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Fish Oil Benefits Mental Health in the Middle-Aged

By Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS, March 3, 2010, abstracted from “Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenonic Acid Is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood” printed online in the Journal of Nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids have been consistently found to benefit newborn brain health when taken during pregnancy after studies were published in 2006 (1) and in 2008 (2, 3).  These healthful effects of omega-3 fats are due to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is the most abundant fat in the brain (4).

Now a new study (5) has found that DHA’s brain benefits extend beyond mental health early in life and may also benefit our brains later in life.  In the study, 280 community volunteers between 35 and 54 years of age and free of major neuropsychiatric disorders provided blood samples to measure for alpha-linolenic acid (a plant form of omega-3), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenonic acid (DHA).  The researchers tested cognitive functioning with a 75-minute battery of neuropsychological tests that included non-verbal reasoning (WASI Matrix reasoning test (6) and the Trail making test (7)), attention and concentration (Digit Vigilance test (8)), memory (WMS-3 (9)), and verbal knowledge and processing (WASI Vocabulary test and the Verbal Fluency test. (10))

The researchers found a direct relationship between DHA levels and cognitive performance.  Specifically, those with the 20% highest blood levels of DHA (2.57 mole %) had Matrix Reason Scores that were 10% higher (28.5 vs. 25.8) and working memory z scores that were significantly higher in the high-DHA group (0.35 vs. -0.35)  Neither EPA nor ALA was notably related to any of the five tested dimensions of cognitive performance.

For the researchers, “only DHA is associated with major aspects of cognitive performance in nonpatient adults less than 55 years old” and that “These findings suggest that DHA is related to brain health throughout the lifespan.”

Greg Arnold is a Chiropractic Physician practicing in Danville, CA.  You can contact Dr. Arnold directly by emailing him at mailto:PitchingDoc@msn.com or visiting his web site at www.PitchingDoc.com

1. Dunstan JA.  Cognitive assessment of children at age 2K years after maternal fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomised controlled trial.  Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. doi: 10.1136/adc.2006.099085
2. Oken E. Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr 2008 88: 789-796
3. Jacobson JL.  Beneficial Effects of a Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid on Infant Development: Evidence from the Inuit of Arctic Quebec.  Jou Ped 2008; 152: 356-364.e1
4. “The Human Brain: Fats” posted on http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/fats.html
5. Muldoon MF.  Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenonic Acid Is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood.  Journal of Nutrition 2010. Publshed online ahead of print, doi:10.3945/jn.109.119578
6. “WASI Matrix Reason Test” - www.pearsonassessments.com/HAIWEB/Cultures/en-us/Productdetail.htm?Pid=015-8981-502
7. “Trail Making Tests” - www.healthcare.uiowa.edu/igec/tools/cognitive/trailMaking.pdf
8. “Digit Vigilance Test” - www3.parinc.com/products/product.aspx?Productid=DVT
9. Wechsler D. Wechsler Memory Scale . 3rd ed. San Antonio (TX): Psychologic al Corporation; 1997.
10. Wechsler. WASI manual. San Anton io (TX): Psychological Corporation; 1999