The right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help promote healthy cognitive aging, new research finds.
While we are used to hearing about the benefits of the fatty acids in fish and fish oils, that is only half the story.
Omega-6 fatty acids can come from nuts, seeds and other oils.
Typically, Western diets have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.
Together, a balance of these fatty acids may help to reduce age-related decline and maintain the integrity of cortical structures.
Ms Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the research, said:
“We studied a primary network of the brain — the frontoparietal network — that plays an important role in fluid intelligence and also declines early, even in healthy aging.
In a separate study, we examined the white matter structure of the fornix, a group of nerve fibers at the center of the brain that is important for memory.”
The researchers examined the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in adults aged 65 to 75, along with their brain structure.
Ms Zamroziewicz explained that it takes more than just fish and fish oils to keep the brain healthy with age:
“A lot of research tells us that people need to be eating fish and fish oil to get neuroprotective effects from these particular fats, but this new finding suggests that even the fats that we get from nuts, seeds and oils can also make a difference in the brain.”
A second study found a link between a balanced amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and greater memory preservation in older adults.
Ms Zamroziewicz explained:
“These findings have important implications for the Western diet, which tends to be misbalanced with high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.”
Professor Aron Barbey, who co-authored the study, said:
“These two studies highlight the importance of investigating the effects of groups of nutrients together, rather than focusing on one at a time.
They suggest that different patterns of polyunsaturated fats promote specific aspects of cognition by strengthening the underlying neural circuits that are vulnerable to disease and age-related decline.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience (Zamroziewicz et al., 2017).