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The Omega-3-Deficit Crisis: Are Behavioral Problems the Result?

Aug. 12, 2015|394 views
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Even before conception, it’s crucial that pregnant women have plenty of omega-3s in the diet. After conception, growing fetuses require a constant supply of these nutrients to build healthy brains and nervous systems. It’s simple, really. Nerve cells are highly specialized types of cells that must be able to pass messages among themselves. To do this they depend on specialized outer wrappings, or cellular membranes, which allow certain molecules to flow in and out in the correct amounts at the correct times. It’s a sophisticated system, and it depends on these sophisticated membranes to work smoothly. And what are these all-important membranes mostly composed of? You guessed it: omega-3 fatty acids.

As I noted yesterday, the problem is that many Americans don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Omega-3s are essential nutrients. We must have them and can only get them in the diet. Studies show that few of us get enough of these important nutrients, while we get far too many omega-6 fatty acids. 

After several generations of this hidden form of malnutrition, imagine what the brains of many of today’s children look like. When it can’t find enough DHA, the body sometimes substitutes saturated fat, instead. It’s a very poor substitute. Nerve cells deprived of omega-3s for building materials simply don’t work as intended. For years, some experts have warned that this multi-generational experiment in omega-3 fatty acid malnourishment may account for higher rates of brain and behavioral problems in the West. Omega-3-starved brains may account for higher rates of everything from violence and suicide to ADHD and autism, they warned.

Now that argument has gained new urgency. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published research recently that suggests that omega-3 deficiency promotes aggressive and anti-social behaviors among children. The findings were inspired by a study of childhood development conducted in the island nation of Mauritius. Some children received nutritional enrichment as part of the study.        

"We saw children who had poor nutritional status at age 3 were more antisocial and aggressive at 8, 11 and 17," said investigator, Adrian Raine. “That made us look back at the intervention and see what stood out about the nutritional component. Part of the enrichment was that the children receiving an extra two and a half portions of fish a week.” Children who had received the additional fish in their diets grew up to have “marked improvement in brain function,” compared to children who did not get the extra omega-3s in the diet. By adulthood, these same individuals were about one-third less likely to be involved in criminal behaviors.

Adrian Raine, Jill Portnoy, Jianghong Liu, Tashneem Mahoomed, Joseph R. Hibbeln. Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2015; 56 (5): 509 DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12314