most treatment periods have been of short duration. This study tests the hypothesis that omega-3 supplementation over 6 months will reduce behavior problems in children both at the end of treatment and at 6 months post treatment.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial, a community sample of 8–16 year old children were randomized into a treatment group (N = 100) and a placebo-control group (N = 100). The supplementation consisted of a fruit drink containing 1 g/day of omega-3 or a placebo consisting of the same fruit drink without omega-3. Participants, caregivers, and research assistants were blinded to group assignment. The primary outcome measures of externalizing and internalizing behavior problems were reported by both caregivers and their children in a laboratory setting at 0 months (baseline), 6 months (end of treatment) and 12 months (6 months post treatment), together with the secondary outcome measures of parental antisocial behavior. Data were analyzed on an intention-to-treat basis including all participants. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02016079?term=mauritius&rank=2
Significant group × time interactions were observed with the treatment group showing long-term improvements in child behavior problems. The average posttreatment effect size was d = −.59. Effects were documented for parent reports, but with the exception of proactive and reactive aggression, child-report data were nonsignificant. Parents whose children took omega-3 showed significant posttreatment reductions in their own antisocial and aggressive behavior. This improvement in caregiver behavior partly mediated the improvements observed in child behavior.
Findings provide initial evidence that omega-3 supplementation can produce sustained reductions in externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. Results are the first to report improvements in caregiver behavior, and to establish this improvement as a part-mechanism for the efficacy of omega-3.
Raine, A., Portnoy, J., Liu, J., Mahoomed, T. and Hibbeln, J. R. (2014), 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. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12314