Omega-3 fat supplementation found to improve brain function

Previously on this site I have written about the potential benefits that so-called omega-3 fats have regarding brain function. These fats appear to have anti-depressant potential, for instance, but also seem to have the capacity to help maintain basic brain function too. There is some research, for instance, which has linked higher levels of omega-3 fats in the diet or body with reduced risk of dementia.

Such studies are ‘epidemiological’ in nature, and can only tell us about associations between omega-3 fats and dementia: they cannot, however, tell us whether or not omega-3 fats actually protect against dementia. To answer this question what is required are clinical studies in which individuals are treated with omega-3 fats and the effect of this is compared to treatment with placebo (inactive medication). I was interested to read about a recent-published study which had this precise design.

The study involved 23 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease along with 23 individuals with ‘mild cognitive impairment’. These individuals were supplemented with 1.8 g of omega-3 fats or placebo (olive oil) for 24 weeks. At the start and conclusion of the study individuals were assessed with what is known as the ‘Clinician’s Interview-Based Impression of Change Scale’ as well as the ‘Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale’. Data from 76 per cent (35) of study participants was then analysed.

The results of this study showed:

Overall, those taking omega-3 fats showed more improvement on the Clinician’s Interview-Based Impression of Change Scale score than those taking placebo.

In those with mild cognitive impairment, treatment with omega-3 fats showed significant improvement in the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale score compared to those taking placebo.

In those with Alzheimer’s disease, there was no significant difference in the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale score.

Higher levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (an omega-3 fat) in the red blood cells was associated with better brain function.

This study was hampered by a number of factors, including its small size and relatively short duration. The authors of this study have suggested that further research is warranted, which of course it is. However, to get some positive results despite quite considerable limitations is encouraging to say the least. The fact that higher EPA levels in the blood was linked with improved brain function is also a positive sign, as it suggests a ‘dose-response’ relationship between these two things, further strengthening the evidence here that omega-3 fats may have the ability to enhance and maintain brain function.


Chiu CC, et al. The effects of omega-3 fatty acids monotherapy in Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment: A preliminary randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2008 May 25 [Epub ahead of print].

6 Responses to Omega-3 fat supplementation found to improve brain function

  1. Diana Nixon 5 July 2008 at 10:42 am #

    Seems my granny was right when she told us as children that eating fish was good for our brains. When I was studying for exams a few years ago, menopausal and in my fifties at the time, I noticed a definite improvement in my ability to concentrate and retain information when I started taking fish oils. Some guidelines would be useful on dosage of Omega-3 supplements. For instance, larger amounts of flaxseed oil seem to be needed relative to more concentrated fish oil, judging by recommended doses given on supplement labels. Also, how does it translate in food terms? Three servings of oily fish a week is often quoted, or a daily handful of omega-3 seeds, like flax or hemp. Is that enough to help avoid Alzheimer’s and arthitis – the scourges of old age? I’d also be interested to know about any research into deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals in Alzheimer’s. Prevention being better than cure, and all that.

  2. Hilda 6 July 2008 at 11:07 pm #

    I think it is important to say that just eating fish oil along with the vast amount of processed vegetable oils and margerines in the supermarket is not enough as these oils compete with the fish oil.People need to stop eating all other oils except virgin olive oil and seeds, as well as all fried foods and dressings containing these oils which are EVERYWHERE in processed foods.

  3. Hilda 6 July 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Also great care must be taken to ensure the fish oil is fresh and refrigerated. Rancid fish oil is carcinogenic. It needs vitamin E to preseve it. It must not see the light. It must also be cleaned up. Nutri have a good one.

  4. Tiggy 6 July 2008 at 11:48 pm #

    Is coconut oil better for cooking with than olive oil? I read that the chain of fatty acids in olive oil is broken down when heated making it not so healthy.


  5. Click to learn 14 November 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    There are some great studies on the benefits of Omega 3s and children in a BBC Series called The Human Mind

  6. Mike 13 October 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    How can olive oil be safe with a 10:1 omega 6:3 ratio??

    Also for me it’s carbon footprint makes it unsuitable. I use locally grown organic rapeseed oil with a 4:1 omega 6:3 ratio it is much safer. But I use very very little oil and I use a lot more butter, ghee, lamb and beef fat (grass NOT grain fed though).

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