Hyperactive Kids? Forget Sugar, Maybe It’s a Lack of Fish in the Diet
New research shows that teenagers are especially vulnerable to the effects of too few omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Even worse, the effects appear to be generational; omega-3 deficient offspring whose parents are also omega-3 deficient fared worse in the study, suggesting that behavioral and learning problems get worse with each succeeding omega-3-deficient generation.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh used a rat model to investigate the effects of omega-3 deficiency across several generations. Although learning and decision making were impaired in both adults and adolescents, teens were more hyperactive, anxious and poor at learning than adults. Investigators concluded that dietary omega-3 deficiency affects both teens and adults, but the effects are more pronounced in teens. The findings imply that omega-3 deficiency may get worse with each new generation. “It indicates that our diet does not merely affect us in the short-term but also can affect our offspring,” said Bita Moghaddam, lead author of the paper.
The scientists noted that in the human world, we’re now into the second or third generation of individuals who have experienced a similar dietary deficiency. Beginning in the 1960s and ‘70s, changes in agricultural practices conspired to largely eliminate omega-3s from the diet. In the past, animals like cattle and chickens obtained omega-3s by foraging naturally, but factory farming practices have eliminated omega-3s from these food sources.
As a result, we may be raising kids who are slower to learn, more hyperactive, and less able to solve problems. “We observed changes in areas of the brain responsible for decision making and habit formation,” noted Moghaddam.
While I don’t recommend sugar in the diet, it may be time to stop blaming the “sugar rush” for hyperactive behavior in children, and start looking at other aspects of the diet. Are your kids getting enough omega-3? Are you?
Bondi CO, Taha AY, Tock JL, Totah NK, Cheon Y, Torres GE, et al. Adolescent Behavior and Dopamine Availability Are Uniquely Sensitive to Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency. Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jul 25. pii: S0006-3223(13)00578-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.06.007. [Epub ahead of print]