Evidence that omega-3s from fish or fish oil benefit brain health continues to mount.
Last March, we reported on a UCLA study in older adults, whose results suggested benefits for the structure and function of aging brains.
The UCLA team found that older adults with higher blood levels of omega-3s from fish or fish oil performed better on tests of mental functioning – and suffered less age-related brain shrinkage – than participants with lower omega-3 levels (Tan ZS et al. 2012).
5-year study links higher omega-3 intake from fish to better performance on cognition tests, and more gray matter.
Findings only show an association, not a cause-effect relationship.
No effect seen on white matter volume or total brain volume, or thinking improvements in participants diagnosed as cognitively impaired.
Results echo those of prior studies in young, middle-aged, and older adults
Yet another study links higher intakes of omega-3s from fish to sharper thinking and having more gray matter.
Unlike the UCLA study, it was not based on blood tests, so it is not as reliable ... but it fits with the findings of all prior research, and lends them support.
MRI scans and mental tests link omega-3-rich diets to healthier brains
Researchers from Sweden's Uppsala University recruited 252 seniors (130 men and 122 women aged 70 years (Titova OE et al. 2012).
The subjects recorded everything they ate and drank during a week, allowing the researchers to estimate how much fish-type omega-3s (DHA and EPA) they typically consumed.
At age 75, participants' cognitive (thinking) capacity was tested, and their volumes of gray and white matter in their brains were measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Those who reported higher intakes of omega-3 EPA and DHA at age 70 had more gray matter and scored better on cognitive performance tests at age 75.
However, no significant links were seen between higher intakes of omega-3s and greater volume of white matter, total brain volume, or the amounts of gray matter in specific brain regions.
And, higher omega-3 intake did not seem to help participants who had been diagnosed as "cognitively impaired”.
As the authors wrote, "These … findings suggest that dietary intake of EPA and DHA may be linked to improved cognitive health in late life but must be confirmed in patient studies [clinical trials].” (Titova OE et al. 2012)
Study co-author Christian Benedict put their findings in context: "Our results are in line with several other studies that also indicated that omega-3 fats have a positive effect on brain function as you get older.” (UNT 2012)
Grimm MO, Kuchenbecker J, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid reduces amyloid beta production via multiple pleiotropic mechanisms. J Biol Chem 2011;286:14028-14039.
Harris WS, Pottala JV, Vasan RS, Larson MG, Robins SJ. Changes in erythrocyte membrane trans and marine fatty acids between 1999 and 2006 in older Americans. J Nutr 2012;142:1297-1303.
McNamara RK. Deciphering the role of docosahexaenoic acid in brain maturation and pathology with magnetic resonance imaging. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2012; Apr 20.
Rapoport SI. Translational studies on regulation of brain docosahexaenoic acid metabolism in vivo. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2012; Jul 4.
Sydenham E, Dangour AD, Lim WS. Omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;6:CD005379.
Tan ZS, Harris WS, Beiser AS, Au R, Himali JJ, Debette S, Pikula A, Decarli C, Wolf PA, Vasan RS, Robins SJ, Seshadri S. Red blood cell ω-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology 2012;78:658-664.
Titova OE, Sjögren P, Brooks SJ, Kullberg J, Ax E, Kilander L, Riserus U, Cederholm T, Larsson EM, Johansson L, Ahlström H, Lind L, Schiöth HB, Benedict C. Dietary intake of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids is linked to gray matter volume and cognitive function in elderly. Age (Dordr) 2012; Jul 13.
UNT SE Uppsala (UNT). Omega 3 in the diet good for the brain. July 20, 2012. Accessed at http://www.unt.se/uppsala/omega-3-i-maten-bra-for-hjarnan-1798601.aspx