28 February 2012

Lack of Omega 3 Fatty Acids May Cause Brain to Age Faster and Inhibit Memory and Thinking Functions

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: These fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the human body and the only source for omega 3 fatty acids are through food intake. These can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. They have also become popular because they may reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least twice a week.

A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, may cause the brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities, according to a study published in the February 28, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Omega-3 fatty acids include the nutrients called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

"People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging," said study author Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, of the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics, University of California at Los Angeles.

Video: Omega 3 Fatty Acids

For the study, 1,575 people with an average age of 67 and free of dementia underwent MRI brain scans. They were also given tests that measured mental function, body mass and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their red blood cells.

The researchers found that people whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 percent of the participants had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with levels of all omega-3 fatty acids in the bottom 25 percent also scored lower on tests of visual memory and executive function, such as problem solving and multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

Additional research also show that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.


American Academy of Neurology
Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA
National Institute on Aging
Omega-3 fatty acids
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