Omega-3 supplementation found to boost brain function in older adults

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Suck the water out of the brain and what’s left is mainly fat. Fat, one could argue, is ‘brain food’, and one particular fat that has received attention with regard to this is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is one of the two main types of ‘omega-3’ fat found abundantly in fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, trout and salmon. Omega-3 fats have been linked with benefits for the brain, including protection from depression and dementia.

Some have asked whether omega-3 fats, and DHA in particular, might have some value in individuals suffering from dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study in which DHA was trialled for this purpose did not yield positive results, however [1]. In this study, giving 2 grams of DHA today with individuals with mild-moderate Alzheimer’s disease over 18 months did nothing, compared to placebo, to slow the rate at which their brain function declined. Perhaps taking a larger dose and/or longer supplementation might have helped, we don’t know. What we do know is that the results of this study failed to show significant benefit.

However, does that mean that there’s no point in supplementing with DHA, as far as the brain is concerned? Maybe not, according to a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia [2]. In this study, individuals age 55 or older with ‘age-related cognitive decline’ (impaired brain function associated with ageing but not overt dementia) were treated with 900 mg of DHA or placebo for just 24 weeks.

Those taking the DHA were found to experience benefits in terms of both learning and memory function.

In very recent times we have had one positive and one negative study regarding the effect of DHA on brain function in older adults. In the positive study, a lower dose of DHA was used for a shorter period of time, but in individuals who did not have dementia. The suggestion here is that DHA supplementation is more likely to reap dividends in individuals whose declining brain function is at a relatively early stage.

In addition to insuring a decent intake of omega-3 fats another nutritional approach I would advocate for preserving brain function is to keep blood sugar levels balanced with a relatively ‘primal’ diet including fish (of course), meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables and some fruit (especially berries). Such a diet will help to reduce the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes which up the risk of a form of dementia known as ‘vascular dementia’.


1.     Quinn JF, et al. Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation and Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer Disease: A Randomized Trial. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2010;304 (17):1903

2.     Karin Yurko-Mauro, Deanna McCarthy, Dror Rom, Edward B. Nelson, Alan S. Ryan, Andrew Blackwell, Norman Salem Jr., Mary Stedman. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s and Dementia 2010;6(6):456

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