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There’s a new oil in town. In the first study to investigate the effect of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaneoic acid) derived from algae, researchers found that people suffering from age-related decline in their thinking (cognition) could get a memory boost by supplementing with the extract.
DHA is a fatty acid found in high concentrations in some fish. Together with other fish-derived oils, DHA is believed to help slow the rate of cognitive decline in people with mild impairment, but it has never been studied on its own.
As the world’s population continues to age, health issues related to aging bodies and brains are becoming more common. Many population-based studies have noted the association between lower DHA levels and cognitive decline in healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the new study was led by doctors at Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that manufactures the algal DHA supplement used in this study. A total of 437 people aged 55 or older with age-related cognitive decline completed the 24-week study. Half of them were given 900 mg per day of DHA from the algae, Schizochytrium sp.; the rest were given a matching placebo.
Tests were given before and after the supplementation period to measure memory, learning, attention, problem solving, and skills involved with decision making and abstract thinking (executive function skills).
The ability to recollect past experiences (episodic memory) and learning in the DHA group significantly improved. People with lower scores at the study outset seemed to benefit the most, as did those with a family history of dementia and those taking cholesterol-lowering medications, “suggesting that potential genetic and cardiovascular factors may influence the effects of DHA on cognition,” the team commented. There was also a significant decrease in heart rate associated with DHA supplementation.
Working memory—that which is used to store and manage information—was not affected, nor was executive function. Participants reported no adverse side effects related to treatment.
Try these tips to help keep your mind spry.
(Alzheimers Dement 2010;456–64)