The study, which was led by Matthew Muldoon of Pittsburgh University, found links between increased DHA and improvements in cognitive skills, as well as short-term memory in middle aged adults (those between mid-thirties through mid-fifties).
The notion of omega-3 as brain food is not new. In fact, a number of studies have drawn similar conclusions. Most recently however, additional support was showcased at the 2009 annual International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (ICAD 2009), in Vienna. At the conference, numerous scientists noted that daily omega-3 supplements corresponded with better memory and heart functioning in older adults.
According to Muldoon, the improved functioning seen later in life as a result of omega-3 fatty acids may actually be an ongoing process – one that follows the path of the entire lifespan.
Participants were 280 middle-aged adults (average age 45), not currently taking fish oil supplements. The participants were assessed on five areas of cognitive functioning such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning, memory, and mental flexibility. Individual levels of omega-3 fatty acids – ALA, DHA, and EPA were recorded. The fatty acid measurements showed direct correlations to better brain functioning and the “associations between DHA and nonverbal reasoning and working memory persisted with additional adjustment for participant education and vocabulary scores (P 0.05)”, according to the scientists.
However, there were no such associations with either EPA or ALA measures.
More research is needed to better understand the mechanism by which DHA influences brain functioning well after middle age. However, as the researchers noted, what is certainly clear is that “the findings from these analyses derive from cross-sectional data and, therefore, cannot establish that any association between the omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive performance is causal”.