Secrets of Your Mind: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Brain

Four-hour series explores the mysteries and the science of the brain.

ByABC News
August 26, 2010, 1:15 PM
Aug. 26, 2010— -- In Thursday's episode of "Nightline Prime: Secrets of Your Mind," Martin Bashir takes a journey inside the mind of a psychopath, examining evil's origins in the brain and whether people can be born with a tendency for evil or violent behavior.

Bashir also speaks exclusively to the distraught father of Chris Benoit, the pro-wrestler who murdered his family and then killed himself. Doctors later describe how they believe Benoit had suffered extensive brain damage in the ring and wonder if it was what drove him to murder. These doctors say the kind of brain damage found in Benoit's brain is the same damage seen in multiple pro-football players, who also met tragic ends after years of concussions and subconcussive blows on the field.

To help bolster brain tissue, neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes of the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, recommends turning to fatty acids like Omega-3s that are found in fish oil.

"Our work has shown that the Omega-3 fatty acid, particularly DHA, which is one of the two Omega-3 fatty acids, may convey protection. ...Unless you're eating a lot of good fatty fish like salmon regularly, you just don't get DHA in your diet, and that constitutes 97 percent of the brain's Omega fats," Bailes said.

Bailes said Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for a wide range of people -- especially those involved in contact sports, members of the military, domestic violence victims, and just about anyone who frequently gets hit in the head.

"Our work is showing that ...having it beforehand in your system or in your brain or even after, is protective, [and] does help the brain to heal," he said.

The same holds true for a person whose brain may show signs of being vulnerable to violence, according to Dr. Adrian Raine. His research on the brains of people who have been scientifically determined to be psychopaths uncovered a structural impairment to an area called the amygdala, which is involved in the generation of emotion.

Raine said there are promising studies where young prisoners were given Omega-3 fatty acids, and they saw a 35 percent reduction in serious offending within the prison.

"We can stop the rot," he said.

Eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids starting early in life, he said, may provide the brain with the foundation for a wholesome future.

"We already know scientifically now that there are things we can do early on in life to improve the brain, to improve behavior," Raine said. "We know Omega-3s regulates neurotransmitters. It turns genes on and off. And, this could, in the future, be a treatment for violent, psychopathic criminal offenders."

CLICK HERE for a primer on Omega-3 fatty acids.

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