Anger and aggression are emotions that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. While there are many factors that can influence these feelings, recent studies have suggested that diet, particularly the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, can play a significant role. 

For vegans and vegetarians, finding a suitable source of omega-3 can be a little more challenging than consumers of fish—the most popularized source of the fatty acid. 

However, new research and plant-based supplements might offer a promising solution to keeping calm in this chaotic world. 

Omega-3 and aggression

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania has revealed that omega-3 supplements can reduce aggression by approximately 30 percent. This finding is particularly significant given the broad implications for both individual behavior and societal well-being.

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Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and other marine sources, have long been associated with heart health. However, their potential impact on behavior and mental health is now coming to the forefront.

“I think the time has come to implement omega-3 supplementation to reduce aggression, irrespective of whether the setting is the community, the clinic, or the criminal justice system,” study lead author Adrian Raine, a University of Pennsylvania neuro criminologist, said. 

“Omega-3 is not a magic bullet that is going to solve the problem of violence in society,” Raine said. “But can it help? Based on these findings, we firmly believe it can, and we should start to act on the new knowledge we have.”

The study focused on both reactive and proactive aggression. Reactive aggression is an immediate response to perceived threats, while proactive aggression involves planned, deliberate actions. 

The research involved a meta analysis of 29 randomized controlled trials that explicitly measured aggression in participants taking omega-3 supplements. 

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The results showed a modest but consistent reduction in aggressive behaviors across various demographics, including age and gender.

Historical context of Omega-3’s link to behavior

The link between omega-3 fatty acids and behavior is not entirely new. Back in 2001, Joseph Hibbeln of the US National Institutes of Health published a study correlating high fish consumption with lower homicide rates. 

A subsequent study by the University of Oxford in 2002 found that British prisoners who were given nutritional supplements, including essential fatty acids, exhibited less violent and antisocial behavior.

These early studies laid the groundwork for more recent research, highlighting the potential of omega-3 to influence aggression and suggesting that dietary supplements could be an effective tool in managing aggressive behavior. 

The latest findings from the University of Pennsylvania build on this foundation, offering a clearer understanding of how omega-3 supplementation can be utilized in various settings, from schools to correctional facilities.

The science behind omega-3s and brain health

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for brain health, influencing neurotransmitter regulation and reducing inflammation. These fatty acids play a critical role in brain structure and function, which may explain their impact on behavior. 

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RELATED: How to Get More Heart-Healthy Omega-3s in Your Diet Without Eating Fish

The University of Pennsylvania researchers suggest that omega-3 supplementation helps by upregulating brain mechanisms that may be dysfunctional in aggressive individuals.

The study’s authors argue that while omega-3 is not a panacea for all violent behavior, it can be a valuable adjunct to other treatments. They recommend that omega-3 supplementation be considered alongside psychological and pharmacological interventions.

For parents dealing with aggressive children, adding an extra boost of omega-3s to their diets could be beneficial, and it doesn’t have to come from fish. 

Plant-based omega-3s

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA is derived from plants and can be found in foods like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, Brussels sprouts, kidney beans, and various other plant-based sources.

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DHA and EPA are typically sourced from marine foods, including algae, seaweed, fish, and other seafood.

The kicker here is that fish and other sea animals actually get their own omega-3s from marine sources, which makes eating the animals completely unnecessary

It is clear then that for vegans and vegetarians, obtaining sufficient omega-3 from diet is possible. Supplementation has become easier, as well, with new products coming to the market to make fish oil obsolete. 

For instance, MegaFood just launched a supplement that combines Ahiflower oil and algae oil to provide a vegan-friendly source of omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids.

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“At MegaFood, it’s our mission to embed sustainability into all aspects of our business which includes the products we innovate and the way we source ingredients,” Stacia Betley, Director of Sustainability and Social Impact at MegaFood, said. “I’m excited by this product, as it’s a plant-based alternative to fish oil and shifting to plant-rich diets is a top climate solution that we can all engage in.” 

Ahiflower (a wild plant) is grown in the UK using regenerative farming practices, and each acre yields as much omega-3 oil as 500,000 anchovies. 

“By using fish-free algae oil, we are making plant-based alternatives more available and are supporting a healthier marine ecosystem,” Betley said.  

This approach not only provides a sustainable source of omega-3 but also minimizes the impact on marine ecosystems. Additionally, the supplement is designed to offer a better taste experience, with an organic lemon oil coating to reduce that common fishy aftertaste—things that we can all be a little less angry about.

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