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Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Or Lack Thereof

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cognitive Function

Many have put their faith in omega-3 fatty acids and their positive health effects, believing in their ability to improve their thinking skills, memory, and verbal fluency; however, recent studies reveal that daily doses of the dietary supplement might not have those sought after brain-boosting effects.[1]

A Study of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty AcidUniversity of Iowa lead study author, Eric Ammann, stated that the results of the study opposed research of the past; therefore, further analysis is needed to obtain the truth about omega-3s.1 Historically, as studies have not shown consistent results, there is nothing convincing in one direction or the other.[2]

Ammann and colleague’s study included a total of 2,157 women, aged 65 to 80, who were of normal cognition.1 As a part of the Women’s Health Initiative study, these participants were also already enrolled in a clinical trial for hormone therapy.1

Researchers analyzed the results from blood samples that were taken from the participants before they were randomly assigned to take estrogen or a placebo in the Women’s Health Initiative.1 Two omega-3 fatty acids have been implicated in the protection against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline: DHA and EPA.1 Researchers measured the biomarkers of the fatty acids in the participants’ red blood cells to see their exposure level to omega-3s.1

Participants also underwent testing to assess their fine motor speed, spatial ability, short-term memory, verbal memory, verbal knowledge, verbal fluency, and working memory.1 As participants were followed for approximately six years, these tests were given annually.1

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Not Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Ammann and colleagues did not find a significant association between DHA and EPA levels and cognitive function at the beginning of the study or at the end.1 In fact, cognitive function declined at the same rate in older women, whether they supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids or not.1

The question remains: Why has past research shown that people who intake a greater amount of omega-3 fatty acids have positive brain benefits?1 Ammann states that some people who eat a larger amount of fish, nuts, or supplement with omega-3s may be more affluent and health-conscious.1 Therefore, they are less likely to smoke, are more likely to exercise, and have a lower body mass index.1

In fact, it is thought that a person’s entire lifetime of habits are the key to fighting chronic disease.2 Currently, there is no solid evidence to support the consumption of omega-3 supplements in regards to maintaining cognitive health later in life.2 This does not mean that they do not have any positive health effects, though.2 They are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet and have shown to increase cardiac health.2



[1] Landau, E. (2013, September 25). Study questions brain benefit of omega-3s. CNN.com. Retrieved September 26, 2013, from thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/25/study-casts-doubt-on-brain-bolstering-power-of-omega-3s/?hpt=he_c2

[2] Reuters. (2013, September 26). Omega-3s not tied to women’s mental sharpness. Fox News. Retrieved September 26, 2013, from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/09/26/omega-3s-not-tied-to-women-mental-sharpness/

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