Cognitive Benefits of Omega-3 Questioned

Omega 3 fatty acids have been reported to help keep memory sharp but a new review questions this idea

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Omega-3 fatty acids are reported to protect brain cells during aging thereby protecting cognitive function. But a recent systematic review of the evidence calls into question these proposed cognitive benefits.

The review compared multiple studies on the cognitive benefits of omega-3 in elderly people.

They found that omega-3 did not appear to provide any protection from cognitive decline when all the studies were taken together.

"Tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking."

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods like fish and nuts. They are important for a number of bodily functions, and are often added to margarine or taken as supplements in the form of fish oil.

Emma Sydenham, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, looked at three trials comparing cognitive abilities of people taking omega-3 supplements to those who did not. 

In the studies reviewed, 3,536 people aged 60 and older participated. The people taking omega-3 were taking it either as a capsule supplement or as an additive to margarine.

At the start of the studies, people showed no signs cognitive decline.  The studies included in the review followed people for six months to 3.5 years and assessed their cognitive function using standard mental abilities tests.

They found that people taking omega-3 did not show better retention of cognitive abilities over the follow-up period.

The researchers concluded, “The available trials showed no benefit of omega-3… supplementation on cognitive function in cognitively healthy older people.”

“Further studies of longer duration are required.”

The study was published June 12 in the Cochrane Reviews. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
June 12, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012