The Role of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Aggression, Antisocial Behaviors, and Crime: A Systematic Review Open Access

Chapman Mesirow, Maurissa Sydney (2014)

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Conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, aggression, and antisocial behaviors are some of the most commonly diagnosed deviant behavioral disorders among children and adolescents today. Youth with these disorders violate societal rules, perform acts of delinquency, and have a greater risk for criminal activity in later adolescence and adulthood. The earlier children start to exhibit these behavioral issues, the more likely they are to become and remain delinquent in their lifetime.

Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs) are important for neural development during fetal stages and in childhood. Deficiencies in omega-3 PUFAs, or high levels of omega-6 PUFAs, can impair neural processes that are important for regulating behaviors, and have been implicated in the etiology of aggression and antisocial behaviors. Dietary trends in the United States has shifted greatly in the last century, introducing high levels of omega-6 PUFAs in to the average diet, which may have attributed to the higher prevalence of deviant behaviors in recent decades.

Observational studies and clinical trials have investigated the effects of omega-3 PUFAs in mediating aggression, antisocial activity, conduct disorders, and similar behaviors commonly associated with juvenile delinquency and criminal activity. While the results are mixed, there is a fair amount of evidence that supplementation with omega-3 PUFAs in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood may alleviate deviant and antisocial behaviors. This knowledge may be important for understanding the etiologies of delinquent and criminal behavior in the United States.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations 1

Introduction 2

Chapter 1: Aggressive, Antisocial, and Delinquent Behaviors 4
1.1 Defining aggression, behavioral and personality disorders 4
1.1.1 Behavioral disorders 5
1.1.2 Personality disorders 7
1.2 Self-reported prevalence of aggression, conduct disorders, violence, and criminal behavior does not correlate with decreasing criminal arrest rates 10
1.2.1 Criminal Arrest rates 11
1.2.2 Self-reported data on conduct issues and criminal activity 15
1.3 Summary 22

Chapter 2: Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids - Definitions & Dietary Trends 23
2.1 Introduction 23
2.2 Defining polyunsaturated fatty acids 23
2.3 Dietary sources and importance of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids 25
2.4 Polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast feeding and formula-feeding 28
2.5 Maintaining omega-3 and omega-6 balance 29
2.6 n-6:n-3 imbalances and implications in neurological and psychological abnormalities 30
2.7 Changing dietary patterns and fatty acid composition of the U.S. diet in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries 32
2.7.1 Fatty acid composition of the U.S. diet: 1909-1999 32
2.7.2 Fatty acid composition of the U.S. diet: 1980-2012 37
2.8 Summary 44

Chapter 3: Biological Plausibility for the link between Nutrition and Conduct Disorders, Juvenile Delinquency, and Antisocial Behaviors 45
3.1 Overview 45
3.2 Biological plausibility of n-3 PUFAs in neurological development and behavior outcomes 45
3.2.1 n-3 PUFA deficiencies and neurological mechanisms: dopamine 46
3.2.2 n-3 PUFA deficiencies and neurological mechanisms: serotonin 48
3.2.3 n-3 PUFA deficiencies and neurological mechanisms: glucose metabolism 49
3.2.4 Structural changes in brain and abnormal behavioral development 49
3.3 Gender differences in n-3 PUFA status and metabolism 50
3.4 Summary of biological plausibility 52

Chapter 4: Studies on Fatty Acid Intake and Behavioral Outcomes 53
4.1 Overview of behavioral studies with PUFA supplementation 53
4.2 Methodology: study selection 53
4.3 Assessment of observational studies 54
4.4 Assessment of randomized control trials 59
4.4.1 Randomized control trials in children less than 18 years of age 59
4.4.2 Randomized control trials in adults 18 years of age or older 64
4.5 Summary of findings from observational studies and randomized control trials 69

Chapter 5: Summary of Findings, Limitations, and Future Directions 70
5.1 Summary of findings 70
5.2 Limitations in assessing antisocial behaviors, delinquency, and criminality 71
5.3 Limitations in assessing dietary trends in PUFA consumption 71
5.4 Limitations of current studies assessing the link between PUFA consumption and behaviors related to delinquency and violence 73
5.5 Conclusions and future Directions 75

References 76

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