BACKGROUND: A number of randomised controlled trials report a beneficial effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) supplementation on emotional lability (EL) and related domains (e.g. oppositional behaviour, conduct problems). Given that n-3 PUFA supplementation shows a significant effect on reducing symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that EL and related behaviours commonly co-occurs with ADHD, it is important that there is a more conclusive picture as to the effect of n-3 PUFA on these co-occurring clinical domains.
METHODS: Databases (Ovid Medline, Embase, Psychinfo) were searched for trials assessing the effects of n-3 PUFA on EL, oppositional behaviour, aggression and conduct problems. We included trials in children who had ADHD or a related neurodevelopmental disorder.
RESULTS: Of the 1775 identified studies, 10 were included in the meta-analysis. In the primary analyses n-3 PUFA supplementation did not show improvements in measures of EL, oppositional behaviour, conduct problems or aggression. However subgroup analyses of higher quality studies and those meeting strict inclusion criteria found a significant reduction in EL and oppositional behaviour.
LIMITATIONS: A number of treatment effects may have failed to reach statistical significance due to small sample sizes and within and between study heterogeneity in terms of design and study participants.
CONCLUSIONS: These results exclude the possibility of moderate to large effects. They provide suggestive evidence of small effects of n-3 PUFA on reducing EL and oppositional behaviour in subgroups of children with ADHD.