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Improve your memory with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
omega-3 fatty acids, n-3 PUFA, memory, ADHD, schizophrenia

A new study found that healthy young adults, aged 18 to 25 years can further enhance their working memory by increasing their intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs). Researcher affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh published their findings online on October 3 in the journal PLoS One.

The researchers note that previous human studies suggest that n–3 PUFA deficiency is associated with impairment in mood and cognitive functioning. In addition, some but not all studies suggest that the supplementation of n–3 PUFA in several neuropsychiatric disorders such as mood disorders, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) holds promise as a primary or adjunctive (supplementary). In contrast to seniors or individuals with neurologic disorders, healthy young adults are at the peak of their cognitive function.

The researchers found that n–3 PUFA supplementation improved working memory in these individuals; however, they were unable to determine the underlying mechanism.

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The study group comprised 11 healthy young adults who underwent positron emission tomography (PET) using a selective VMAT2 PET tracer before and after six months of n-3 PUFA supplementation (Lovaza, 2 grams/day, containing docosahexaenoic acid, 750 mg/day, and eicosapentaenoic acid, 930 mg/day). The subjects also completed a standard working memory task (the n-back test) and analysis of red blood cell membrane fatty acid composition before and after supplementation. The presupplementation n-back test results correlated positively with plasma omega-3 levels. This finding meant that omega-3 fatty acids they were getting from their diet already positively correlated with their working memory. In addition, performance on the working memory task improved after six months of n-3 PUFA supplementation.

Take home message:
This study suggests that it might be prudent to take a daily dietary supplement of n-3 PUFA. Oils from cold water oily fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines have a high content of n-3 PUFA. Other oily fish, such as tuna, also contain n−3 PUFA in somewhat lesser amounts. Consumers of oily fish should be aware of the potential presence of heavy metals such as mercury and fat-soluble pollutants like PCBs and dioxins, which are known to accumulate up the food chain. Vegetarian sources of n-3 fatty acids are also available. Flaxseed (or linseed) and its oil are a widely available source of the n−3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil consists of approximately 55% ALA, which makes it six times richer than most fish oils in n−3 fatty acids. Eggs produced by hens fed a diet of greens and insects contain higher levels of n−3 fatty acids than those produced by chickens fed corn or soybeans. In addition to feeding chickens insects and greens, fish oils, flax seeds, and canola seeds may be added to their diets to increase the n-3 fatty acid concentrations in eggs. When purchasing eggs at the supermarket, select ones labeled “Omega-3.” Grass-fed beef also contains omega 3 fatty acids.

Reference: PLoS One

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