Omega-3s found to benefit children diagnosed with behavioral disorders

Omega-3 fatty acids are best known for their heart-healthy benefits. However, a recent study has found that they can also help boost mental health, especially in children with behavioral disorders. Published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, the study reports that supplementing children with behavioral disorders with omega-3 fatty acids can help improve their mental health and quality of life.

Children with behavioral disorders often experience a decline in their mental health and quality of life, even if their disorders do not reach pathological levels. To address these concerns, researchers from Spain looked at the effects of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids on these two factors.

For the study, they examined a total of 942 children with behavioral disorders aged between six and 12 years old. The participants’ data were recorded at the beginning and after a three-month follow-up visit. Some of the children received dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, while others did not receive any supplement.

To evaluate the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, the researchers used the Kidscreen-10 and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ). The SDQ examines 25 positive and negative attributes, which are divided among five scales: emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity or inattention, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behavior. The researchers also compared the characteristics of children with behavioral disorders with those of healthy individuals.

Based on the results, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids significantly improved the health status and quality of life of children with behavioral disorders after three months. It also improved their SDQ scores, except for the emotion subscale.

The researchers also found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, whether alone or in combination with other nonpharmacological treatments, effectively improved children’s mental health, especially hyperactivity or inattention and conduct problems.

With these findings, the researchers suggest that omega-3 supplementation is effective in improving the mental health of children with behavioral disorders.

Omega-3 supports brain development and reduces aggressive behavior in children

Earlier studies have also found a link between omega-3 fatty acids and behavioral improvements in children. In 2016, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on childhood aggression and other behavioral problems and found that increasing omega-3 intake could help. (Related: Omega-3 supplements rapidly eliminate ADD, ADHD and bipolar disorder in children.)

For the study, the researchers enrolled 290 children aged 11 to 12 years old and randomly divided them into four groups. One group took omega-3 supplements in the form of juice, as well as multivitamins and calcium for three months. The second group did not receive omega-3 but participated in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which included weekly hour-long meetings with time split between the child, the parent, and with both together. A third group received omega-3 supplements, multivitamins, and calcium and participated in CBT, while the last group only received information on how to reduce aggressive behavior. Additionally, the researchers collected blood samples from every participant at the beginning and at the end of the study to monitor their omega-3 levels.

Three months after the supplementation with omega-3s, researchers observed a reduction in the children’s reporting of their aggressive behavior. Those who received both omega-3s and CBT and those who received omega-3 supplements only reported less aggression compared to the groups receiving only CBT or information on aggression.

However, the omega-3 benefits wore off over time and only provided effects similar to those of CBT-only intervention. The researchers wonder whether prolonged supplementation with omega-3 would result in a long-term reduction in antisocial behavior. These findings were published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Aside from supplements, omega-3 fatty acids are naturally found in foods like salmon, tuna, avocado, and seeds.

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