Fish Oil Boosts Memory
The brain depends on a good supply of the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexanoic acid (DHA) to function properly. DHA makes up part of nerve cell membranes, so brain cells can’t function correctly unless there’s enough of this nutrient circulating in the bloodstream. Together with the omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), DHA is one of two omega-3 fatty acids that are essential nutrients. By definition, the body must have these nutrients, and it cannot make them. So they must be obtained through the diet.
People who eat plenty of fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel or salmon, probably get adequate amounts of these nutrients in the diet. But others, including vegetarians and people who do not eat fish, may not get enough of these essential nutrients to maintain optimum health.
Vegetarians can obtain a third omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, by eating foods such as flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans. But ALA must be converted by the body to DHA and EPA, and this process is highly inefficient. So even vegetarians may wish to consider supplementing their diets with fish oil, which is a rich source of DHA and EPA. Otherwise, they may be at risk of deficiency.
As an example of the importance of DHA, consider the findings of a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Investigators studied healthy young adults who had low dietary intakes of DHA. Subjects were randomly assigned to take supplemental DHA, or an inactive substance (placebo) for six months. Results revealed that people who took the supplement had significantly better “episodic and working” memory than people who took the placebo. So the next time you can’t find your car keys, ask yourself if you’re getting enough omega-3s.
Stonehouse W, Conlon CA, Podd J, Hill SR, Minihane AM, Haskell C, et al. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Mar 20. [Epub ahead of print]