According to a recent Natural Medicine Journal report, omega-3 fatty acids can improve behavioral problems in children and teenagers.
Authored by Jaclyn Chasse, ND, “Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids the Answer to Behavioral Problems in Kids?” in the October issue, the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was taken on children aged 8 to 16. According to the report, children were given a fruit drink containing 1 g daily of omega-3 fatty acids (treatment group) or no added omega-3s (placebo). Treatment lasted for six months, and participants were followed for another six months after discontinuation of treatment.
Chasse said the effect of omega-3s on behavior has been studied but primarily on internalizing behavior such as depression. “Studies on the effect of omega-3s on adolescents or children and externalizing behavior are few and have shown mixed results. One limitation of those studies is that they were performed with a short treatment and evaluation period, 15 weeks and 16 weeks, respectively,” reported Chasse. “This is the first study where a longer treatment period was used and where subjects were monitored for extended periods post-treatment. It seems as though this longer period was required to evaluate the full effect of supplementation.”
According to Chasse, while both the treatment and placebo groups reported some benefit during the treatment time (due to placebo effect or possibly due to additional vitamin D and antioxidants in the drink’s base), only the active treatment group maintained this improvement six months post-treatment.
“While it does appear that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation had a clinical effect on child and adolescent externalizing behaviors, the majority of clinical improvement (as calculated by the study authors) could be attributed to a child’s response to changes in parental behavior,” reported Chasse. Another interesting aspect to the trial is the lack of self-reported improvement in children compared to caregivers. This phenomenon has been observed in other studies, such as one study of young-adult prisoners in which self-reports failed to note behavioral improvements that were reported by observers.
Chasse concluded “that while it does appear that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation had a clinical effect on child and adolescent externalizing behaviors, the majority of clinical improvement (as calculated by the study authors) could be attributed to a child’s response to changes in parental behavior.”
“This parental behavior change was also largely attributable to a response in child’s behavior, thus indicating that the clinical benefit associated with omega-3 supplementation is only the tip of the iceberg,” reported Chasse.
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