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Omega-3 may boost working memory in healthy young adults: Study

By Nathan Gray+

30-Oct-2012
Last updated on 30-Oct-2012 at 14:17 GMT

Increasing intakes of omega-3 may improve the working memory of young adults who are at the peak of their cognitive abilities, according to new data.

The research – published in PLoS One – investigated the effects of omega-3 supplementation on the cognitive functions of healthy young adults who are at the top of their ‘cognitive game’.

In the first study of its kind, the US-based researchers supplemented 11 participants with high dose omega-3 for six months, finding that the supplementation improved working memory.

"We found that members of this population can enhance their working memory performance even further, despite their already being at the top of their cognitive game," explained project leader, Professor Bita Moghaddam from the University of Pittsburgh.

"Before seeing this data, I would have said it was impossible to move young healthy individuals above their cognitive best."

Study details

The research team – led by Rajesh Narendarn – supplemented 11 healthy young participants with 2 grams of omega-3 esters per day (Lovaza, GlaxoSmithKline) containing 750 mg docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) and 930 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Before they began taking the supplements, all participants underwent positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, and their blood samples were analyzed. In addition they were asked to perform a working memory test in which they were shown a series of letters and numbers and had to keep track of what appeared one, two, and three times prior (known as a simple ‘n-back test’).

"What was particularly interesting about the pre-supplementation n-back test was that it correlated positively with plasma Omega-3," said Moghaddam. "This means that the omega-3s they were getting from their diet already positively correlated with their working memory."

All participants were then monitored monthly through phone calls and outpatient procedures, said the authors.

After six months of taking the supplementation participants were then tested again – revealing a significant improvement in working memory.

"It is really interesting that diets enriched with Omega-3 fatty acid can enhance cognition in highly functional young individuals," said Narendarn.

However, the lead researcher said it was ‘disappointing’ that the imaging studies were unable to clarify the mechanisms by which omega-3 might enhance working memory.

Brain boosting

Professor Matthew Muldoon, who also worked on the project, noted that a vast amount of the previous research on omega-3 and working memory has been performed in elderly people, or in people with medical conditions.

"But what about our highest-functioning periods?” he said. “Can we help the brain achieve its full potential by adapting our healthy behaviors in our young adult life?”

“We found that we absolutely can."

Source: PLoS ONE
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046832
“Improved Working Memory but No Effect on Striatal Vesicular Monoamine Transporter Type 2 after Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation”
Authors: Rajesh Narendran, William G. Frankle, Neale S. Mason, Matthew F. Muldoon, Bita Moghaddam

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