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In this study, 40 healthy participants (ages 51 to 72 years) were randomly assigned to 3 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplement from fish oil (1,500 mg of EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, 1,050 mg of DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, and 450 unspecified), or placebo for five weeks. Both groups completed a placebo and supplement trial in this cross-over design. Brain performance and blood markers for chronic disease risk were measured at baseline and the end of the intervention.
Results showed that the omega-3s supplement group had mildly, but statistically significant, improved memory performance, lower triglycerides, and lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by as much as 7 mm Hg, compared with the placebo group.
The study authors point out that people who are at higher risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes may also be at higher risk for decline in brain function. They stress the importance of early dietary prevention to tackle both brain and body health and comment, “The dietary prevention strategy should preferably include fish in quantities to supply sufficient amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, in addition to other food groups with potential metabolic benefits e.g. whole grain, low glycemic index foods, fruits, berries, vegetables, and prebiotics.”
The authors also comment that further studies are needed to understand the effects of omega-3s on brain function and the relationship to risk factors for disease.
Omega-3s for health. Omega-3s, commonly found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, are important for brain function and many other functions in our body, and may work to promote health because of their anti-inflammatory effects, according to the study authors. The authors point out that research has linked chronic inflammation to poorer brain function, and low-grade chronic inflammation has also been linked to the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Omega-3s may be one important option, as part of a balanced diet, to optimize your health.
Healthy lifestyle habits for prevention. Remember it’s not only about what you eat, but all of your lifestyle habits combined that help you prevent disease and keep your memory intact. Regular exercise—at least 20 minutes three times a week—has also been shown to boost brain function and lower the risk for chronic disease. Engaging in social activities and keeping your mind stimulated also adds health benefits as we age.
Talk with a doctor. If you are interested in taking supplements, talk with a doctor about the risks and benefits and what supplements may be best for you based on your age and medical history.
(Nutr J 2012, 11:99 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-99)