Omega-3 supplementation in behavioral disorders during childhood


Behavioral disorders during childhood arise from a variety of factors that have in common that can cause emotional disturbance, stress, irritability, aggressiveness, insomnia, and other problems; these factors are interrelated and negatively affect the participation of children in school life and have a significant impact on children’s mental health and quality of life. Behavioral disorders are more common in males and children with family history of this kind of disorders, which suggests a possible genetic cause, but nutritional factors have been also linked with them (particularly the intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids and minerals).

Several studies have investigated the influence of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on behavioral disorders in children, and their outcomes show an overall beneficial effect. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation with can produce sustained reductions in externalizing (for example, hyperactivity, inattention, aggressiveness, impulsivity, and control) and internalizing (peer relationship problems and emotional problems, for example, withdrawal, anxiety, and depression) behavioral disorders, and has obtained reduction of some symptoms in children with attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder. Recently, omega-3 fatty acids supplementation has been studied alone and in combination with other nonpharmacological interventions (among them, physical activity, sleep hygiene and cognitive-behavioral measures), and the results show that supplementation, even alone, achieves better outcomes in mental health in children with behavioral disorders than other nonpharmacological interventions, excepting the combination of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation with change of habits, that also obtains good results; besides, the observation that omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with behavioral disorders seems to increase the rest time supports the idea that improvements in behavioral disorders lead to improvements in other health-related conditions.

Given the impact that behavioral disorders have on children’s quality of life, it is important to detect and treat them. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation could help with this goal, since it has been shown that, alone or in combination with other nonpharmacological treatments, is effective in improving mental health in this group of children.