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New Study Reveals Omega-3's Potential to Reduce Aggressive Behavior, Including in Children

New Findings Suggest Omega-3 May Aid in Aggression Management
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Omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce aggressive behavior in people taking the supplements.

Jun. 7 2024, Published 9:01 a.m. ET

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Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have benefits for treating heart disease and high blood pressure, but they may also help reduce aggression, according to new research.

Previous research has shown aggressive and violent behavior has a basis in the brain, and that poor nutrition is a risk factor for behavioral problems, and that research led University of Pennsylvania neurocriminologist Adrian Raine to investigate whether omega-3 supplementation can reduce aggressive behavior.

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Raine published five randomized, controlled trials carried out in different countries and saw significant effects, but wanted to explore whether those findings extended beyond the laboratory into the real world.

His latest study, a meta-analysis of 29 randomized controlled trials, shows modest short-term effects across age, gender, diagnosis, treatment duration and dosage.

According to the results of the study, published in the journal Aggressive and Violent Behavior with co-author Lia Brodrick of the Perelman School of Medicine, Raine estimates omega-3 supplementation translates to a 30 percent reduction in aggression.

“I think the time has come to implement omega-3 supplementation to reduce aggression, irrespective of whether the setting is the community, the clinic or the criminal justice system,” Raine said in a statement. “Omega-3 is not a magic bullet that is going to completely solve the problem of violence in society. But can it help? Based on these findings, we firmly believe it can, and we should start to act on the new knowledge we have.”

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The meta-analysis looked at 35 independent samples from 29 studies conducted in 19 independent laboratories from 1996 to 2024 with 3,918 participants. Because only one of the 19 labs followed up with participants after supplementation ended, the analysis looked at changes in aggression from beginning to end of treatment, a period averaging about 16 weeks.

The analysis found that omega-3 reduced both reactive aggression, in response to a provocation, and proactive aggression, which is planned.

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“While there is value in knowing whether omega-3 reduces aggression in the short-term,” the authors of the paper wrote, “the next step will be to evaluate whether omega-3 can reduce aggression in the long-term.”

The researchers also hope to use brain imaging to investigate whether omega-3 supplementation enhances prefrontal functioning, and to study whether genetics play a role in the efficacy of omega-3 treatment.

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Despite the need for further study, the authors say the current results show that omega-3 supplementation should be considered alongside other interventions including therapy or medication.

“At the very least, parents seeking treatment for an aggressive child should know that in addition to any other treatment that their child receives, an extra portion or two of fish each week could also help,” Raine said.

TMX contributed to this report.

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