Food and Behaviour Research

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Capt Joseph Hibbeln, MD

Hibbeln portrait first

Lead Clinical Investigator, Unit on Nutrition in Psychiatry, NIAAA, Washington USA; and a Commander in the United States Public Health Service

Web URL:

Read more and listen to Dr Hibbeln here on EmpowHER

Research Interests:

CAPT Joseph R Hibbeln MD is Acting Chief of Section of Nutritional Neurosciences, Laboratory of Membrane Biophysics and Biochemistry, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. 

A psychiatrist and lipid biochemist by training, Dr Hibbeln is now one of the world’s leading experts on the importance of dietary fats for human brain development and function.  His work is focused on translating basic neuroscience on the omega-3 essential fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (found in fish and seafood) into direct clinical applications, and he has published more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers to date.  His research interests range from severe pathological states, including suicide and psychosis, through depression and antisocial behaviour, to normative personality in adulthood and early development.  He believes that a substantial proportion of emotional distress in modern society might be reversed by adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids.

He has extensive international collaborations for clinical trials of omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of suicide, postpartum depression, and violence. He is a primary collaborator in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, Bristol, UK, examining the residual effect of nutritional insufficiencies in pregnancy in childhood neurodevelopmental outcomes and relevant gene-nutrient interactions. Joe was one of the very first investigators to draw attention to the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in psychiatric disorders (he organized a key international conference on this theme at NIH in 1998), and he is frequently sought out to communicate scientific findings in this field though major public media.

His numerous honours include the TL Cleave Award from the McCarrison Society, London, United States Public Health Service (USPHS), Outstanding Service medal, three USPHS Crisis Response Awards, the Gerald Klerman award from the National Association for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression, Independent Investigator and Young Investigator awards from NARSAD and Eagle Scout, BSA.  Dr Hibbeln received a BA with special honours from the University of Chicago in 1983 and an MD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1988.  He is a board certified physician in psychiatry and serves as a Captain in the USPHS.

Recent Publications:

News Articles:

Low DHA Levels Linked to Increased Suicide Risk
Medscape - 26 August 2011
Low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain, may increase suicide risk, new research suggests.

New Science Links Food and Happiness
By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "Captain of the Happier Meal," - May/June 2010
Joe Hibbeln, MD, believes our diet is making us depressed, addicted and violent. He thinks he’s found a simple solution. 

Research Papers:

Steer CD, Hibbeln JR, Golding J, Smith GD (2011). Polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in blood during pregnancy, at birth and at 7 years: their associations with two common FADS2 polymorphisms. Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Dec 21

Ramsden CE, Hibbeln JR, Majchrzak-Hong SF (2011). All PUFAs are not created equal: absence of CHD benefit specific to linoleic acid in randomized controlled trials and prospective observational cohorts. World Rev Nutr Diet. 2011;102:30-43. Epub 2011 Aug 5.  

Buydens-Branchey L, Branchey M, Hibbeln JR (2011). Higher n-3 fatty acids are associated with more intense fenfluramine-induced ACTH and cortisol responses among cocaine-abusing men. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Aug 15;188(3):422-7. Epub 2011 Jun 11.

Ramsden CE, Mann JD, Faurot KR, Lynch C, Imam ST, MacIntosh BA, Hibbeln JR, Loewke J, Smith S, Coble R, Suchindran C, Gaylord SA (2011). Low omega-6 vs. low omega-6 plus high omega-3 dietary intervention for chronic daily headache: protocol for a randomized clinical trial.  Trials. 2011 Apr 15;12:97.

Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR (2011). Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62. Epub 2011 Mar 2.

Harper KN, Hibbeln JR, Deckelbaum R, Quesenberry CP Jr, Schaefer CA, Brown AS (2011). Maternal serum docosahexaenoic acid and schizophrenia spectrum disorders in adult offspring.  Schizophr Res. 2011 May;128(1-3):30-6. Epub 2011 Feb 15.

Ramsden CE, Hibbeln JR, Majchrzak SF, Davis JM. (2010). Br J Nutr. 2010 Dec;104(11):1586-600.PMID: 21118617. n-6 Fatty acid-specific and mixed polyunsaturate dietary interventions have different effects on CHD risk: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.

Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Steer C, P Emmett P, Rogers I, Williams C, Golding J. (2007) Maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood. The Lancet, 369: 578-585

Garland MR, Hallahan B, McNamara M, Carney PA, Grimes H, Hibbeln JR, Harkin A, Controy RM. (2007) Lipids and essential fatty acids in patients presenting with self-harm. Br J Psychiatry, 190: 112-17.

Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Davis, JM, Wisner KL, Richardson AJ, Mischoulon D, Peet M, Keck, Jr. PE, Lake J, Marangell L, Stoll AL. (2006) Omega-3 fatty acids: Evidence basis for treatment and future research. American Psychiatric Association Treatment Recommendations J Clin Psychiatry, 67; 12: 1954-67.

Sublette ME, Hibbeln JR, Galfalvy H, Oquendo M, Mann JJ. (2006) Omega-3 polyunsaturated essential fatty acid status as a predictor of future suicide risk. Am J Psychiatry, 163: 1100-1102.

Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LR, Blasbalg TL Riggs J, Lands WEM. Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: Estimations considering worldwide diversity. (Invited manuscript), Am J Clin Nutr, 2006, 83: 1483S-1493S

Hibbeln JR, Ferguson TA Blasbalg TL. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: Opportunities for Intervention. Intl Review Psychiatry 2006; 18:2:1-12.

Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Wisner KL, Brumbach BH, Watchman M, Gelenberg AJ. (2006). Randomized dose-ranging pilot trial of omega-3 fatty acids for postpartum depression. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 113(1) 31-5

Crawford MA, Ghebremeskel K, Hibbeln JR, House S, Hunter D, Morley DC, Nicholson P, Stuart K. The Lancet and the Royal Society are both right and wrong. Lancet. 2005; 366 (9487): 714-5.

Hibbeln JR, Nieminen, LRG, Lands WEM Increasing homicide rates and linoleic acid consumption among five western countries, 1961-2000. Lipids 2004; 23: 1207-1213.

Hibbeln JR, Bisette, G, Umhau JC, George DT. (2004) Omega-3 status and cerebrospinal fluid corticotrophin releasing hormone in perpetrators of domestic violence. Biological Psychiatry 2004; 56:11: 895-897

Harris J, Hibbeln JR, Mackey R, Muldoon M. (2004). Statin treatment alters serum n-3 and n-6 fatty acids in hypercholesterolemic patients. Prost Leuko Ess Fatty Acids, 71: 263-269

Irribarren C, Markovitz JH, Jacobs. D, Schreiner PJ, Daviglus M, Hibbeln JR. Relationship of dietary intake of fish and n-3 fatty acids with hostility among young adults- the CARDIA Study. Eu J Clin Nutr 2004;58:1:24-31

Noaghiul S, Hibbeln JR. A cross-national analysis of the lifetime prevalence rates of bipolar disorders and schizophrenia to seafood consumption. Am J Psychiartry, 2003;160;12; 2222-7

Hibbeln JR. Seafood consumption, the DHA composition of mothers’ milk and prevalence of postpartum depression: a cross-national analysis. J Affect Disorders 2002; 69: 15-29