Food and Behaviour Research

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21 February 2019 - ABC.net - Omega-3 trial for prison inmates to see if it curbs violent behaviour and improves mental health

Ainslie Drewitt-Smith and Nick Rheinberger

Prison inmates

Researchers have been granted ethical approval to give Omega-3 to inmates in five Australian prisons to see if the supplement can help curb violence and improve mental health.

Researchers have been granted ethical approval to give Omega-3 to inmates in five Australian prisons to see if the supplement can help curb violence and improve mental health.

Prisoners at Nowra's South Coast Correctional Centre will be invited to participate in the study based on their tendencies towards aggression, impulsivity and levels of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

University of Wollongong (UOW) Associate Professor Barbara Meyers said the pilot study, which was carried out at the Nowra facility, yielded positive results in some areas but was not large enough to gauge potential impacts on aggressive behaviour.

"We're about to start recruitment and I'm hoping if it's anything like the pilot study, there are a lot of inmates enthusiastic about it," Associate Professor Meyer said.

"One of the inmates said when he was attending programs at the prison he had a greater attention span. He was more interested in learning than looking out the window."

Fatty acids and cognitive health

Associate Professor Mitchell Byrne from UOW's School of Psychology will be assessing the impact the fatty acids have on the prisoners' behaviour.

"There's been pretty good evidence for a long time that Omega-3 has significant cardiovascular benefits and on general physical health," he said.

"However there's been emerging research over the past decade or so that Omega-3 plays a significant role in cognitive functioning and cognitive health, including mental health disabilities and just the way we process information."

Omega-3 is involved in the cellular structure of all cells and form the cell's membrane and can support inter-cellular communication resulting in faster thought processes and promote the production of neuro-chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.

"So if we don't have sufficient Omega-3 we're not operating on optimum capacity," Associate Professor Byrne said.

"An appropriate level of Omega-3 in the diet and therefore in the cells leads to better functioning of the brain as opposed to not having the appropriate amount.

"Therefore, any sort of condition that might involve cognition or better human functioning is going to be supported by Omega-3."

The trial soon to begin on inmates at the South Coast Correctional Centre will aim to prove this further.

"In the past, from the pilot study, we've identified a relationship between the amount of Omega-3 in a person's blood and the degree to which they express both aggressive symptoms and ADHD symptoms," Associate Professor Byrne said.

"So that relationship has been established and we're now in the process of an intervention study to see if we can support people's development and growth."