MAY 18, 2015 10:35 AM PDT

Omega-3 Intervention for Childhood Behavioral Problems

In the course of his neurocriminology research, Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania investigates the interplay between biology and environment in terms of antisocial and criminal behavior. Theorizing that disruption to the emotion-regulating parts of the brain can cause "violent outbursts, impulsive decision-making and other behavioral traits associated with crime," Raine looks at biological interventions to change these scenarios.
Does Omega-3 affect antisocial behavior?
A new study by Raine, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and reported in Medical News Today, suggests that omega-3, a fatty acid in fish oil, could mitigate antisocial and aggressive behavior problems in children. Raine, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with positions in the School of Arts & Sciences and the Perelman School of Medicine, worked with Jill Portnoy a graduate student in the Department of Criminology, and Jianghong Liu, an associate professor in the Penn School of Nursing, as well as Tashneem Mahoomed of Mauritius' Joint Child Health Project and Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (

As a graduate student, Raine was part of a group that conducted a longitudinal study of children in the small island nation of Mauritius to track their development in an enrichment program against a control group. The program, which offered additional cognitive stimulation, physical exercise and nutritional enrichment, demonstrated a marked improvement in brain function as well as a 34-percent reduction in criminal behavior.

They noticed that children who had poor nutritional status at age 3 were more antisocial and aggressive at 8, 11 and 17, looked at the nutritional component and saw that children receiving extra fish were performing better. Other research was showing that omega-3 is critical to brain development and function. It "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," Raine said. Research on the neuroanatomy of violent criminals suggested potential intervention and study iof the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region Raine found to have higher rates of damage or dysfunction in criminal offenders.

The new study was a randomized controlled trial where children received regular omega-3 supplements in the form of a juice drink. After six months, the researchers administered a simple blood test to see if the children in the experimental group had higher levels of omega-3 than those in the controls and had both parents and children take the personality assessments. Six months later, parents and children took the assessment again. The average rate of antisocial and aggressive behavior as described by the parents dropped in both groups by the six-month assessment. Those rates returned to the baseline for the control group but remained lowered in the experimental group, at the 12-month point, the study showed.

According to Ilona Fordham, writing in (, Omega-3 essential fatty acids are so named essential fatty acids because they cannot be produced by the body and are derived from the foods we eat. These healthy fats (EPA and DHA in particular) are found in the highest amounts in oily fish like salmon, walnuts and ground flax seeds; foods that many people don't consume on a regular basis. therefore, those people who consume less of these foods may have lower levels of these essential fats in their blood; those who regularly eat more fish, nuts and seeds will have higher levels and a correlating higher degree of cardio-protection and brain health benefit.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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