CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Two recent studies out of the University of Illinois revealed that certain brain structures that tend to deteriorate faster as people age are positively affected by the levels of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the bloodstream.
These studies added to the growing body of research indicating that dietary intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids lead to healthy aging.
Researchers Marta Zamroziewicz, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the university, and psychology professor Aron Barbey say that the brain is a collection of many interconnected parts, all of which age at different rates.
The researchers studied the frontoparietal network of the brain, which they say plays an important role in “fluid intelligence” and typically declines faster than other brain regions, even during a perfectly healthy aging process. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve problems one has never handled before.
The second study focused on another part of the brain — the fornix — a white matter group of nerve fibers at the brain’s center used for memory storage and recall.
Both studies looked at the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the bloodstreams of subjects aged 65 to 75. The researchers correlated the subjects’ nutrient patterns with brain structure and performance on cognitive tests.
“Most of the research that looks at these fats in health and healthy aging focuses on the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, but those come from fish and fish oil, and most people in the Western Hemisphere don’t eat enough of those to really see the benefits,” explains Zamroziewicz in a university news release.
The studies differed from past research because they involved many different kinds of fatty acids. The results found that not only did fatty acids derived from fish and fish oil benefit the brain as we get older, but other foods such as seeds, nuts, and other kinds of oils also have a similarly positive impact.
Barbey said that the studies “suggest that different patterns of polyunsaturated fats promote specific aspects of cognition by strengthening the underlying neural circuits that are vulnerable to disease and age-related decline.”
The study focusing on the frontoparietal part of the brain was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. The second study, focusing on the fornix, can be found online in the journal Aging and Disease.