Lack of Omega 3 Linked to Teenage Mood Problems & Addiction

Thursday, August 15, 2013
By: Byron J. Richards,
Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Researchers from the University of Pittsburg have demonstrated that serious teenage mood disturbances and addiction are linked to a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, a problem that typically started with the parents lacking omega-3 themselves. It is commonly assumed that various types of stress and poor living environment are the major factors causing such problems. This new study shows that a lack of dietary omega-3 intake spanning several generations has a profound negative impact on teenage behavior and is a major contributor to common difficult problems facing teens.

“We have always assumed that stress at this age is the main environmental insult that contributes to developing these conditions in at-risk individuals but this study indicates that nutrition is a big factor, too,” said Bita Moghaddam, lead author of the paper and professor of neuroscience in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “We found that this dietary deficiency can compromise the behavioral health of adolescents, not only because their diet is deficient but because their parents’ diet was deficient as well. This is of particular concern because adolescence is a very vulnerable time for developing psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and addiction.“

The researchers noted that the parents of many of today’s teens were born in the 1960s and 1970s, a time period in which omega-3-deficient oils like corn and soy oil became prevalent, and farm animals moved from eating omega-3-rich grass to omega-3-lacking grain. Since omega-3s are present in grass and algae, much of today’s grain-fed cattle contain less of these essential fatty acids. Performing experiments in rats in Moghaddam’s laboratory, the research team examined a “second generation” of omega-3-deficient diets, mimicking present-day adolescents.

“Our study shows that, while the omega-3 deficiency influences the behavior of both adults and adolescents, the nature of this influence is different between the age groups,” said Moghaddam. “We observed changes in areas of the brain responsible for decision making and habit formation.” Second-generation deficiencies of omega-3s caused elevated states of anxiety and hyperactivity in adolescents and affected the teens’ memory and cognition. Overall, these adolescents were more anxious and hyperactive, learned at a slower rate, and had impaired problem-solving abilities. The levels of dopamine were altered in their brain more significantly than their parents, causing a lack of motivation and gravitation towards addiction. 

The most important omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is well known to support healthy brain structure as well as being a dominant nutrient that resolves inflammation within nerves. It now appears that the lack of it in one generation activates adverse epigenetic settings that are passed on to the next generation – a type of neurologic injury. If the next generation is also deficient, then nerve problems are magnified as the inherited weakness manifests as a problem.

Mothers and fathers conceiving children should be well nourished in DHA. DHA intake during pregnancy and lactation should be high. And children and teens should have DHA as part of their diets. This simple nutritional intervention can save major mental health misery.

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