When Mauritian children and youth took omega-3 supplements, their parents’ psychopathological ratings improved and the parents also felt their children were behaving better, according to a study led by University of Pennsylvania researchers and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The improvements lasted six months after the treatment stopped even though measurements of the childrens’ own antisocial behavior improvements were not as robust. Yet placebo effects did not wholly explain the results, wrote the researchers.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 200 children aged 8–16 years were divided into groups that drank a daily fruit drink, or a fruit drink supplemented with 1 gram of omega-3. Children and parents then reported on their own feelings and behaviors and the parents also reported on their childrens’ behaviors on several types of measurement scales. The parents guessed with 97% accuracy when their children were taking omega-3 and reported significant improvements in their children’s behaviors.
“In conclusion, this RCT shows that 6 months of omega-3 supplementation in fruit juice drink form results in a 42–68% reduction in parent-reported externalizing and internalizing behavior problems in community-residing children and adolescents, with improvement continuing 6 months after treatment cessation,” wrote the researchers. Yet the children themselves reported fewer significant changes in their own behaviors, and the researchers also did not detect as many. So the researchers then measured the significance of these differences.
“Improvement in parental behavior accounted for 60.9% of the [measured] improvement in child antisocial behavior,” they concluded. “[F]rom a clinical perspective the very large majority of clinic referrals for behavioral problems are from parents, not children. Consequently, the current findings for parental reports may have clinical relevance.”
Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8–16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial (Raine, Adrian et al. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online August 22, 2014. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12314)