Omega-3 acids in fish oil can significantly reduce an attack

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Omega-3 supplements may help lower levels of aggression in humans, a new study suggests. Mark Tran/Stocksy
  • ​​​​Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who take omega-3, found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, are less likely to have aggressive and violent outbursts.
  • Poor nutrition has been linked to aggressive and antisocial behaviour, and combining cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with omega-3 in regular diets may be beneficial.
  • Adding omega-3s to a daily diet is fairly easy due to the accessibility of supplements and grocery items such as edamame, seaweed, flax seeds and anchovies.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a beneficial nutrient found in foods such as sardines, salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds, can reduce aggressive and violent behavior, according to a new paper published in the journal. Assault and Violent Behavior.

The paper, co-authored by Penn University Professor Adrian Raine with Lia Brodrick of the Perelman School of Medicine, examined 3,918 participants from multiple studies, samples and laboratories between 1996 and 2024.

The meta-analysis found that omega-3 may reduce “reactive aggression,” which is manifested by impulsive responses to provocation, and “proactive aggression,” which is predetermined or “predatory,” as the study says.

Dr. Raine, who is also Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry and Psychology, has spent years studying neurocrime, aggressive behavior among adults and children, and antisocial behavior. This paper used 35 independent samples included in 29 studies from 19 independent laboratories. The findings were generalized across multiple populations, ages and genders.

“The results of this study show that omega-3 supplementation significantly reduces aggressive behavior in the short term, albeit to a modest degree,” the paper states. “Given the enormous economic and psychological cost of violence and violence in society, even small effects need to be taken seriously.”

“Omega-3 supplementation is claimed to benefit a number of psychopathologies, including depression and anxiety, and worse schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. It certainly has a beneficial effect on the serotonin system, but this is not unique as it also affects other neurotransmitters,” said Dr Raine Medical News Today.

“Our challenge is to understand exactly how omega-3 affects neurophysiology in a specific way to benefit mental health,” he said.

Omega-3s are generally known to have a number of physical health benefits. They help maintain cell structures, can prevent obesity and heart disease, and can reduce inflammation in the body. However, the body is unable to produce them itself, so external supplements or nutritional sources are needed to obtain them.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), present in flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

DHA and EPA are mostly present in cold water fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines.

Melanie Murphy Richter, a registered dietitian nutritionist and director of communications for the nutrition company Prolon, said she was not involved in the research. Medical News Today that omega-3s can interact with the brain in different ways in addition to their physical benefits.

“The presence of omega-3s, especially DHA, can make these vascular membranes more receptive to the signals that stimulate the release of serotonin. By enhancing this process, more serotonin is available for transmission between neurons in the brain and other parts of the central nervous system (CNS). In addition, Omega-3s can influence the expression of certain genes by increasing the functionality of certain enzymes that create the precursor of serotonin, 5-HTP. This can also improve serotonin production,” Richter said.

“Omega-3s can perfectly complement the antidepressant effects of SSRIs by increasing the availability of serotonin within the brain’s membranes. Because of their anti-inflammatory abilities, omega-3s can also reduce inflammation in the brain, which can help improve SSRI function.”
— Melanie Murphy Richter, RDN

Raine’s paper suggests that “poor nutritional status is a risk factor for externalizing behavior problems,” which has fueled increased interest in looking at how nutritional supplements can reduce such behavior across society.

He cites several studies explaining that omega-3 may be a bridge between nutritional deficiency and violent or aggressive behavior, saying that “fish consumption has also been shown to correlate negatively with cross-country homicide rates.”

Richter said omega-3s can regulate serotonin and mood, which can make a difference in antisocial or aggressive behavior when combined with other treatment options.

If, for example, a person’s dysregulated mood and emotions are associated with chronic inflammation as a result of a poor diet or other toxic environmental factors, Omega-3 supplementation can have a relatively large effect on helping to regulate emotional outbursts such as road rage. Indeed, one study showed that a higher level of Omega-3 status was linked to lower aggressive behavior in adult prisoners. Because of the effects on inflammation, Omega-3 can play a big role in reducing irritability and anxiety. The presence of Omega-3 can increase the availability of serotonin release from membranes in the brain, which helps improve overall mood and relaxation,” said Richter.

Omega-3s and CAP

“Omega-3s can make a great adjunct therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Many people have not learned how to recognize and work through certain emotions, such as anger or rage. CBT can teach practical tips for relaxation, problem solving and detachment from certain external circumstances.”
— Melanie Murphy Richter, RDN

Raine echoed this sentiment, saying that the combination of therapy and nutritional supplementation is extremely promising.

“We’ve done several studies comparing omega-3 to CBT and social skills training to reduce aggression, and in some cases, we find that omega-3 works better,” Raine said. “But we’ve also found that the combination of omega-3 with CBT can be very beneficial in reducing aggression. Therefore, an approach in which omega-3 supplements other psychological interventions could be very positive.”

Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies are an easy way to add omega-3s to your diet. Richter noted that chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, seaweed, and edamame are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid.

There are also supplements that can be found in stores or online. Richter recommended vetted brands such as Nordic Naturals.

“This brand is one of the best for potency, purity, freshness and clean ingredients. I also love that they have COA certifications and have been specializing in Omega-3s for many years,” she said.

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