Children, Omega-3, & Interpersonal Interactions

By: Theresa Greenwell

Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in the normal development and growth of children, cell membrane integrity, modulating neurotransmitter functions, and the integrity of the GI tract. Recent findings, however, indicate that omega 3 fatty acids may benefit interpersonal relationships as well! Read more to find out how these fatty acids, nutritionally essential for human health, may also have benefits on the levels of mood and behavior!

Omega 3 research continues to show the importance of fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, in the health of children and adults.  This research supports omega 3 usage to reduce the risk of diabetes, improve skin issues such as eczema, reduce depression and mood disorders and improve metabolic conditions.  Individuals, especially children, with behavioral and mental conditions who receive omega 3 supplementation have shown improvements with inattention, cognitive performance, mood and behavior.

 

Children with behavior issues can be extremely hard to care for. When these children have aggression problems or personality issues, this puts a large strain on caregivers and other family members.  The increased strain can push a family to the point of breaking resulting in violence, both verbal and physical.  Studies using omega 3 supplementation in children have shown significant results in relation to health and behavior.

 

The Study:

A newly released study in Aggression Behavior (2018) looked at EPA and DHA omega 3 supplementation in young children in regards to behavior.  The goal of this study was to see if supplementation would not only help behavior in children, but also to see if this behavior change would positively affected child-caregiver relationships.

 

Prior to starting the study, each child’s behavior and aggression was assessed using the Conflicts Tactics Scale.  The CTS is one of the most used instruments for assessing family interacts which can lead to violence.  This tool looks at tactics used by a person to advance their own interest when in a conflict.  The tactics a person uses can be seen as behaviors, which can be measured.  The CTS takes into account the behaviors of both the person who is be assessed and their partner/primary caregiver.

 

For this study, 200 children and their caregivers were recruited for participation. Each child was randomly assigned to a study or placebo group.   Caregivers, research staff and children were kept unaware of which child was in which group. The children in the study group receive a fruity drink containing 1 gm omega 3 that delivered 300 mg of EPA and DHA.  The placebo group also received a fruity drink but without any omega 3 added. All children received one drink a day for 6 months.

 

During the study period, caregivers were to keep track of their interactions with the child, the child’s tendency to be aggressive and any physical assaults the child might make. Additionally, each child was reassessed by CTS at the end of the study and 6 months post-study.

 

The Results:

Results of this study showed that omega 3 supplementation had a marked improvement on the children’s aggression and inter-personal relationships with caregivers.  Not only did the children who received omega 3 supplementation show a decrease in aggression, this decrease continued to exist up to 6 months after the study.  The researchers theorized that the inter-personal relationships improved due to the child’s aggression decreased, which reduced the stress on the caregiver, thereby improving the caregiver’s attitude to the child and child’s attitude to the caregiver. Additionally, the researchers hypothesized that even more improvements in these types of relationships could occur by providing omega 3 supplementation to the caregivers as well as the children.

 

What It Matters:

Studies such as this one suggests that finding easy to obtain and use interventions for child behavior problems may be one of the keys to improving family relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

Reference:

Portnoy, J., et al.  Reductions in intimate partner violence resulting from supplementing children with omega-3 fatty acids: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial. Aggression Behavior. Epublished ahead of print May 2018.