Diets lacking in omega-3 fatty acids can have negative health effects over consecutive generations, most notably in teenagers, according to a University of Pittsburgh study. The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, found that second-generation deficiencies of omega-3s caused elevated states of anxiety and hyperactivity in adolescents and affected the teens’ memory and cognition. ”
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,” said Bita Moghaddam, lead author of the paper and professor of neuroscience in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.
“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.”
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as wild fish, eggs, flax seeds, and grass-fed livestock. The research team examined the effect that omega-3 fatty acids had on rodents. According to Science Daily, the research team examined a “second generation” of omega-3-deficient diets, mimicking present-day adolescents.
“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,” said Moghaddam. “We observed changes in areas of the brain responsible for decision making and habit formation.”
The team examined any signs inflammation in the brain, as omega-3 deficiencies cause an increase of omega-6 fats with pro-inflammatory molecules in the brain. ”It’s remarkable that a relatively common dietary change can have generational effects,” said Moghaddam. “It indicates that our diet does not merely affect us in the short-term but also can affect our offspring.”