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Insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids may cause memory problems

March 7, 2012

According to a new US study, a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids may cause the brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking capacities.

In the observational study, brain volume, mental function, body mass and omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexae-noic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) levels in red blood cells were measured in 1,575 people who had an average age of 67 and no dementia (1). The study results showed that participants with the lowest docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA) blood levels had a significantly lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with the lowest omega-3 fatty acids levels of all scored lower on visual memory and executive function tests that measured problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

The researchers commented that the lower brain volumes of participants lacking DHA were equivalent to about two years of accelerated structural brain aging. However, they cautioned that the findings were based on a snapshot study and that there have been no measured rates of change in either brain volume or cognitive performance. In past studies, adequate intakes of docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acid have been linked to a reduced risk of dementia.

References

  1. Tan Z. S. et al. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology. 2012; 78 (9):658–664.