Omega-3 fats may help control impulsive, aggressive behaviour

Credit: Farhad Ibrahimzade/ Unsplash

Omega-3 is important for healthy brain and body function and can be obtained from certain foods, such as oily fish.

In a study from the University of Derby and elsewhere, scientists found that including certain Omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s diet can help them adapt their reaction to impulsive physical aggression.

Insufficient intake of certain fatty acids is linked with several problematic traits in adults and children, including depression, aggressive behavior, callousness and impulsivity.

On the other hand, omega-3 dietary supplements have been used to treat a variety of emotional and behavior-related health conditions, for example, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and major unipolar depression.

In the study, the team explored dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular one known as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), in relation to how people impulsively react in response to a threat or frustration, and whether they can adapt that behavior.

Participants first filled in questionnaires about specific aspects of their diet and completed a scale that assessed their tendency to engage in reactive physically aggressive behavior, such as aggression in response to a threat or frustration.

Using electroencephalography (EEG), their brain activity was then measured while they were shown faces on a computer screen.

If the face was threatening, they were instructed to respond by pressing a button on a computer keyboard, simulating an “attack.”

Occasionally, as the person was responding, the facial expression changed to one of distress (i.e. fear or sadness) and the participant was instructed to change their response.

The team found that modulating this behavior required participants to activate the frontal regions of the brain. People who were better able to activate these frontal regions reported higher dietary intake of EPA, and lower levels of reactive aggression.

Questionnaire responses also showed that dietary intake of EPA was associated with lower self-reports of reactive physical aggression.

The findings are in line with a growing body of evidence that suggests that the Omega-3 EPA intake plays an important part in regulating emotions and may help reduce impulsive violent behavior.

The team says it’s possible that dietary supplements of EPA could be effective for certain types of antisocial personality disorders that are particularly characterized by disinhibition.

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The study was conducted by Dr. Alex Sumich et al and published in…

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