People with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels are better thinkers, have stronger brain structure

MINNEAPOLIS — The more omega-3, the more you’ll thrive, new research suggests. Middle-aged adults who consume more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like oily fish) or omega-3 supplements are more likely to be better thinkers and avoid dementia.

Scientists say that higher levels of the healthy fatty acids — abundant in salmon, sardines, trout, and albacore tuna — helps improve brain structure and health. People can also buy foods fortified with omega-3 or find it in pill-form at a vitamin shop.

Researchers report that those who higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids scored higher in abstract reasoning tests and had a larger hippocampus – an important area of the brain which controls memory.

Writing in the journal Neurology, Dr. Claudia Satizabal of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio says simply increasing omega-3 in our diets could massively benefit public health as people age.

“Improving our diet is one way to promote our brain health,” says Satizabal in a media release. “If people could improve their cognitive resilience and potentially ward off dementia with some simple changes to their diet, that could have a large impact on public health. Even better, our study suggests that even modest consumption of omega-3 may be enough to preserve brain function. This is in line with the current American Heart Association dietary guidelines to consume at least two servings of fish per week to improve cardiovascular health.”

How much omega-3 does the brain need?

Study authors measured the thinking skills of 2,183 people, along with their brain volumes. The fatty acid levels in the group with the lowest thinking skills contained 3.4 percent omega-3, meanwhile the highest achieving group averaged 5.2 percent omega-3 content.

Researchers report that the optimal level was over eight percent, with anything between four percent and eight percent being intermediate. The team considered anything below four percent low. The participants had an average age of 46.

“These results need to be confirmed with additional research, but it’s exciting that omega-3 levels could play a role in improving cognitive resilience, even in middle-aged people,” Satizabal says.

However, she notes that the study looked at a snapshot in time and they would need to follow participants over a prolonged period. This could turn the findings from “eating omega-3 is associated with preserving brain function,” to “eating more omega-3 is proven to preserve brain function.”

Currently, the research only shows an association and does not prove causation. Another limitation was the majority of the study sample were non-Hispanic white adults, so a more diverse group of middle-aged adults may yield different results.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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