Updated 21 June 2017

Can omega-3 reduce antisocial behaviour in children?

Omega-3 supplements may have beneficial long-term neurological effects in children that could ultimately reduce or minimise antisocial or aggressive behaviour.

Does omega-3 really affect behaviour in children? Yes, according to new research that suggests that regularly taking an omega-3 supplement could actually minimise or prevent aggressive, antisocial behaviour in children.

Personality tests

Conducted by University of Pennsylvania Integrates Knowledge Professor Adrian Raine, the randomised controlled trial studied 200 children between the ages of 8 and 16, the University of Pennsylvania explains. Half the children were given juice boxes containing an omega-3 supplement once a day for 6 months while others received juice without the supplement.

The children and their parents completed a number of personality tests and other assessments at the beginning of the study, at 6 months and at 12 months after the study began. The parents were required to rate their children in terms of both "externalising" and "internalising behaviours". Externalising behaviours include aggressive, antisocial behaviour such as involvement in fights and lying while internal behaviours include anxiety and depression.

Both groups showed a decrease in both external and internal behaviours at 6 months, a result that Prof. Raine attributes to the placebo effect. Interestingly, at 12 months the control group had returned to their previous levels of both behaviours but those who received an omega-3 supplement continued to show a decrease in both behaviours.

While the results are promising, Prof. Raine has cautioned that they are still in the very early stages and that more research is needed to further investigate the role of nutrition in minimising antisocial behaviour.

Read: Omega-3 - a solution to ADHD?

Omega-3 and ADHD

There are a number of studies that suggest omega-3 can be beneficial in managing ADHD symptoms, especially when it comes to concentration. Whilst much of the research hasn't been proven on a broader scale, smaller studies have yielded interesting results.

The findings of Prof. Raine's study seem to support the use of omega-3 supplementation in children with ADHD.

Kids with ADHD are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour and even crime, according to the U.S Centres for Disease Control (CDC). A study by the Yale School of Public Health supports this finding by suggesting that children who have been diagnosed with ADHD are twice as likely commit theft and 50% more likely to sell drugs in later life.

Should further research find omega-3 to reduce antisocial behaviour, it could be very beneficial for both children with ADHD and their parents in better managing the condition.

Read more:

South Africa has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD medication

Side effects of ADHD medication

Fidgeting may help children with ADHD learn

Image: Doctor giving girl fish oil tablet from Shutterstock


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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