Vitamins and Supplements May Reduce Aggression in Children

Children who show signs of aggressive behavior may benefit from omega-3, vitamin, and mineral supplementation.

Children who show signs of aggressive behavior may benefit from omega-3, vitamin, and mineral supplementation.

A new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry is the first to provide some support for the idea that supplements, in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may reduce aggressive behavior in children.

Lead study author Adrian Raine, PhD, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists could easily apply these findings to their practice.

“If pharmacists are advising parents who have children showing significant aggressive behavior and who are not responding to other treatments, there would be little harm in trying omega-3 and multivitamins,” he said.

Dr. Raine and his fellow researchers examined a “high-risk community sample” of nearly 300 children aged 11 to 12 years. The children were randomly divided into a nutrition-only group, a CBT-only group, a nutrition and CBT group, and a control group. The data was collected between 2009 and 2013.

The omega-3 supplement was a daily 200-mL drink containing 1000 mg of omega-3, and the daily multivitamin contained 12 different vitamins, plus 7 minerals. The children took this multivitamin in 1 chewable tablet, along with another chewable tablet that contained 600 mg of calcium and 400 μg of vitamin D.

The CBT consisted of a dozen 1-hour child-caregiver interventions with weekly home exercises. The children were encouraged to work on their coping, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.

The control group received a list of help resources, and the parents and children could do whatever they wanted with that information.

The researchers measured child- and parent-reported aggressive and antisocial behavior at baseline, 3 months (end of treatment), 6 months, and 12 months.

One limitation the researchers noted was that they had “significant” dropouts that could potentially skew the findings. They mentioned that this is a common problem for studies that extend beyond the end of treatment.

However, the researchers did find evidence that the nutrition-only group showed less aggression compared with the control group at the end of the study. In addition, CBT and nutrition was better able to reduce aggression 3 months after treatment compared with the CBT-only and control groups.

“Positive findings were more in evidence for an impulsive, reactive form of aggression than for callous-proactive behavior,” the researchers noted.

The researchers determined that the effects were in the “small-to-medium range,” and the differences between the groups weren’t evident 9 months after treatment.

“[These] findings both provide some evidence for the short-term efficacy of omega-3 in attenuating child behavior problems, but augur for due caution in drawing conclusions on the long-term efficacy in the United States and highlight the further need for both cross-national and within national research,” the study authors concluded.

Previous research had shown that omega-3, multivitamin, and mineral supplementation may reduce offending in prisoners and young adult offenders, and one study found supplementation could reduce aggression and impulsivity in adults.