Beneficial Effects of Fish Oil on Human Brain
Five RCTs have focused on brain health in later life. One RCT focusing on adults over the age of 70 years showed that mg DHA and mg EPA over 36 months helped to maintain executive function amongst those at risk of dementia with a low omega-3 index [ 50 ]. Amongst Chinese elderly people of a similar age mean 71 years with Mild Cognitive Impairment, mg DHA and mg EPA taken daily over 6-months significantly improved cognitive aptitude scores and working memory [ 51 ] compared with the olive oil placebo.
Some work with krill oil showed that omega-3 fatty acids may activate cognitive function in older adults which was determined by changes in cerebral cortex ox hemoglobin levels over 12 weeks [ 53 ]. Older adults provided with mg DHA and a higher ratio of EPA mg had attenuated levels of oxidative stress -a risk factor thought to be implicated in the pathophysiology of depression and prevention of depressive symptoms [ 54 ].
There is a strong body of evidence signifying that omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources are under consumed. Within their practical considerations, seven key ideal health behaviors are identified which include: not smoking, physical activity, a healthy body mass index BMI , blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels and diet aligned with current healthy eating guidelines [ 3 ].
Increasingly, mindfulness is also being seen as a useful adjunctive therapy amongst those with ADHD [ 57 , 58 ] with this strategy also appearing to help reduce stress amongst older adults with memory complaints [ 59 ]. From a dietary perspective, findings from RCTs showed that omega fatty acid supplementation could help to reinforce habitual intakes by raising blood levels.
For example, improvements in lipid profiles were observed in at least seven studies [ 30 , 34 , 36 , 37 , 49 , 52 , 53 ]. Certain subgroups such as those with lower baseline blood fatty acids levels [ 40 , 45 , 50 ], who are breastfeeding infants [ 34 , 36 ] or who have neuropsychiatric conditions such as ADHD, ASD or depression, also appear to benefit more strongly from omega use [ 29 , 31 , 35 , 39 , 54 ].
Most studies focused on the role of omega fatty acids in children and teenagers [ 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 39 ]. Of these, the majority were conducted on children with ADHD or ASD [ 29 , 31 , 35 , 49 ] whilst two trials focused on mainstream children [ 38 , 39 ]. Omega fatty acids were found to improve ADHD symptoms and fatty acid profiles [ 31 , 35 , 49 ]. In the case of older adults, a number of studies alluded that omega fatty acids could help to protect against neurodegeneration and the chances of developing cognitive impairment [ 44 , 48 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 ].
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Similar conclusions have been formulated in other reviews, reflecting the current strength of the evidence base [ 60 , 61 ]. Whilst some research has looked into markers of brain health in the middle years of life, outcomes studied varied and findings were not strong enough to warrant any firm conclusions. When comparing and contrasting study findings, it is important to consider methodological differences.
For example, the dosage, length of supplementation and appropriate selection of assessment tools erythrocyte analysis, where possible should all be deliberated, especially in varying cultural populations with sufficient statistical power behind studies to allow for investigating interactions between gender and age [ 43 ]. Indeed, the present publication only evaluated RCTs which ideally should be at least 16 weeks in duration and measure outcomes of focus immediately during or after supplementation rather than a number of years post-intervention [ 45 ].
Future studies should investigate the role of other nutrients such as B vitamins which may interact with omega-3 fatty acids and have a joint role in preventing brain atrophy [ 63 ]. Failure to confound or control for factors such as these could be why some trials looking at omega-3 fatty acids and cognition have been unsuccessful [ 63 ].
The complex interplay between factors such as apolipoprotein E genotype, gender breakdown, vegetarianism and veganism should also be further studied [ 45 ]. Clearly, more work is needed across the middle years of life as we now know that changes in the brain occur before any signs of poor brain health manifest [ 65 ]. Finally, work looking at the dual effects of omega fatty acid alongside mindfulness strategies could be worthy of exploration given growing interest in this field [ 67 ].
This in turn may have a role to play in maintaining and augmenting brain health, particularly amongst those with low baseline levels or fatty acids or with increased demands such as lactating mothers or those with diagnosed neuropsychiatric conditions. Certainly, given that ageing populations, mental health conditions, and cognitive decline are currently showing no signs of subsiding, it makes good sense to ensure that omega fatty acid levels are optimal across the lifespan be it through dietary or supplement sources.
The views expressed are those of the author alone and Equazen personnel had no role in writing the review. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.
Phospholipids bound Omega-3, EPA/DHA and Astaxanthin
Journal List Nutrients v. Published online Aug Emma Derbyshire. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Received Jul 9; Accepted Aug 8. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.
The Omega wave
Abstract The brain is the most significant and complex organ of the human body. Keywords: brain health, omega-3 fatty acids, cognition, learning, mindfulness. Table 1 Extended roles of omega-3 fatty acids on brain health and beyond. Potential Extended Roles: Anticoagulation Cardio-protective effects Cognitive function Fetal development Immune function Improved insulin sensitivity in Asians Neuronal function Reduced risk of breast cancer women Reduced risk of colorectal cancer men Reduced risk of ischemic stroke men and women Reduced total stroke risk women Retinal function Weight management Potential underpinning mechanisms: Altered membrane fluidity Anti-inflammatory effects Improved neurogenesis esp.
How Omega-3 Fish Oil Affects Your Brain and Mental Health
Open in a separate window. Methods A comprehensive literature search was conducted to identify randomized controlled trials RCTs examining the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid supplements and aspects of brain health. Table 2 Omega-3 fatty acid supplements and brain health. Ramdomized controlled trial RCT from 6 months of infancy to 5 years of age.
Academic performance, literacy and numeracy assessment. At 8 years, the proportion of omega-3 fatty acid in plasma was positively associated with the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy score. Hurtado et al.
RCT from 28th week of pregnancy until 4th month of lactation. New-born visual and cognitive development. Sherry et al.
Fish oil: friend or foe?
Maternal and infant plasma fatty acid levels. Breast milk and maternal plasma DHA were significantly greater with mg and mg DHA compared with placebo which is important for brain development. Gould et al. RCT from 20 weeks into pregnancy until measures of attention were assessed after 27 months. Child attention and working memory and inhibitory control. Maternal DHA supplementation during pregnancy does not enhance attention or working memory and inhibitory control in term-born preschoolers.
Mulder et al. RCT from week 16 of pregnancy to delivery. Central Nervous System development. Infants in the placebo group were at increased risk of lower language development assessed as words understood and produced at 14 months and words understood and sentences produced at 18 months.
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Reading, working memory, and behavior. Possible reasons are discussed. Arnold et al. Mood symptom severity, global function. Johnson et al. Reading ability, visual analysis, phonological decoding time. In particular, children with attention problems showed treatment benefits. Parellada et al.
Changes in autistic behaviors. Supplementation with n -3 fatty acids might be studied as an add-on to behavioral therapies in ASD. Optimal duration of treatment requires further investigation. Bos et al. Milte et al. Attention, literacy, and behavior. Portillo-Reyes et al. Placebo treatment consisted of soybean oil capsules that looked similar to the active treatment.
Processing speed, attention, memory, language, executive function. Behavior, cognitive impairment Supplementation with the n -3 fatty acid mix increased EPA and DHA concentrations in erythrocyte membranes and improved working memory function.
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Parletta et al. Young adults Giles et al. Mood, cognition, and physiological stress. Rated anger and confusion increased with stress in the olive oil group, but remained stable in the fish oil group. Bauer et al. DB counterbalanced, crossover design, with a day washout period between two supplementation periods. Participants supplemented with 6 capsules daily. Cognitive performance and functional brain activation. Stonehouse et al.