Findings reported in an article published online on July 29, 2013 in Biological Psychiatry suggest that modern omega-3 fatty acid deficient diets could be the culprit behind the prevalence of anxiety, hyperactivity, and poor cognition observed among many adolescents.
By breeding successive generations of rats that were given diets containing reduced amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, Bita Moghaddam and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh created a model of the deficiency that has occurred in humans over the past several decades when animals used for meat were switched from an omega-3 rich grass-based diet to one based on grains. The researchers found an increase in anxiety and hyperactivity in adolescent animals, as well as a reduction in the rate of learning and problem-solving, in comparison to animals given diets that contained adequate amounts of omega-3.
“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,” stated Dr Moghaddam. “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.”
“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,” Dr Moghaddam noted. “We observed changes in areas of the brain responsible for decision making and habit formation.”
“It’s remarkable that a relatively common dietary change can have generational effects,” Dr Moghaddam added. “It indicates that our diet does not merely affect us in the short-term but also can affect our offspring.”