Possible Cognitive Effects from Omega 3 Fatty Acids.




Am J CLin Nutr

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Cognitive Function Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Professional Data: Cognitive Function Omega-3 Fatty Acids


In the late 1970s, scientists learned that the native Inuits in Greenland, who consumed a diet very high in omega-3 fatty acids, had surprisingly low rates of heart attacks. Since that time thousands of scientific studies have evaluated the multiple ways that omega-3 fatty acids promotes not only cardiovascular health, but also the healthy functioning of many other biological activities. Many Americans don't get enough of it in their diets. One reason is that omega-3 oils are very susceptible to spoilage and so many food manufacturers remove it to keep products fresh. Another reason is that omega-3 oils mostly come from cold water fish and wild game— something most Americans don't eat in great quantities.

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is necessary for proper growth and development of the brain in infants. DHA is also needed for normal brain function in adults. Including DHA in the diet has been reported to improve learning. In adults, decreases in DHA in the brain are reported to cause decreased cognitive function during aging.1

A long-term study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated certain food supplements effects on cognitive function. People born in 1936 had their cognitive function evaluated in 1947. In 2001, the cognitive function was measured once again along with food supplement use, diet, and vascular function. Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) users were matched with non-users for evaluation. The results showed that at the age of 64 years, cognitive function was higher in those taking fish oil before the childhood IQ test results were applied. After the IQ tests, those taking food supplements still had higher cognitive function results. The authors of this study concluded that, “Food supplement use and erythrocyte n–3 content are associated with better cognitive aging. If associations with n–3 content are causal, optimization of n–3 and n–6 fatty acid intakes could improve retention of cognitive function in old age.”2


1. Horrocks LA, Yeo YK. Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid. Pharmacol Res. Sep1999;40(3):211-25.
2. Whalley LJ, et al. Cognitive aging, childhood intelligence, and the use of food supplements: possible involvement of n–3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr. Dec 2004;80(6):1650.