Omega-3 brain boost confirmed
to nationwide charities like the British Heart Foundation,
the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils are
already well known in terms of how they help protect the heart.
But the results of studies recently published in the November
2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition should
leave scientists and other experts in no doubt about the effects
that fish-sourced omega-3 fatty acids have on the brain.
Three studies carried out in different parts of the world
? New Zealand, Norway and the Netherlands ? suggest that the
omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (one of which is eicosapentaenoic
acid, or EPA) help boost cognitive health in a number of ways.
The New Zealand study (i), carried out by researchers at
the University of Otago, analysed data taken from health questionnaires
and blood samples linked to the National Nutrition Survey,
which involved more than 2,000 people. They discovered that
the ratio of EPA to arachidonic acid (or AA, an omega-6 fatty
acid) in the blood was positively linked to mental wellbeing.
Oxford University scientists, on the other hand, studied
more than 2,000 elderly Norwegians, and specifically the relationship
between cognitive performance and seafood consumption (ii).
In cognitive performance tests, those who ate at least 10g
of fish a day performed significantly better than those who
ate less. Those who ate the most - up to 75g a day - got the
best test results.
Meanwhile, Dutch scientists from Wageningen University used
data from a trial that involved 807 men and women in their
60s (iii). The researchers found that those with increased
blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had not declined in terms
of certain speed-related cognitive skills over the three-year
trial period as much others who had lower omega-3 blood levels.
In an independent editorial in the same issue, Tufts University
expert Irwin Rosenberg commended the trials? findings: "These
recent reports are novel in that they address the association
of omega-3 fatty acid intake and cognitive function in non-demented
individuals and, thus, present a shift in the attention to
earlier stages of cognitive decline with the hope of preventing
progression to states of dementia and disability before they
become irreversible," he said.
How EPA boosts the brain
Neurological experts are indeed beginning to realise how important
fatty acids are for cognitive health. Even the Alzheimer's
Society recommends eating a portion of oily fish at least
once a week to help prevent the inflammation in the brain
associated with dementia.
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