Study Suggests Adding Omega-3s to Diet May Improve Mood and Reduce Aggression

by Ella

A recent study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior suggests that incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into one’s diet could potentially reduce aggressive behavior and improve mood. Omega-3s, commonly found in foods like sardines, salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds, have long been recognized for their various health benefits, and this research sheds light on their potential impact on mental health.

Examining the Research

The study, authored by University of Penn professor Adrian Raine and Lia Brodrick of the Perelman School of Medicine, analyzed data from 3,918 participants across multiple studies and laboratories spanning from 1996 to 2024. This meta-analysis revealed that omega-3 supplementation could potentially reduce both reactive aggression, characterized by impulsive responses to provocation, and proactive aggression, which is predetermined or “predatory” in nature.


Dr. Raine, a leading expert in neurocriminology and aggressive behavior, emphasized the significance of the findings. Drawing from 35 independent samples included in 29 studies across 19 independent laboratories, the results demonstrated a consistent trend across various populations, ages, and genders.


Implications for Mental Health

The paper highlighted the potential implications of omega-3 supplementation for mental health. While the study found modest reductions in aggressive behavior in the short-term, Dr. Raine stressed the importance of considering even small effect sizes seriously, given the significant economic and psychological costs associated with aggression and violence in society.


Moreover, omega-3 supplementation has been linked to benefits beyond aggression reduction, including potential improvements in depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Dr. Raine acknowledged the challenges in fully understanding how omega-3 influences neurophysiology but underscored its potential impact on mental health.


Insights into Omega-3 and Mental Health

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining cell structures and reducing inflammation in the body. While the body cannot produce omega-3s itself, they can be obtained from external sources such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines), nuts (e.g., walnuts), and seeds (e.g., chia seeds).

Melanie Murphy Richter, a registered dietitian nutritionist, highlighted the interaction between omega-3s and the brain. Omega-3s, particularly DHA, can enhance serotonin production and receptor activity, potentially improving mood and reducing inflammation in the brain. This mechanism could complement existing treatments for conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Omega-3s and Aggression Regulation

The study emphasized the role of omega-3s in regulating serotonin and mood, suggesting a potential link between nutritional status and externalizing behavior problems. Correlational research cited in the paper indicated a negative association between fish consumption and cross-country homicide rates, further supporting the potential impact of omega-3s on aggression regulation.

Richter underscored the significance of omega-3 supplementation in reducing irritability, anxiety, and emotional outbursts, citing research demonstrating lower aggressive behavior in individuals with higher omega-3 status. Moreover, the combination of omega-3 supplementation with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) showed promising results in reducing aggression, highlighting the potential synergistic effects of nutritional and psychological interventions.

Optimal Sources of Omega-3s

Incorporating fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies into one’s diet is a practical way to increase omega-3 intake. Additionally, plant-based sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, seaweed, and edamame provide alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor to EPA and DHA.

For those considering supplements, Richter recommended reputable brands like Nordic Naturals, known for their potency, purity, and freshness. Ensuring a balanced intake of omega-3s through dietary sources or supplements may offer potential benefits for mental health and overall well-being.



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