This Common Supplement Fights Cognitive Decline

This ubiquitous supplement may improve memory and abstract reasoning.

This ubiquitous supplement may improve memory and abstract reasoning.

Omega-3 fatty acids may enhance brain function in middle age, research finds.

Among over 2,000 people in the study, those with higher concentrations of omega-3 in their blood had a range of cognitive advantages:

  • Larger hippocampi: a brain structure central to learning and memory.
  • Better abstract reasoning skills: the ability to think logically.
  • Carriers of the APOE4 gene, who are at greater genetic risk of dementia, had fewer signs of small-vessel disease.

People in the study were in their 40s and 50s, explained Dr Claudia Satizabal, the study’s first author:

“Studies have looked at this association in older populations.

The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age.”

Omega-3 levels were calculated by adding together levels of DHA and EPA.

EPA and DHA, two of the three main fatty acids, are sometimes known as the marine omega-3s as they come mainly from fish.

What makes omega-3 fatty acids so important in the diet is that the body cannot make them but has to get them from food.

Dr Debora Melo van Lent, study co-author, said:

“Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are key micronutrients that enhance and protect the brain.

Our study is one of the first to observe this effect in a younger population.

More studies in this age group are needed.”

In the study, people were divided into groups based on their levels of omega-3 fatty acids, Dr Satizabal said:

“We saw the worst outcomes in the people who had the lowest consumption of omega-3s.

So, that is something interesting.

Although the more omega-3 the more benefits for the brain, you just need to eat some to see benefits.”

It is not yet known exactly why omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for the brain.

It may be because they are important in the building of neurons and that they have anti-inflammatory properties.

Dr Satizabal said:

“It’s complex.

We don’t understand everything yet, but we show that, somehow, if you increase your consumption of omega-3s even by a little bit, you are protecting your brain.”

Fatty acids and dementia

Whether or not omega-3 fatty acids help prevent dementia continues to be controversial.

However, omega-3 has been linked to maintaining IQ levels with age and even reducing anxiety.

Other research has suggested that omega-3 needs to be combined with B vitamins to help the body deal with mental decline.

Still further studies have found:

→ The dietary change with some of the best evidence for keeping the brain healthy is the MIND diet.

The study was published in the journal Neurology (Satizabal et al., 2022).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

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.

Get free email updates

Join the free PsyBlog mailing list. No spam, ever.