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:
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.
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:
- A diet sufficient in omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce the risk of memory loss.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help to clear waste from the brain.
- Higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA are linked to halving the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
→ 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).
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.