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‘Elegant research’: Omega-3 supplements for children may reduce aggressive behavior in their parents too

Stephen Daniells

Omega-3

The potential of omega-3 supplements to calm aggressive behavior in children may also reduce the psychological aggression among adult caregivers not receiving supplements, says an important new study.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

In this randomised controlled trial, supplementing the diets of children with behaviour problems with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for 6 months not only reduced their own disruptive behaviour at 12 months, but also led to reductions in their parents' antisocial and aggressive behaviour - which appeared to partly mediate the benefits for the children's behaviour. 

For the primary report of this trial, see:

and the related news article:


This new report follows a more detailed analysis of the effects of omega-3 vs placebo supplementation of the children on the self-reported antisocial or aggressive behaviour of their parents or caregivers at baseline, 6 and 12 months - both between partners, and towards the child. 

These analyses showed that supplementation of the child had a lasting benefit on psychological aggression of the (unsupplemented) adult caregivers.

So-called 'externalising' behaviour problems in children - such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, oppositional-defiant and/or aggressive behaviour or 'temper tantrums' - obviously add to the stresses of parenting; and can put heavy pressure on relationships between partners, and within the family as a whole. Additionally, of course, the mental wellbeing and behaviour of adult caregivers also has an impact on children.

It is therefore more than plausible that if children's negative behaviour improves - in this case following omega-3 supplementation - this is likely to reduce psychological stress and conflict within their families, resulting in less aggressive behaviour by parents towards each other.
It's also quite easy to see how less parental conflict could benefit the child's wellbeing and behaviour.

As the researchers note, further trials are clearly warranted to find out if supplementing parents as well as children may lead to greater benefits.  Previous trials have shown omega-3 supplementation can improve mental wellbeing in adults - most notably reducing symptoms in clinical depression and other disorders of mood and emotional regulation.  Similarly, clinical trials indicate benefits for at least some children with ADHD and related conditions, including antisocial and aggressive behaviour.
 

Read the underlying research here:

See also:


And for more information on this subject, please see:

The potential of omega-3 supplements to calm aggressive behavior in children may also reduce the psychological aggression among adult caregivers not receiving supplements, says an important new study.

Supplementing children with the commercial omega-3 product Smartfish Recharge found an association between adult psychological aggression and improvements in children externalizing behavior.

“This study is the first to show that omega‐3 supplementation in children can reduce inter‐partner psychological aggression among adult caregivers not receiving supplements, reported scientists from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the journal Aggressive Behavior.

“Findings suggest that improving child behavior through omega‐3 supplementation could have long‐term benefits to the family system as a whole.”

“Simple but elegant”

Commenting independently on the study Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: This research is simple, yet really quite elegant. By improving a child's behavior, the overall stress level in the household is decreased which leads to family members getting along better. It makes perfect sense.

“When Dr. Joseph Hibbeln [from the NIH and co-author of the new paper] presented this research to a captive audience during a GOED-sponsored symposium at the recent ISSFAL (International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and LIpids) Congress, it was clear to me from discussions following his presentation that attendees were intrigued by the results.”

Study details

The study used the commercially available Smartfish Recharge product. Smartfish AA also co-funded the study

The researchers, led by Jill Portnoy, recruited 200 children and their caregivers to participate in their randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, stratified, parallel group trial. The children were randomly assigned to received an omega-3-rich fruit drink, providing 1 gram/day of omega‐3 EPA/DHA or the same fruit drink without omega‐3 for six months. The adult caregivers reported inter‐partner and child‐directed physical assault and psychological aggression at the start of the study, at the end of the six month intervention, and again after 12 months.

The data indicated that omega-3 supplementation led to long‐term reductions in psychological aggression.

The researchers also found a correlation between adult psychological aggression and improvements in child externalizing behavior scores.

While the results are positive and promising, the researchers cautioned that the levels of psychological aggression and physical assault in their study participants were low to start with, and therefore “findings may not generalize to samples with more extensive and severe intimate partner violence.”

Potential synergistic effects

The researchers noted that the benefits for both adults and children may be enhanced further is adult caregivers were also to receive omega-3 supplements directly.

“It is possible that simultaneously supplementing both caregivers and their children could have synergistic effects that reduce behavior problems over and above the effects of supplementing each alone,” they wrote.

“This would be consistent with research into parenting and social skills training, which has found that providing training to both the caregiver and child is more effective than providing treatment to either one alone.”

The researchers said this would need to be studied in a new intervention.

“In general, findings suggest that interventions designed to reduce child behavior problems may also have the added benefit of reducing family violence as a whole,” they concluded.